Nebraska Cornhuskers: 20 Players To Watch During Spring Practice
The official spring football practice press conferences are over.
Now, it’s time to strap on the pads and see how winter conditioning has treated the Nebraska football roster.
Plenty of players aren’t in danger of losing their starting roles, but everyone is going to have to prove that they belong.
This goes double for those being evaluated by new coaches on defense and perhaps triple for those working with a new offensive philosophy.
20 players stick out as Cornhuskers to keep a close eye on over the spring.
20: Cornerback Ciante Evans
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Ciante Evans was a prospect that Bo Pelini wanted to see in his defensive secondary as soon as possible.
He likely didn’t see Evans taking the field versus Missouri last season when Alfonzo Dennard was injured early in the game.
Ciante quickly erased all doubts from both fan bases as he covered Missouri veterans such as Wes Kemp like a pro and came back in one play after being shaken up.
Evans has grown up quickly and with Dennard preparing to take over the role of Prince Amukamara, someone needs to step up to be Alfonzo’s right hand man.
By the end of spring practice, Ciante may be closer to that title than any defensive back.
19: Defensive End Josh Williams
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Josh Williams has played to a serviceable degree, but not to the dominating level that he was thought capable upon initial recruitment.
With the graduation of Pierre Allen, Sr., Williams needs to come out swinging or with a patented swim move, at least.
The good news is that while Josh has been slowed by some of the Big 12’s more dominant linemen, he has proven to be a workout warrior since his arrival and this winter has been rumored to be no different.
This doesn’t always translate to fantastic successes on the field, but Williams has the measurements to be a dominant defensive end opposite Cam Meredith.
With Meredith out for the Spring with a shoulder injury, Williams has never had a better opportunity to showcase his skills.
18: Defensive End Jason Ankrah
Ankrah came into the Nebraska program with high praise.
Now a sophomore, he has an opportunity to show the Cornhusker fan base just what he’s learned over the past two seasons during his redshirt and freshman years.
He saw action in 10 games for Nebraska this past season.
While working against a Cornhusker offensive line implementing a base defense isn’t the most difficult test, it will allow Ankrah to gain confidence heading into summer conditioning and fall camp.
17: Wide Receiver Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Jean-Baptiste gives new Nebraska receivers coach Rich Fisher another big-bodied wide out talent out of Fort Scott Community College to work with alongside Brandon Kinnie.
Stanley may end up offering a bit more speed than Brandon does, but the ability to tower over many Big Ten defensive backs will serve Nebraska well as they work to implement a new passing attack.
16: Wide Receiver KC Hyland
KC's name might not be familiar to you, but by season’s end, Hyland may be a fan-favorite among Husker Nation.
Hyland’s impressive size at 6’6” 215 is what causes eyebrows to rise initially, but the buzz out of camp isn’t about his height, but his hands.
The Cornhuskers haven’t had a true possession receiver since Todd Peterson who graduated in 2008, but Hyland’s height and good hands could make him an invaluable tool in the red zone.
Look for plenty of battles in the back of the end zone between KC and Nebraska cornerbacks in the Cornhuskers’ spring scrimmage.
15: Defensive Tackle Kevin Williams
A true freshman out of Holland, Ohio, Williams wasted no time in getting packed and settling into new digs as a Cornhusker.
While not given an exceptional ranking by the most referenced recruiting sites, Rivals.com and Scout.com, Williams did hold offers from schools such as Michigan, Michigan State, Oregon, Stanford, Wisconsin and others.
Given the return of Jared Crick and depth at defensive tackle, it’s unlikely that Williams won't redshirt, but Cornhusker fans would be remiss if they didn’t keep an eye on his progress this spring.
14: Offensive Lineman Tyler Moore
Another fresh-faced youngster who found his way to Lincoln early, Moore was considered one of the finest offensive line prospects in the country during the last recruiting cycle.
He has a leg up on the four other offensive line recruits that Nebraska signed for the 2010-2011 class due to getting a head-start on his collegiate career.
Look for Moore to potentially rotate in and out on both lines during the Cornhuskers’ spring game where coaches see just how well linemen do with different quarterbacks on the fly.
13: Linebacker Graham Stoddard
Stoddard hasn't seen much of the spotlight, but thanks to Big Ten offenses, Cornhusker fans should see his skills put on display promptly.
Graham will likely be utilized quite a bit with Nebraksa probably shifting back to the 4-3 alignment more than in seasons past to help stop some of the more frequent power run games of the Big Ten.
Stoddard’s size plays a favorable factor for such a role as he stands 6’2” and weighs 235 pounds.
12: Linebacker Sean Fisher
While Fisher sat out 2010 with a leg injury, the massive linebacker returns ready to make up for lost time.
He allows for immediate depth behind likely starter at middle linebacker Will Compton and will make a legitimate run for the starting spot this spring.
11: Defensive End Eric Martin
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Eric Martin was an absolute terror for Nebraska on the special teams units in 2010.
He delivered some of the most devastating hits of the entire Cornhusker roster and his intensity transferred to those around him.
In 2011, Martin’s hand will touch the ground far more as he will move to defensive end in an effort to use his speed and physicality against Big Ten quarterbacks in a role more suited to his speed.
10: Safety P.J. Smith
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
While Nebraska likely won’t use quite as much of the Peso defensive formation versus the more power-oriented Big Ten teams, it should still remain and a replacement for Eric Hagg needs to be found.
The most likely candidate would be P.J. Smith.
Smith matches Hagg’s measurements at 6’2”, 210 pounds.
The $64,000 question is: Can he match the potential NFL draft pick’s production in the Peso?
9: Offensive Lineman Andrew Rodriguez
Rodriguez played in 2010 as a true freshman, but surprisingly received very little game time.
It’s a wonder why Nebraska didn’t put the mammoth sophomore on the field more, if not for a few plays per game.
Regardless, Rodriguez has plenty of talent to push forward and snag himself a role in steady rotation on the line, if not a starting spot.
8: Quarterback Brion Carnes
In 2010, Nebraska fans saw Taylor Martinez, Cody Green and Zac Lee.
All three had struggles, but for one reason or another, Brion Carnes sat on the sidelines with his redshirt season intact.
It’s time to see what the Bradenton, Florida native can do as Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator Tim Beck revamps the system and opens the race for the Cornhuskers’ starting quarterback once more.
7: Offensive Lineman Jermarcus "Yoshi" Hardrick
With one of the most intense stares and physically imposing presences on the roster, Hardrick has all of the necessary tools to become a force in the trenches for Nebraska during his senior year.
In 2010, he found himself being rushed past and pushed back by some of the best defensive ends and tackles that the Big 12 had to offer.
"Yoshi" has been verbally animated about his desire to succeed.
If he can be as passionate in continuing to develop his skills as a lineman, there is no reason that Hardrick can't have a very productive spring.
If not, there are plenty of young guns ready to take his place.
6: Linebacker Micah Kreikemeier
Kreikemeier has been looked at in some very unflattering ways ever since he was offered as a recruit.
The junior from West Point, Nebraska can start silencing critics this month as his 6’3”, 220-pound frame gives him the necessary size to compete in the Big Ten.
The most important factor is whether or not Kreikemeier actually has the tools that players like Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Graham Stoddard have already displayed.
5: Fullback Tyler Legate
A new, physical offense for the Big Ten demands big backs and Tyler Legate fits that description perfectly.
The stout fullback has shown the ability to block and even catch passes out of the backfield, but he could find himself handling the football a bit more as Nebraska may be shifting back towards handing him the ball.
Seeing just how involved he is in the Cornhuskers’ final scrimmage should speak volumes towards just how physical Nebraska wants to be.
4: Quarterback/Athlete Jamal Turner
Turner is one of the most exciting unknowns of Nebraska’s spring practices.
Jamal was recruited as a quarterback, but his athleticism nearly demands that he be on the field in one capacity or another if he doesn’t command the starting role come the fall.
Turner does show potential for a number of positions having played wide receiver during the Under Armour All-America Football Game.
Expect to see him under center for spring practice for the most part, but don’t be surprised if he finds himself with the ball in his hands after having nothing to do with the snap.
3: Wide Receiver Quincy Enunwa
Enunwa is the receiver garnering the most buzz going into spring camp.
With Niles Paul gone, Brandon Kinnie is being looked to for veteran leadership, but Enunwa may very well be the most well-rounded receiver and the best option to lead the corps by example.
At 6’2”, 215 pounds, Enunwa has excellent size to go up against physical Big Ten cornerbacks and safeties.
His speed isn’t an issue either as he displayed it, though rarely, in 2010.
2: Quarterback Cody Green
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Coming to Nebraska as a heralded recruit in 2009, Green was thrust into the spotlight early and has had criticism thrown at him like blitzes ever since.
Worry about his passing accuracy, acceleration, overall speed and other areas have prompted a discussion amongst fans regarding a position change.
Green is now in his junior season and thus far has been an excellent ambassador for the program with a constant smile and praise for those around him.
Is he willing to look into a different role or might better opportunities await him at another destination altogether?
Spring practice might dictate whether Green stays or goes.
1: Quarterback Taylor Martinez
Taylor is back, but is he better than ever?
Martinez suffered a tumultuous redshirt freshman season fraught with injury and confusion following the Missouri game.
He heads into spring practice likely to not only begin it as the starter, but finish camp as such.
When last we compared Cody Green and Martinez, the difference in speed and acceleration wasn’t even close.
He does have the edge on Carnes in game experience, but Brion has taken a similar road to Martinez’s as the eventual starting quarterback by first working with the scout team and honing his skills against a stout defense.
Will there be T-Magic once again come April 16 in Lincoln?
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