Nebraska Cornhuskers Football 2011: 7 Players Who Could Put the Nation on Notice

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIAugust 7, 2011

Nebraska Cornhuskers Football 2011: 7 Players Who Could Put the Nation on Notice

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    Can you feel it, Nebraska fans?

    It's almost time for another season of college football. Today, we'll take a look at a few Cornhuskers who have shown flashes of brilliance this past spring and could capitalize with a breakout performance in 2011.

    You've all been bombarded with the names Taylor Martinez, Jared Crick, Lavonte David, Alfonzo Dennard, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Kinnie this offseason. But year after year, unknown and under-the-radar players come out of nowhere to become stars.

    If you paid attention to spring ball and watched the spring game, chances are you've seen some of these flashes. Outside of Lincoln, however, they still go largely unnoticed.

    Nebraska is stacked with talent across the board—don't sleep on these seven Huskers, who don't get much hype but could jump to the front of the pack and put the college football world on notice.


Honorable Mention: Brion Carnes, Quarterback

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    Redshirt freshman Brion Carnes had a tremendous spring and put up impressive numbers at the spring game. His play turned heads and forced people to start wondering if this really was Taylor Martinez's show.

    Martinez has gotten a lot of praise from coaches and teammates alike, and he remains the starter at this point. However, don't expect Carnes to let up one bit.

    A relative of Tommie Frazier, the Bradenton, Florida native has legendary blood running through his veins. He looked smooth and confident as a passer and showed equally solid running ability.

    Carnes reminds me a lot of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, and if Martinez doesn't live up to his billing or goes down with an injury, he is skilled enough to have a Thomas-esque impact on the Husker offense.

    Carnes is relegated to honorable mention as a backup, but he would shoot up this list if Martinez went down with an injury before the beginning of the season.


7. Harvey Jackson, Safety

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    Harvey Jackson is another redshirt freshman who stood out at the spring game, making some impressive tackles and recording an interception. 

    Jackson arrived in Lincoln at just 185 pounds, but has muscled up to about 205 and has the physique for a prototypical safety. His instincts and tackling ability both looked solid, and he showed he's not afraid to be aggressive and get in on some big hits.

    Both safety positions will be hotly contested this fall, and Jackson could easily earn himself some playing time. Don't be surprised if he makes some big plays while on the field and earns a little hype.


6. Tyler Legate, Fullback

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    Senior Tyler Legate has been a solid, reliable fullback for the Huskers since his sophomore year, which is pretty impressive for a walk-on. But as far as production goes, Legate hasn't been very involved.

    That might change in 2011.

    Legate was given six carries in the spring game, which he turned into 27 yards and two touchdowns. Is this a sign that the fullback will be more involved? I think so.

    Nebraska will need a power game to complement all the speed it possesses, and Legate is a perfect candidate to receive those carries. Transfer Mike Marrow will be a big challenge if he is allowed to play, but he may have to sit out a year.

    Either way, Legate has proven that he's worthy of being a bigger part of the offense. And with all the unproven youngsters behind starter Rex Burkhead at running back, Legate should have an especially big impact running the football.

5. Josh Mitchell, Cornerback

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    Yet another redshirt freshman to flash his talent in the spring game, Josh Mitchell had one of the most impressive performances that was overshadowed.

    Despite being listed at just 165 pounds, Mitchell recorded five tackles and a sack and showed the aggressiveness and athleticism that Bo Pelini sees as must-haves for Nebraska cornerbacks.

    He seems to have taken to coaching very well, and he is not afraid to come up and make a play on the ball.

    If Mitchell keeps improving on his game, expect to see him crack the two-deep at cornerback sometime soon. We might even see him making plays in a nickel/dime role this season.


4. Sean Fisher, Linebacker

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    Sean Fisher didn't have a standout spring game performance like many of the other players on this list, but the junior (sophomore if he is granted a sixth year of eligibility) has earned this spot based on his play in previous years.

    Fisher showed a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman, recording 35 tackles and a sack before being knocked out with an injury and receiving a medical hardship.

    Since then, Fisher hasn't been able to shake the injury bug, breaking his leg last preseason and missing all of 2010. Now that he's healthy, though, the 6'6", 235-pound Nebraskan will have the opportunity to earn himself a lot of playing time.

    Fisher's size should serve him well against the power-running games of the B1G. His height and speed should allow him to be equally adept at defending tight ends on seam routes and running backs out of the backfield.

    Fisher will start the season out as one of the Huskers' least-known starters, but he could have a breakout year as one of the biggest producers for a stacked defense.


3. Eric Martin, Defensive End

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    Eric Martin, a muscle-bound 6'2", 260-pounder, had an outstanding spring at defensive end for the Huskers.

    The converted linebacker turned heads at the spring game with his powerful pass rush. If he continues to progress at his new position, he could take Pierre Allen's place as the full-time starter across from Cameron Meredith.

    Martin continues to gain weight in James Dobson's strength program, and his speed and athleticism are very impressive for a defensive end. He also possesses an aggressiveness that makes him a perfect fit for the Big Ten. 

    He'll have a lot of competition this fall, but if the Eric Martin experiment works out, and he develops into a well-rounded defensive end, Big Ten offenses better watch out.

    Even if he doesn't start, expect him to make a big impact with his pass-rushing skills. 

2. Ciante Evans, Cornerback

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    Ciante Evans is already a well-known commodity among fans of the Big Red, but outside of Lincoln, few know his name.

    While many think Nebraska's secondary will be significantly worse in 2011 with the losses of Prince Amukamara, Dejon Gomes and Eric Hagg, Evans is one reason to believe otherwise.

    As a true freshman in 2010, Evans was thrown into the fire against Missouri when Alfonzo Dennard went down with a concussion. The Tigers offense predictably went right at the perceived weak link, but Evans, literally, didn't budge.

    After breaking up two long passes, Evans denied the much bigger Blaine Gabbert a touchdown by stoning him at the one-yard line on fourth and goal. So begins Evans' career, who could follow in the footsteps of Amukamara and Dennard as Nebraska's next great cornerback.

    Dennard even went so far as to say he's learned more from Evans than he did from Amukamara.

    That's all I have to hear to say with confidence that Ciante Evans is a legitimate breakout candidate for 2011. 

1. Jamal Turner, Wide Receiver/Athlete

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    Pipe up if you are surprised that Jamal Turner is No. 1 on this list.

    Didn't think so.

    Jamal Turner was the topic of conversation throughout Lincoln after the spring game, in which he dazzled with three electric kick/punt returns and four catches for 93 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown. His 228 all-purpose yards were 117 more than anyone else on the entire team.

    Not too shabby for a true freshman who starred at quarterback in high school.

    The jury may still be out on Turner, but his spring performance makes it really, really hard not to get excited about his potential impact. The 6'0", 180-pounder displayed wonderful route-running ability, as well as soft hands at receiver, while looking natural and decisive as both a kick and punt returner.

    Jamal Turner has already proven that he has the skills. Now all he has to do is put in the work, and he'll take the country by storm.