Nebraska Cornhuskers: Rex Burkhead and the 10 Most Promising Players in 2011
Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers will kick off their inaugural B1G season with a bunch of new starters on both sides of the ball.
With the departures of starters Prince Amukamara, Roy Helu Jr., Niles Paul, Pierre Allen, Mike McNeill, Keith Williams, DJ Jones, Dejon Gomes and Eric Hagg, many young and promising players will be counted on to adequately fill the vacant positions.
And as difficult as replacing that many starters normally is, the task appears even more daunting when you factor in Nebraska's gauntlet-of-a-schedule.
However, some of the Huskers' most talented young players emerged this spring, making the 2011 season appear a little brighter. Even still, Nebraska will have to rely on the continued development of those players to have a successful season.
As the season draws closer, we take a look at 10 new potential starters who show the most promise for 2011.
Note: Players who were regular starters in 2010 (Lavonte David, Jared Crick, Alfonzo Dennard, Brandon Kinnie, etc.) were not considered for this list.
Sources: HuskerMax.com, ESPN.com, Google Images
10. Quincy Enunwa, WR
Quincy Enunwa was one of just a few true freshmen to play for Nebraska in 2010.
He caught one pass for 10 yards in the season opener against Western Kentucky. While that may not seem very impressive, Enunwa likely would have had significantly more stats had the passing game not struggled so mightily.
The sophomore's 6'2", 205-pound frame makes him a mismatch against smaller cornerbacks, and he could excel in an offense that will most likely consist of shorter, quicker passes, as well as simpler routes. He has good athleticism and could be a primary end-zone target as well.
In 2010, Enunwa played in the slot behind Mike McNeill, but he would be a good fit out wide as well.
While he has plenty of competition, Enunwa will almost certainly be included somewhere in the two-deep and should be one of the more frequent pass catchers.
9. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, WR
One of Quincy Enunwa's top competitors, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, is a very talented individual himself.
As the fourth prospect from Fort Scott Community College to commit to the Big Red since Bo Pelini took over, Jean-Baptiste is a continuation of what has become a pipeline out of Kansas.
"SJB" is measured at 6'3", 205 pounds, and although he has yet to record any stats after redshirting, the sophomore will look to compete immediately for a starting job across from his Fort Scott counterpart, Brandon Kinnie.
Jean-Baptiste reportedly made strides this past spring and had an impressive, leaping 26-yard catch in the spring game.
No matter who wins the job across from Kinnie, all parties will likely reap the rewards of drawing the opponent's second-best cornerback.
Watch for Jean-Baptiste to be one who capitalizes on those opportunities.
8. Brent Qvale, OG
Just a 3-star prospect out of high school, Brent Qvale nearly earned playing time in his true freshman year before getting injured prior to the season.
Now a redshirt sophomore, Brent Qvale is first in line to replace departed senior Ricky Henry at right guard.
At an incredible 6'7", 320 pounds, Qvale has the size of a typical NFL offensive tackle and should be able to handle most defensive tackles not named Ndamukong Suh.
When you take into account the fact that coaches actually considered playing this kid right out of high school, his ceiling seems pretty high.
He should be an anchor on a significantly improved Husker offensive line.
7. Andrew Rodriguez, OG
With the departure of two starting guards, the Huskers will need both Brent Qvale and true sophomore Andrew Rodriguez to step up in a big way.
Another behemoth at 6'6" and 325 pounds, Rodriguez was a highly recruited high school prospect out of Nebraska and committed to the home-state Huskers early in the recruiting process.
Rodriguez was another of the few true freshmen to earn playing time in 2010 and has a ceiling just as high as or higher than Qvale's.
Now that the Huskers are without the underrated Keith Williams, Andrew Rodriguez will have some big shoes to fill at left guard.
He certainly has the talent to not only replace Williams, but excel in his place.
6. Kenny Bell, WR
Kenny Bell was one of the most exciting players throughout spring practice. But according to teammates, his emergence wasn't just this spring.
Bell reportedly used his blazing speed to give the starting defense fits in practice from a scout team position, and that was just as a true freshman.
When you realize how good Nebraska's secondary was in 2010, you start to wonder about this kid.
Bell wrapped up a strong spring with a three-catch, 42-yard performance in the spring game, prompting his name to be occasionally mentioned in the same sentence as "starter."
At 6'1" and just 175 pounds, Bell needs to add a bit of muscle mass before taking the field in the fall. But if he can prove to be at least serviceable as a blocker, this kid will be on the field flying past defenders in 2011.
Count on the redshirt freshman being one of the team's top weapons in '11.
5. Eric Martin, DE
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Finally, a defensive player.
Junior Eric Martin, who recently switched from linebacker to defensive end, is one of a few guys at the position who could start in 2011 after the departure of senior mainstay Pierre Allen.
In addition to Jason Ankrah, Josh Williams and JUCO prospect Joe Carter, Martin will be competing for the a spot across from Cameron Meredith.
While a committee could be used if nobody separates themselves from the pack, Martin has the best chance to make an impact on this defense out of any of the current defensive ends other than Meredith.
It seemed that the light bulb finally came on for Martin this past spring, who is listed at 6'2" and 240 pounds, but could be up to 255 by the start of the season. He proved to be a tenacious and aggressive pass rusher during the spring game.
His ferocious football mentality is what Bo Pelini looks for in his defenders, and when the season begins Martin has the opportunity to be starting on one of the nation's best defensive lines.
At worst, he will be a pass rushing specialist who will benefit from the Pelinis' blitz packages and record several quarterback sacks.
4. Jamal Turner, WR/ATH
After a spring to remember, Jamal Turner's fame in the state of Nebraska must have increased exponentially.
I have to imagine he had about 1.8 million Facebook friend requests after Nebraska's spring game.
Turner is the big new thing in Lincoln after his electrifying performance on April 16. Chances are most of you have memorized his stat line after seeing it everywhere in the media, but just in case, here it is:
Four catches, 92 yards, one touchdown, a punt return for 59 yards, and one kick return for 52 yards.
Folks, this is a true freshman that has yet to see action in a college football game. Think he has some potential?
While that performance would lead anyone to believe that his permanent home is receiver and returner, the versatile Arlington, Texas native could be utilized at quarterback and running back as well.
Although unproven, Jamal Turner might be the most gifted athlete Nebraska has on its roster. And fans of the Big Red know that's saying a lot.
Barring injury, expect Jamal Turner to be one of the nation's breakout players in 2011.
3. Ciante Evans, CB
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Ciante Evans leads a number of young and talented cornerbacks competing for the starting job across from senior star Alfonzo Dennard, and with good reason.
In the 2010 Missouri game, Bo Pelini surprised everyone by replacing a concussed Dennard with the true freshman Evans.
When Missouri came hard after him, however, he instantly played like a veteran, breaking up a long pass and stuffing quarterback Blaine Gabbert on fourth-and-goal.
The spot vacated by first-round NFL Draft pick Prince Amukamara is still up for grabs, but Evans retained a good handle on the lead throughout spring practice.
The 5'11", 185-pounder possesses the aggression the coaches want to see in their defensive backs. Look for Evans to hold down the other half of yet another formidable Nebraska cornerback tandem.
2. Kyler Reed, TE
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While it could be argued that Kyler Reed was a starter in 2010, he qualifies for this list because he played behind Ben Cotton most of the year.
Reed led the team with eight touchdown catches. He was a solid deep threat for much of the season before rounding out his game towards the end of the year.
What made Reed's game unique was his combination of size and speed. Firing off the line, defenders were caught off guard by his athleticism, and linebackers could not match up with his speed.
Consequently, he got behind the defense and had soft enough hands to pull in the pass for a touchdown.
Over the last few games, Reed was able to get open on the shorter routes as well and began looking like a complete pass-catching tight end.
If the coaches utilize the 6'3", 230-pound speedster correctly, he'll have a breakout year and be an All-Big Ten selection.
1. Rex Burkhead, RB
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Arguably a co-starter with senior Roy Helu, Jr. in 2010, Rex Burkhead leads this list of promising Huskers because he will be stepping into a starting role in 2011—and unlike recent seasons, he'll have it all to himself.
Burkhead rushed for 951 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging well over five yards a carry as a mere sophomore. And when the rest of the offense was failing in 2010, Burkhead showed great leadership by taking command in the wildcat and picking up chunks of yardage.
Now that he is in the spotlight, the 5'11", 210-pound Burkhead will be counted on to be the heart of the Cornhusker offense.
If his first two years were any indication, he will excel in such a role. He has both the physical ability and the character to be an excellent leader for a young and unproven offense.
And with the junior looking better than ever during the spring, there's no reason to believe Burkhead won't be a 1,000-plus yard rusher and an All-Big Ten selection as Nebraska's single most important offensive player in 2011.