Biggest Storylines Heading into Nebraska's Fall Camp
Nebraska begins fall camp this weekend. That means all of the questions that remained after spring practice will have a chance to be answered.
Bo Pelini will also be able to show off the changes he boasted about at Big Ten Media Days. With practice now open to the media, it will be easier than ever to see just how key storylines evolve before the first game of the season.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on during the Huskers' fall camp.
Bo Pelini's Image
The offseason has always been good to Bo Pelini and his image. However, as the head coach enters his seventh season at the helm of Nebraska football, the 2014 offseason seems to have made the most impact.
After a rocky season filled with a leaked audio tape and a rough post-Iowa game press conference, Pelini finally decided it was time to make a change. As Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton reported from Big Ten media days, Pelini said that change was to let people see another side:
For whatever reason, I just made a decision to let people in a little bit and see that other side of me. It wasn't something where I just woke up one morning and said, 'Hey, I need to do this.' It just happened. It just makes things a little bit lighter, gives people an understanding of who I am and how it mirrors our program.
The question now becomes whether or not Pelini keeps that up during fall practice. In the past, this is the time when those offseason feel-good moments take a backseat. Pelini seems interested in keeping the good image going though, but only time will tell.
A positive for Pelini? He has his players' support.
“I can call Bo Pelini at 3 o’clock in the morning if I’m in trouble and he’d be there, no question about it,” wide receiver Kenny Bell said, as reported by the Grand Island Independent's Bob Hamar.
If nothing else, knowing how the players feel can change the narrative for Pelini in 2014.
Coming out of spring practice, Tommy Armstrong seemed to have the quarterback position locked up. After all, he started in eight games out of nine that he played in during the 2013 season. He definitely has the experience.
However, as SandhillsExpress.com notes, Pelini isn't ruling out Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe:
I would say because of his starting experience, Tommy has a leg up going in. Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe are tremendous talents. The kids did very well in the spring and I think it’s going to be an open competition. Like I said, I think when we line up day one it’ll be Tommy to walk out there and take the first snap.
If that says anything, it's that the job is Armstrong's to lose. Could Stanton or Fyfe give him a run for his money? They absolutely could.
Armstrong seems like the safe bet, but fall practice will have a lot of folks curious about how the quarterback competition plays out.
Offensive Line and Who Starts at Center
During Big Ten media days, Pelini used the word "efficient" quite a bit. That's what he wants from his team in 2014, and the offensive line is no exception.
However, there's a decent amount of concern around this group. While the offensive line gained a bit of experience in 2013 due to injuries, how it all shapes up is what has fans' attention.
The linemen are not necessarily interchangeable, so how offensive coordinator Tim Beck sorts it all out will be interesting to see. From there, it will be crucial that the unit meshes well together. That will ensure that they're blocking when they should be blocking and carrying out assignments as instructed.
A lot will be answered by who starts at center, as it could be the position that leads this group. Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star summed up the center position's importance perfectly:
While there was plenty of spring chatter about left tackle Alex Lewis and the chemistry with senior left guard Jake Cotton, and the hopes of big leaps from the likes of Mike Moudy and Zach Sterup on the right side, the machine doesn't work as it should without a strong presence in the center of it all.
So expect all eyes to be on Mark Pelini and Ryne Reeves. Whoever steps up could be a fundamental part of how this group works during the season.
Defensive End Depth
Going into Big Ten media days, there were a lot of questions about the depth at defensive end. The Lincoln Journal Star's Brian Christopherson summed most of those up:
How much can [Pelini] use Maliek Collins at D-end? How confident is [Pelini] about Marcus Newby lining up as a third-down pass rusher? How’s A.J. Natter’s health? What does Joe Keels have to do to be ready come Aug. 30? And what is his early take on new arrivals, such as Peyton Newell, Sedrick King and Mick Stoltenberg?
That's a lot of questions. However, it shows that there isn't a lot of certainty here beyond Randy Gregory and Greg McMullen.
Pelini has said that Keels has come a long way, as reported by the Kearney Hub. He seems like the most likely to step up, but it will be interesting.
Defensive end will definitely be a position to watch as fall camp goes on.
Who Will Kick?
Nebraska fans are not used to not having a solid kicker in place. Over the last several years, it seems this is an area that most don't even give a second thought to. However, 2014 is proving to be different.
The spring game, for instance, was a rough day for the kickers. Mauro Bondi missed an extra point and an 18-yard field-goal attempt. Spencer Lindsay also had a PAT blocked. By the end of the day, Pelini was frustrated.
"[Mauro Bondi] had a chance to separate himself as the place-kicker and didn't do it," Pelini said, as reported by The Associated Press (via USA Today).
From there, Pelini looked toward the future. "The bottom line, with the guys we have right now, they are all capable but none of them are consistent. So enter Drew Brown, we’ll find out," Pelini said.
And Brown will have a chance to finally compete against Bondi and Lindsay as fall camp begins. Will he take the starting spot? From the sounds of it, it's his job to lose.
All spring game quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.