It's getting to be that time of year again.
The time of year where Husker fans everywhere salivate at the prospects of next season.
The 2010 spring game, like all spring games, is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. It will be but a tease of what is to come in early September, but it will at least give Nebraska fans something to talk about for the next five months.
What follows is who I believe will be on the depth chart at each position come April 17th in the annual and storied Red/White game.
A reminder: These are opinions based on what I have observed and know from the past few months. Feel free to chime in and offer suggestions as to other "sleepers" that I may not be considering. (Reminder: Zac Lee will miss spring practices due to surgery on his throwing arm.)
Measurables: 6'4", 220 lbs
Game Experience—Played In: Nine Games
Started: Two Games
Career Passing Statistics: 33-62, 53.2%, 2 TDs 2 INTs
Career Rushing Statistics: 31 Attempts 158 yards 5.2/carry 2 TDs
Since Zac Lee will be side lined the entire spring semester recovering from arm surgery look for Cody Green to try to steal his starting job permanently this spring. Green has starting experience and tremendous up side.
Fans were calling for Green replace Lee nearly all season in 2009 until Lee's breakout game against Arizona seemed to make the quarterback race for 2010 even more unclear.
If Green wants to have a legitimate shot at the starting job next season he must seize the spring ball opportunity to work with the first team. Green has the size, speed, accuracy, and talent to be a starter at the FBS level, but he must develop touch and better decision making if he wants to grasp at the starting roll for 2010.
He may have the most to prove of anyone in spring ball this season and given his competition level he may just even the playing field come August.
Measurables: 6'2", 215 lbs
Game Experience—None (Redshirt and Injured)
To be honest I waffled with between Spano, Martinez, and Washington before settling on Spano because of seniority. Spano was all the rage coming out of his Redshirt Freshman year when he ran the scout team. In fact, if he hadn't gotten injured early in fall camp last season he may have even contended for the starting job, forcing Green to Redshirt.
Spano has decent speed, can throw on the run and NFL caliber size to his name. He also seems to have the intangibles to make a run. If anyone has a shot at forcing his way into the top three spots on the roster at quarterback this spring it would be him.
Spano is unproven, unweathered, and has little-to-no experience. The weakness of his knees is also a concern seeing as he has torn the same knee up twice since coming to Nebraska. If he can stay healthy, Spano should be able to make a significant push during the spring, enough so that he takes the number two spot going into the Red-White game.
Measurables: 6'6", 295 lbs
Game Experience—Played In: 38 Games
Started: 25 Games
Mike Smith better watch his back this spring because JUCO transfer Jermarcus Hardrick is going to make a strong push for that starting left tackle spot. Smith though, has experience on his side, starting in 25 games.
Smith may have been one of the stronger offensive lineman in 2009 and will look to solidify his starting roll come this spring. There is not much to suggest that he will lose his job, but the addition of Hardrick will definitely force him to continually improve if he wants to keep it.
Measurables: 6'7", 310 lbs
Game Experience—Played In: 26 Games
Started: 2 Games
Marcel Jones is a big bodied offensive lineman with a lot to offer. And he was hoping to solidify a spot as a starter this season. And still can. Jones uses his hands well and will get significant playing time regardless of whether or not he starts next season.
With Hardrick and Smith in the way though it will be tough to Jones to push through to the starting role this spring. He has ability to do so though and one should watch his work with the second team, because he can handle himself down low.
The problem with Jones is that he has some problems with penalties, false starts, illegal shifts—mental mistakes mostly. If he sures those things up this semester he could be a huge (pun intended) asset to the offensive line in 2010.
Measurables: 6'5", 315 lbs
Game Experience —Played In: 34 Games
Started: 19 Games
Keith Williams didn't start out on the top of the depth chart his junior year, but worked up to the starting role by the time the Virginia Tech game rolled around. Then, he started the next 10 games at left guard.
There's not much to be said about Williams, other than that he is strong, pulls well on running plays and is good with his hands. In his senior year it looks like Williams may be one of the most experienced offensive lineman out there. Look for him to solidify his role as starter this spring.
Measurables: 6'7", 330 lbs
Brent Qvale was something to write home about for Barney Cotton early in fall ball before the 2009 season. He had turned some heads as a true freshman and looked like he might even be competing for a spot on the Depth Chart by the time Nebraska's first game came around.
But he got injured before the first game and as a result was redshirted his freshman season. Don't be surprised of Qvale makes a lot of headway this spring and even pushes to second string by the time the spring game comes around.
He was a sleeper of last years recruiting class, and could surface again before fall ball comes around.
Measurables: 6'1", 275 lbs
Game Experience—Played in a few games when Jacob Hickman went out because of Injury.
It is said that Mike Caputo is a bit undersized, but according to Nebraska's offensive staff he may have some of the best technical skills at the center position in the Big 12.
Caputo must play much better and with better footing, but looks like he can be a viable center for the Huskers in 2010. He uses his hands well and is a smart player that has learned well from Hickman. He has the most experience of any lineman at the position and should put on a bit more weight this season to make himself more sturdy.
Measurables: 6'3", 280 lbs
Little is known about Brian Thorson but that he was projected to be one of the back-ups to Hickman last season. Instead he rode the bench behind Caputo. Seems to be more of the same for the product out of Omaha, Nebraska.
Measurables: 6'4", 300 lbs
Game Experience—Started at Right Guard most of last season.
Ricky Henry is a significant talent at the guard spot, the problem is that he is hot headed and tends to screw up in the red zone. If anyone recalls the Red Zone debacle that cost Nebraska a game winning score it was Henry who got caught holding once and false started another time.
Henry is good and has the potential to be great. If he can bring himself together this spring he could turn into an All-Big 12 guard, but he must be able to remain confident and disciplined if he wants to maintain his starting position next season.
Measurables: 6'6", 295 lbs
Brandon Thompson is a tall, athletic sophomore that has promising ability on the offensive side of the ball. He has a long wing span which helps with his engaging of the defensive line and he can move off the ball quickly.
Thompson should make a bit of a splash this spring and should be able to make headway into the 2010 season. Look for him to make a big push this spring...of course I could be completely wrong and someone like Jeremiah Sirles could move up as well. Right now the back-ups for the offensive line are fairly wide open.
Measurables: 6'7", 315 lbs
Game Experience—Two years JUCO (Fort Scott Junior College)
Jermarcus Hardrick may be able to get himself into the starting left tackle position before the spring is over but this massive yet quick talent can dominate almost any player that lines up on the opposite side of him.
Hardrick finishes run plays really well and works into the second level extremely quickly. He was the biggest hit this recruiting class for Nebraska and should contribute right away. Hardrick enrolled early at in Lincoln to get a good jump on the spring.
Look for Hardick to push his way into that Left Tackle spot by the fall, if not he looks to be a sure-fire bet to contribute at least on the right side of the offensive lines to open up holes for Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead.
Measurables: 6'5", 315 lbs
Game Experience—Started most of 2009 contributed in eleven games from 07-08
DJ Jones is much like Ricky Henry in that he has a lot of ability with too little discipline. Jones was one of the other players that was the cause for Nebraska's problems in the red zone in 2009, especially in the Virginia Tech game.
Jones is a strong bodied back up that will serve well in running situations but hasn't really progressed as a pass protector. Jones will most likely serve as an oft-used back-up in 2010.
Measurables: 6'3", 215 lbs
Game Experience—Played In: 11 Games
Career Statistics: 15 Receptions, 141 Yards
Brandon Kinnie really started coming into his own at the end of last season. The JUCO standout had two near-touchdown receptions on jump balls in the end zone in the Big 12 championship game and has become the big body to off set Niles Paul.
Kinnie looks like could be like Maurice Purify next season, but better. Watch for him to push for that first spot at the X position next season. He will be the player catching fade routes and running patterns over the middle. Kinnie has adequate speed and good hands (as exhibited in a few one handed catches in 2009).
Kinnie is my breakout player of the spring this season, and possibly of the year in 2010.
Measurables: 6'2", 195 lbs
Game Experience—Played In: Eight Games
Career Statistics: 13 Receptions, 80 Yards, 1 TD
Cooper emerged as a stable receiver in 2009, but must choose between baseball and football if he wants to make a strong impact next year. This spring he will have that opportunity.
Cooper has good speed and route running abilities but hasn't proven that he can be that good of a go to receiver in his tenure at Nebraska. His blocking needs to improve a bit to be a viable threat, but he will be the one giving Kinnie the run for his money at the X position.
Measurables: 6'1", 215 lbs
Game Experience—Played In: Started all last season—played in limited roles his Sophomore Season
Career Statistics: 64 Receptions 1,016 Yards, 4 TDs
Niles Paul showed that he can be a game breaker in the closing games of the season last year. Not much can be said about Paul that hasn't been said already, although the fact that he is the safest starter this season going into spring should make Husker fans grin.
He is good, but could be great, he just needs to hold onto the ball better and turn the ball up field quicker on the short routes. Paul is a fast reliable receiver that looks like he is coming into his own just in time for his Senior season. Paul will be one of the most surefire bets on offense going into the fall in 2010.
Measurables: 6'0", 215 lbs
Game Experience—Played In: Nine games in 2009 and sparsely used in 08.
Career Statistics: 19 Receptions, 313 Yards, 1 TD
Gilleylen has showed an ability to be a game-breaking receiver when he has been able to catch the ball. Last year it looked like he had remedied that problem, at least until the Iowa State game when he literally dropped the ball, but then again so did most of the rest of the Husker players that day.
If Gilleylen can sure up his hands he could be a break away slot receiver in the 2010 season and could set himself up for a big senior season in 2011. However Gilleylen must prove his ability this spring if he wants to make any head way before his junior season.
Measurables: 5'10", 225 lbs
Game Experience—Started all 14 games at full back his freshman year
Career Statistics: 3 Receptions, 27 Yards, 1 TD
Tyler Legate was a sure fire starter his Freshman season and looks to be such for the next three years for the Big Red. He even had a touchdown catch early in the year and has proved that he can catch the ball and run with it as well as block for great running backs like Helu and Burkhead.
Besides Niles Paul, Legate may be the most sure fire bet at his position as a starter going into the spring. He has come into his career with great skills and good size and only looks to get better as his career moves forward.
Measurables: 6'1", 235 lbs
Game Experience—Special Teams through the 08-09 seasons
Hays has the most experience behind Legate at playing in the collegiate level. His contributions may go unrecognized by most people but he has played his heart out on special teams throughout his career.
We probably won't see Hays come in at full back in 2010 except during the Spring Game, baring an injury to Legate that is.
Measurables: 6'0" 215 lbs
Game Experience—Limited action in Freshman season, saw significant playing time behind Marlon Lucky Sophomore year, started all 14 games in 2009 as Running Back
Career Rushing Statistics: 390 Attempts, 2,159 Yards, 16 TDs
Career Receiving Statistics: 49 Receptions, 455 Yards
Roy Helu Junior comes into this season as one of the best and most heralded regular season running for over 2,000 yards in his career. He hasn't proven to be durable back over his career though, bogging late in the 08 and 09 seasons and seeing only four carries in two Bowl appearances.
Helu should be back and ready for a lot of action in 2010. With Burkhead, Robinson, and Braylon Heard in the background he may be able to take a blow every now and then while the capable back-ups spell him and keep him healthy.
Helu looks like he may be one of the best running backs in the Big 12 in 2010. He may see limited action in spring ball, but even though Burkhead is good, don't look for the Sophomore to even threaten Helu's starting job unless, again, Helu gets injured.
Measurables: 5'11", 200 lbs
Game Experience—Saw action in nine games his freshman season
Career Rushing Statistics: 81 Attempts, 349 Yards, 3 TDs
Career Receiving Statistics: 13 Receptions, 90 Yards, 1 TD
Rex Burkhead was one of, if not the biggest impact players of Nebraskas 2009 recruiting class last season. Burkhead was a much needed lightening to Helu's thunder last season and culminated an impressive rookie campaign running for 92 yards out of the Wildcat (or as I like to call it the Wild Rex) in the Holiday Bowl.
Burkhead will gain even more momentum with some time in the weight room and experience at the college level. Nebraska may have one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the nation next season. Burkhead doesn't have much to prove in the spring, but how well he does may define how confident Nerbaska is going into 2010.
Measurables: 6'4", 240 lbs
Game Experience—Started the last two seasons at Tight End
Career Statistics: 61 Receptions, 726 Yards, 10 TDs
Mike McNeill was one of the best Tight Ends in the Big 12, if not the country, coming into the 2009 season. He set all kinds of receiving records his Sophomore year.
But a switch in the quarterbacks and losing two of the most prolific wide receivers in the Big 12 and McNeill had what can only be described as a down year last season. But this year with most of the starters back and with Watson remembering that Nebraska has a tight end look for McNeill to once again explode in 2010.
This spring all he has to prove is that he is still the reigning Tight End and can be as impactful as he was his Sophomore season all year long.
Measurables: 6'4", 250lbs
Game Experience—Played second fiddle to McNeill through 2008 and 09.
Career Statistics: 15 Receptions, 232 Yards, 1 TD
Dreu Young may be one of the most unheralded Tight Ends in the Big 12 over the past few years. He can make all the catches, run all the routes, and block when needed to.
Young still has yet to have that break out season that some though he was going to have last year. In 2009 Young caught only five balls for 78 yards and no touchdowns.
Young will be playing with a chip on his shoulder this spring and still wants to show that he can be a go to guy in this offense. If he wants to make someone sit up and notice this spring is the perfect opportunity.
(QB) Taylor Martinez—So.: Could be a sleeper this season, and might even make the jump up to second string depending on how his spring goes.
(QB) Latravis Washingto—Sr.: Many write him off because he is a converted linebacker, but he has the ability to play well at the quarterback level.
(WR) KC Hyland—So.: Tall, good route runner from Nebraska. Needs to work on his hands but he could be a big asset in the walk-on program.
(OL) Jeremiah Sirles—RFr.: Big player with adequate size and good hands, could make a run to a position on the depth chart in 2010.
(WR) Antonio Bell—So.: Speedster with good ability and great potential