Offensively Speaking, Meet Nebraska's Studs And Duds

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Offensively Speaking, Meet Nebraska's Studs And Duds

By now, the NFL Draft hype has settled down, and sports writers are shifting to the 2010 season—especially in college football.

Images of the Oregon Ducks, and for some reason, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, are dominating the airwaves as of late, and with it comes the over-analyzing of every situation.

But if there is a fan base that ranks within the top five of over-analyzing, it's Nebraska's Husker Nation.

Ah, heck, they're in the top three.

There are only so many things to think about before the annual spring game, and then there are only more questions after the intra-squad scrimmage.

Questions that started before the spring game, become even more diluted after it.

Case in point: Is the defensive line really that much worse, or is the offensive line that much better?

Questions, not answers, remain until that wonderful day in September—Opening Day.

Still, rarely does the season-opener provide fans with all the answers, as they are usually forced to wait until a game, say, against the Washington Huskies, to get a true read on their Huskers.

So what are the questions, and what are some answers facing Husker Nation heading into 2010 as far as positional battles are concerned? Let's look and see.

Quarterback

I thought I would start with the obvious. The quarterback position was much maligned last season, whether Cody Green was playing, or Zac Lee. In fact, at moments during the Holiday Bowl, Rex Burkhead looked like a more viable option.

So who are the studs and the duds in 2010?

Studs:

  1. Zac Lee: People may get angry with this pick, but nothing I saw out of Taylor Martinez, Cody Green, or Kody Spano in the spring game made me think that any of them were more ready for leading this team in crunch time than Lee. If he can call on his experience and recover from his surgery completely healthy, Lee could have a Scott Frost-type second season.
  2. Cody Green: Green showed arm strength, pocket presence and maneuverability in the spring game, but still lacked in decision-making and touch. Honestly, if Green can look more confident and reactive in his play-making, he could push for the starting job in 2010. Sometimes, it seems like Green is thinking too hard, instead of reacting to a situation and improvising to make a play—something that Joe Ganz did amazingly well.
  3. Taylor Martinez: Martinez showed rawability, and almost supernatural talent in the spring game. Sure, he wowed the crowd with his ability to run the ball, but ultimately Martinez isn't seasoned enough to make the start this fall, but with his play-making ability, he is the most likely of the three to see playing time, no matter his place on the QB depth chart.

Duds:

  1. Kody Spano: Spano has talent and arm strength for sure, but his weak knees and inexperience will probably keep him buried on the depth chart his entire career. He could surprise, but I highly doubt it.
  2. Ron Kellogg, Jr.: He's small, spunky, and carries a great work ethic in the locker room. That's about it. I had heard so many good things about him, that I was champing at the bit to see him in action during the spring game. Four plays and two sacks later, I was convinced that he won't be the next Todd Reesing.
  3. Brion Carnes: Too little is known about Carnes to accurately depict his future at Nebraska in his freshman year, but he couldn't be coming into a better position to make an impact. With no clear starter, Carnes could make a late push come fall, but he has a lot of time to make up to become a starter.

Running Back

This race seems obvious enough, and is more about the No. 3 spot, than the one or two spots. Burkhead and Roy Helu, Jr. will be battling for the number one position, but both will see the field plenty of time this season.

Studs:

  1. Roy Helu, Jr.: I know many people want to dethrone the two-season playmaker at I-Back, but he might be one of the best regular season backs Nebraska has had in a long time. While Helu may be an awful Bowl back throughout his career, the regular season has been his forte, and he is bound to have a more durable season with Burkhead able to spell him more often.
  2. Rex Burkhead: The Wild-Rex was a hit in the Holiday Bowl, and it showed that Burkhead could not only be a viable back up to Helu, but could also become a playmaker. In 2010, look for the sophomore to erupt on the scene with a few over 100-yard rushing games.
  3. Dontrayevous Robinson: Sure, he didn't have a good spring game, but Robinson still needs to learn how to carry his new-found bulk into a game. Robinson has figured out the best way for him get some playing time this season is to become Nebraska's short-yardage back this season.

Duds

  1. Collins Okafor: He almost gave up last year, and despite having a decent spring game, we won't hear much from him this season.
  2. Austin Jones: He has potential, especially with improvisation, but he fumbled too many times in the spring game, and the turnover bug killed Nebraska last season.
  3. Lester Ward : He's big and has potentia,l but Ward runs more into the backs of his blockers than into the clear. Even still, out of the three, he could be the one who pushes for the most time behind the top three and Braylon Heard.

Wide Receiver:

The wideout position was marred with inconsistency and lack of aggression. The lone player that stood out last season was Niles Paul, but besides him, no one else stepped up to take the heat off of the running game and Zac Lee.

Studs:

  1. Niles Paul: This is an obvious choice. Between the Iowa State and Arizona games, Paul came on strong in 2009. He was the one player that played better in the spring game than he did last season, and he looked passionate and confident. Combined with his talent, it makes Paul a viable threat in the Big 12 in 2010.
  2. Brandon Kinnie: Even though in a real game his touchdown run after the catch would have been called dead around the 15-yard line, Kinnie showed tenacity and ability. Kinnie has an NFL-type body and skills—all he needs to do now is put it all together in the regular season. Kinnie could make a push into the NFL Draft follwing the 2011-12 season.
  3. Mike McNeill: Mike McNeill resembled a player like Dallas Clark in the spring game. He ran his routes crisply, and because of his tight end background, could finish blocks on run plays. McNeill could be a great slot receiver in 2010, and he might make a team like the Colts sit up and take notice going into the 2011 draft.
  4. Will Henry: The senior from El Paso, Texas, hasn't made many strides in his career at Nebraska, but he looks to be a few catches away from bursting onto the scene in a major way in 2010. At 6'5" he has NFL size, and judging by the spring game, he also has NFL-caliber speed.
  5. KC Hyland:  Hyland has been on my radar since last season. He stands 6'6", and has hands like duct tape. If you throw it in his direction he will catch it, or take it away from the defensive back (as seen in the spring game). Hyland won't blow you away with his speed, but he has ability and keen red zone instincts. Look for him to grab a few big receptions come the end of the 2010 season.

Duds:

  1. Khiry Cooper: Cooper has to decide between baseball and football if he wants to make any headway on the gridiron next season. He has good route-running skills, but he will always be a step behind mentally, and that might hurt him in the long run.
  2. Curesnki Gilleylen: Gilleylen has the speed to be a playmaker, but lacks that consistency that's needed at the Big 12 level.  Gilleylen could be great, but given the past two seasons, it seems his ship has sailed.
  3. Tim Marlowe: Marlowe looked great as a return man in the spring game, but for him that's what he will have to hang his hat on. He has speed, but lacks the size and route-running ability of an FBS receiver.
  4. Antonio Bell: Judging from the spring game, Bell's speed was grossly overstated. He barely got past the 20-yard line on each of his returns, which tells me two things: 1) His vision is lacking, and 2) He lacks that "burst" of speed it takes to get to the next level.

Left Tackle:

LT is always a concern going into a season, regardless of who the starter was the previous year. What does the battle look like this year?

Studs:

  1. Jermarcus Hardrick: To my disappointment, the junior college transfer wasn't available for action in the spring game, but his size and foot speed are incredible, and he has the look of an NFL offensive lineman. Hardrick should be named the starter by season's start.
  2. Mike Smith: Smith can still be used on the right side of the line, or at guard. He is athletic enough to be versatile, but most likely doesn't have the horses to keep up with the superior in talent Hardrick.

Dud:

  • Marcel Jones: Jones might not see the field much this season.  He was one of the reasons for a few of the team's red zone meltdowns in 2009. With Smith and Hardrick in his way, he must switch positions to get more playing time.

Center:

One of the most underrated positions on the offensive line, the center reads the defensive line as well as the linebacker positions on the field, and protects the quarterback, especially the QB that is too inexperienced to make those adjustments without his prompting.

Studs :

  • Mike Caputo: Mostly because there hasn't been much of a push from anyone else. Caputo isn't the biggest guy on the field, but he is one of the most technically sound. Caputo is a good leader, and played well in limited rolls in 2009.
  • Mike Smith: With Hardrick taking over at the left tackle position, Smith might move over to center to add some depth.

Dud:

  • Ricky Henry: Some say Henry could make the transition and still claim he might make the transition this fall, but I would have to say that he can't and won't make the switch.

As far as the offensive position battles go, these seem to be the most prominent.  Look for them to still be running full during the first two games of the season.

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