Last week I was ruminating on a few things Nebraska would need to have happen in order for the Cornhuskers to have success in 2014. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong staying poised in the pocket and avoiding mistakes was there, as was a young but athletic defense holding steady in key situations. I even considered Nebraska's inability to perform well against top teams when it mattered the most.
At the top of the list, though: avoid injuries.
This is not a new mantra for this Cornhusker team. For the final play against Northwestern last year, Nebraska was without the services of six offensive starters, including offensive guards Spencer Long and Jake Cotton, receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner and, of course, four-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez.
It was the ultimate Hail Mary. It worked, but Nebraska fans would rather have seen the familiar faces racing down the sideline as time expired.
Many of those faces return for the 2014 season, but the injury bug has already struck one week into fall camp.
First there was the report of junior defensive back Charles Jackson, lost for the season when he sustained ligament damage to his left knee the second day of fall camp. Jackson, a confident player who looked to replace departed senior Ciante Evans as the nickelback in head coach Bo Pelini's complex defensive system, displayed great athleticism in the first two days of practice before his injury.
Three days later, sophomore linebacker Michael Rose tore his ACL in a non-contact injury. Rose was looking to build on a freshman season that ended on a high note, as he totaled 25 tackles in Nebraska's final two games, including 16 in a loss to Iowa.
On Monday, the Associated Press (via Fox News) reported that redshirt freshman running back Adam Taylor broke his ankle on Saturday and would miss a significant amount of time.
Add in the season-long suspension of sophomore safety LeRoy Alexander, and you've got yourself some Nebraska fans needing some heart medicine.
Fear not, Children of the Corn. There is no need to despair. While injuries are never good news, the positions could have been worse.
Adam Taylor would have been fighting for carries behind All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah, junior wrecking ball Imani Cross and sophomore speedster Terrell Newby. This is a position stocked with talent, and incoming freshman Mikale Wilbon (Chicago) only adds more depth. It is another setback for the talented back, but the cupboard is far from bare.
Michael Rose was looking to pick up where he left off, leading the way as the starting middle linebacker. It appears on the surface as though this injury could hurt badly, but this is another position where Nebraska has depth. Sophomore Josh Banderas split time with Rose in the spring and the first week of fall camp, and senior Trevor Roach, who missed 2013 with an injury, has had playing time at the position. David Santos and Zaire Anderson return as the starters at the other linebacker positions.
Losing Charles Jackson and LeRoy Alexander does leave the biggest dent, but Nebraska has the depth to fill both positions. Pelini has always stocked up on talent in the defensive secondary, and it will be used in 2014.
Sophomore Nathan Gerry, who excelled at the safety spot in high school, has moved from linebacker to fill the void and will likely start alongside senior Corey Cooper. Junior-college transfer Byerson Cockrell, who has played the nickelback position since enrolling at Nebraska in January, appears likely to stake claim on the starting spot. While this is not ideal and leaves an apparent vacancy at corner, the depth is there.
Juniors Jonathan Rose and Daniel Davie, along with redshirt freshman Boaz Joseph, will vie for the spot opposite junior returning starter Josh Mitchell. None have notable experience, but their athleticism and knowledge of Pelini's defensive schemes will allow the loss of prospective starters to be minimized.
It is also important to remember that, as of now, there are no significant injuries to any players in the trenches. As mentioned, Nebraska was cycling players through the offensive line much of the 2013 season, and it showed against teams with healthier bodies. The defensive line, thought to be the strength of the team heading into the 2014 season, is healthy.
The quarterbacks are healthy. Probable starter Tommy Armstrong Jr. did wear a green non-contact jersey on Monday after getting dinged pretty hard Saturday, but it's a safe bet he'll be at full strength for Nebraska's August 30 opener against Florida Atlantic. That's huge news for the Cornhuskers, a team that doesn't want to rotate quarterbacks like last season.
So take heart, Nebraska fans. Injuries happen. It's never fun to hear about them, but they happen. Contrary to popular belief, not every one is the end of the world. The players, and the depth, are there. This is the deepest and most athletic Nebraska has been at multiple positions since Pelini arrived in Lincoln.
This also provides depth moving forward. The young players with an opportunity to move up and practice with the starters or even start now will have gained so much moving forward. They will then compete with those who were injured this season.
That should put a smile on the faces of prognosticators. After all, the "key" players lost now will be around for another year to wreak havoc on opposing teams.
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