Nebraska Cornhuskers Football 2011: Top 5 Winners of Fall Camp Position Battles
There are just 21 more fall camp practices before the Nebraska Cornhuskers kick off the first game of the 2011 season, and here we'll predict the winners of five raging position battles.
Throughout the remainder of fall camp, all players will have their chances to impress coaches and win starting jobs. Nebraska has built remarkable depth at multiple spots during the Pelini era, and there are some positions that are being competed for more heavily than the others.
Those contenders will have to turn on the afterburners during competition in an effort to stand out.
Many may think one of the biggest battles will take place at quarterback between embattled incumbent Taylor Martinez and flashy freshman Brion Carnes, with dark horses in Ron Kellogg III and Tyson Broekemeier.
However, a reportedly rapid maturation process by Martinez has him entrenched as the starter at the moment, and there are five positions that will be even more hotly contested than quarterback during Nebraska's training camp.
As good as Nebraska's offensive line was at times in 2010, there were instances when it looked simply awful. Much of that can be credited to inconsistent play from the tackles.
Starter Jeremiah Sirles was thrown into the fire as a redshirt freshman, and while he played decently, he understandably left some to be desired.
Touted JUCO transfer Jermarcus "Yoshi" Hardrick played quite a few snaps in relief of Sirles, but wasn't any better. As a junior, Marcel Jones, and then-senior DJ Jones shared right tackle.
Marcel Jones is now the favorite to win the job at right tackle, but left tackle is still up in the air. Both Sirles and Hardrick have considerably improved, but Hardrick has been the one taking the majority of the snaps with the first team. Having dropped 29 pounds to 319 after arriving on campus at a bloated 348, Yoshi is more in shape than ever and looks poised to break out.
If the big man continues to progress and passes up Sirles, don't be surprised if the coaches decide to switch Sirles over to right tackle. Marcel Jones, now a senior, may have the youngster nipping at his heels throughout the rest of camp.
With the addition of promising true freshmen Tyler Moore (who should get some playing time in 2011), Ryan Klatchko and Zach Sterup, this group suddenly seems to have ample depth.
Winners: Yoshi Hardrick and Jeremiah Sirles
No. 2 Running Back
Rex Burkhead is firmly entrenched as Nebraska's starter at the position affectionately known as I-Back, but don't think for a second a "We-Back" rotation won't be utilized.
The Cornhuskers' have three uber-talented true freshmen vying for second string in Braylon Heard, Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah. All three are getting rave reviews from players and coaches, and based on their high school careers, that comes as no surprise.
In all likelihood, there won't be a true No. 2 behind Burkhead, because it's looking more and more like all three will get their share of carries in the new offense. But based on what I hear out of camp, Heard will be the guy that holds the title.
Heard proved himself to be an extremely mature and dedicated football player after having to sit out a whole year and get academically qualified to play for the Huskers. It's darn near impossible to gauge whether one of these three sensations is ahead of the others, but at this point, my money's on Heard. Not that Green and Abdullah won't get their chances.
A name not to sleep on is that of senior Austin Jones, who recently received individual praise from Bo Pelini and could be in line for some touches as a bigger, stronger and more experienced back than the three freshmen.
Winner: Braylon Heard
No. 2 Wide Receiver
With the departure of inconsistent-but-explosive senior Niles Paul, the Cornhusker receiving corps is left with just one extensively experienced body, Brandon Kinnie, to a group that wasn't very good to begin with.
That being said, Nebraska's wideouts could be one of the surprises of the 2011 season.
With several new bodies coming off of redshirt years and and an overall injection of youth, the Huskers have a group overflowing with potential.
The main candidates to start opposite Brandon Kinnie are sophomores Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Quincy Enunwa, but junior KC Hyland and redshirt freshman Kenny Bell might have something to say about that.
Enunwa is the only candidate to log a reception, which is the extent of his statistics. But Enunwa showed a lot of promise in 2010 and could be ready to take the job across from Kinnie. SJB has come on strong throughout the offseason, though, as have the 6'6" Hyland and the speedy Bell, who teammates have raved about since his first year, when he repeatedly schooled the defense as a scout teamer.
True freshman Jamal Turner would also be in the mix, but he'll likely be utilized in the slot and at several different spots on the field and won't have a concrete position. While Bell might also be a better fit for the slot, his talent is such that coaches may not be able to afford keeping him on the sideline.
This receiving corps will rotate often, but my best guess is Enunwa will trot out on the field for the first snap of the season.
Winner: Quincy Enunwa
No. 2 Defensive End
The emergence of Cameron Meredith at defensive end was very encouraging for the Blackshirts in 2010, and the junior will return as the unquestioned leader of the position. But with the departure of senior cornerstone Pierre Allen, the other end position is up for grabs.
Prime candidates look to be converted linebacker Eric Martin, Josh Williams, Jason Ankrah and JUCO transfer Joe Carter.
Martin has had a great spring and continues to gain muscle and grow into a full-time role at end. His 6'2", 260-pound body moves frighteningly quickly, and he showed flashes of exceptional pass rushing skills in the spring game.
Williams and Ankrah have both somewhat underachieved up to this point, but expect both of them to step up to the plate this year. Both received playing time in 2010.
Joe Carter is something of a dark horse in this race, but he might emerge from the pack sooner than some might think. As we can see from previous recruits, Bo Pelini doesn't sign JUCO prospects to ride the bench. Carter was one of the top pass rushers at the JUCO level in 2010, and his 6'5", 255-pound frame should translate nicely to Pelini's defense.
We should see yet another regular rotation at this spot. Still, I think Eric Martin's explosiveness and mean streak help him edge out the competition as he grows into a dominant defensive end.
Winner: Eric Martin
The safety position is a little bit of a mystery for the Cornhuskers in 2011. With a ton of talent at the position, it's really tough to tell who's going to come out of fall camp on top.
The presumed frontrunners at this point are Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne, but PJ Smith, Daimion Stafford, Harvey Jackson and Corey Cooper will all be fighting for playing time.
Cassidy and Osborne both played well after replacing Smith and then-senior Rickey Thenarse as the starters, but expect Smith to come out with a chip on his shoulder and try to win his job back.
Stafford is another intriguing JUCO prospect who has already gotten praise from Carl Pelini for picking up the defense quickly. Stafford is a physically gifted specimen who has a shot at immediately unseating one of the incumbents.
Youngsters Cooper and Jackson have both shown flashes of brilliance. Jackson was particularly impressive in the spring game, while Cooper's build and skills are strongly geared towards the Blackshirts' style.
This, like all the other positions on this list, will be frequently rotated with all the talent available to contribute. However, Osborne was probably Nebraska's best safety last season and, while Cassidy in particular should get a ton of playing time, I love Stafford's potential to be 2011's version of Lavonte David.
Winners: Courtney Osborne and Daimion Stafford