After Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini unveiled the group of hand-picked coaches that he would be working with back in early February, two near-certainties arose.
The defense likely won't skip a beat with the Pelini brothers still in command, and no one outside of the coaching staff knows just what offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s up to regarding a new scheme to score points. Are the Cornhuskers going to require a heavy reliance on their defense again in 2011 to get things done?
Thankfully for the defense, it doesn’t look likely.
Putting a successful offensive unit on the field begins with the linemen. No matter what fantasy lineup you can think of at the skill positions, if you don’t have quality athletes in the trenches, they’re not going to be able to accomplish their goals.
Luckily, Nebraska has quality experience, depth and talented youth up front.
Look for seniors Mike Caputo (center) and Jermarcus Hardrick (right tackle) to add veteran leadership to the starting five. Sophomores Jeremiah Sirles (left tackle), Andrew Rodriguez (guard) and Brent Qvale (guard) are likely to complete the lineup. Sirles gained valuable experience in 2010 starting every game. Rodriguez was the first true freshman to see time on the offensive line since 1999.
Nebraska’s depth branches out with Marcel Jones (tackle), Cole Pensick (center), Brandon Thompson (guard) and Mike Moudy (guard). The list doesn’t stop there, as a litany of highly-regarded offensive line recruits has flooded the roster.
One of those, Tyler Moore, has been on campus since December. Offensive line coach Barney Cotton has been impressed with Moore’s ability to adapt to the college game so quickly.
“I betcha 95 percent of high school seniors can't do this. I mean, because it's too hard on them, it's too much, and they're not ready. But he's a pretty mature kid. I think you have to have that maturity. Otherwise, there's no way you could pull it off,” Cotton told the Lincoln Journal Star.
The result of Beck’s system likely means tighter splits for the line creating a slightly larger margin for error which helps address the inexperience issue immediately. Brute strength isn’t going to be enough by itself for an offensive lineman, but in more of a rumored power-oriented system, it’s one of the most necessary qualities.
The wide receivers, now coached by new staff member Rich Fisher, have a boatload of talent.
Senior Brandon Kinnie is a lock for a starting spot. Word out of spring camp is that sophomore Stanley Jean-Baptiste has been impressing and with his abilities, plenty of playing time seems likely. Sophomore Quincy Enunwa, another receiver thought highly of, and finally KC Hyland, a 6’6” 215-pound junior, appear to be the third and fourth members of a starting lineup.
These players will likely see a tweak in their responsibilities. They will still be blocking for the run game and naturally expected to catch passes, but the amount of blocking may increase slightly.
Their responsibility on the receiving end of a pass will increase significantly. Beck will likely rely upon them to make plays for the quarterback on potential play action passes, specifically rollouts.
Look for the tight ends’ importance to ramp up with Ben Cotton leading the charge as Nebraska’s purest player at that position. Kyler Reed, and potentially Lester Ward, will look to be a speedier version as the Cornhuskers look to re-create Reed’s breakout season from last year.
The running backs’ jobs shouldn’t change too much. The Wildcat formation featuring Rex Burkhead was far too efficient to toss it out of the window. Zone read plays should also prove fruitful.
What may take the new offense by storm is a blast from the past for Nebraska fans: frequent use of the fullback.
Look for senior Tyler Legate to get plenty of blocking opportunities and even a few carries.
Finally, Beck will likely take some of the play-making burden off of the quarterbacks. Beck will still expect to use Taylor Martinez, Cody Green and others in multiple ways, but as mentioned before, all other offensive units will be looking to assist the quarterback.
Should the option game return to an extent, all 10 other players need to block efficiently or the play dies almost immediately. If the Cornhuskers install the Diamond formation, extreme focus and split-second reaction is going to be vital from game one.
The bottom line is that while quarterbacks will still be expected to use their feet along with throwing the ball accurately when necessary, Nebraska's signal-callers can't afford to look for someone downfield for all of one second and then take off. Effective passing needs to be at the forefront of the Cornhusker attack.
The essential components are there for this offense to put up enough points to win a good number of games, but the importance of the offensive line can’t be emphasized enough.
If Cotton isn’t able to shore up offensive penalties that saw many Cornhusker drives killed last season and create a successful two-deep out of the talent he has, Beck will be tearing his hair out.
Should Cotton manage to address the issues that have plagued his lines since his arrival, the two should get along just fine throughout this season and several down the line.
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