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We’ve heard the Taylor Martinez charm offensive throughout the offseason. Martinez feels 100 percent and ready to go. He’s matured and really showing his leadership. He’s ready to take on the responsibilities. He was “swimming” last year and is ready to take charge now that he doesn’t have to defer to Zac Lee’s role.
If that’s all true, and Martinez is ready to elevate his game, the Nebraska fans should be excited. The electric playmaking ability he showed at the start of 2010 hasn’t been seen in Lincoln since the days of Eric Crouch. And with some playmakers around him, this could be T-Magic’s year to shine.
Last year, it appeared that Nebraska had no offensive ideas other than waiting for Taylor Martinez to do something T-Magical. This, of course, made NU easier to scheme against defensively.
This year, Nebraska will have more playmakers on the field to keep defenses honest. Freshman phenom Jamal Turner announced himself at the spring game and should see the field a lot in 2011. Behind Rex Burkhead are three exciting freshman talents at tailback (Aaron Green, Braylon Heard and Ameer Abdullah), so “Rex and the Burkheads” could be a potent force at tailback.
If these offensive options pan out, and defenses cannot just play to stop Martinez, Nebraska’s offense could go from a liability to a strength.
Without question, Lavonte David was the defensive surprise of the season. Stepping into the starting lineup after Sean Fisher’s injury, David led the team in tackles and was a terror to opposing offenses.
Now, David will have a full offseason to prepare as a starter at linebacker. If his 2010 performance was based on athleticism without a strong grasp of the defensive plans, what will 2011 be like when he’s got that understanding down?
Nebraska’s defensive line could be one of the best in the country. Jared Crick staying for his senior campaign brings experience and talent to anchor the Blackshirts, and lining up alongside Baker Steinkuhler makes his job that much easier.
Defensive end is also a strength for Nebraska. Cameron Meredith likely has one starting job wrapped up, with Eric Martin and Josh Williams battling it out for the second spot.
Depth is also a strength on the line, with Terrence Moore and Thaddeus Randle as capable backups at tackle and Jason Ankrah and Joseph Carter likely to see time at end. True freshman Todd Peat adds more depth and talent to the mix as well.
Last year, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was the focus of ire for many Nebraska fans. As NU’s offense sputtered and failed in crucial moments, the finger was pointed at the well-coiffed, West Coast disciple and Bill Callahan holdover as the primary reason for the offensive struggles.
Replacing him is Tim Beck, who was part of Mark Mangino’s offensive renaissance at Kansas. Beck has promised a simpler, faster, more intuitive Nebraska offense that takes better advantage of the playmakers on the field. If he can make things work for Nebraska, and couple NU’s rock-solid defense with at least a competent offense, Nebraska could be poised for glory in 2011.
Of all the questions in Nebraska’s secondary, the one constant was supposed to be Alfonzo Dennard. On Wednesday, though, Bo Pelini announced that Dennard suffered a leg injury and would be out indefinitely. When pressed, though, the “indefinitely” became something between two and ten days, so it doesn’t appear that the injury is serious enough to threaten Dennard’s playing time in conference play.
Still, Dennard has a history of missing games due to injury. Seeing this story cross the wire is a reminder that, without Dennard, the secondary is lacking a lot of experience.
Nebraska’s offense has a very different look in 2011 than it did in 2010. Other than Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Kinnie and Kyler Reed, NU will be relying on a lot of freshmen and players without much game experience to make immediate contributions.
Sure, there’s a lot of potential in players like Jamal Turner, Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard. But, as Darrell Royal (sorry for the Texas reference) said, “Potential means you ain’t done it yet.”
Having unproven talent to complement seasoned veterans is exciting. Having unproven talent you have to count on for success is terrifying.
Sure, the whole “will-he-or-won’t-he” with Bubba Starling was exciting. But, let’s face it, Starling wasn’t going to be starting for Nebraska in 2011. What he would have added was depth at quarterback.
With Cody Green’s transfer, there is no one with any game experience ready to step in if Taylor Martinez gets hurt or is ineffective. And given Nebraska's reliance on a running quarterback and Martinez's less-than-imposing stature, an injury to Martinez is not unfathomable.
Red-shirt freshman Brion Carnes does look promising, but he is untested. Behind Carnes is Ron Kellogg and Tyson Broekemeier, with Jamal Turner seeing reps at quarterback in practice. We saw last year how Martinez struggled in his first year on the job.
If he gets hurt again, 2011 could be déjà vu all over again for NU’s signal-caller.
Alex Henery will hold a special place in the hearts of Nebraska fans for years to come. His miracle 57-yard kick against Colorado in 2008 generated one of the loudest noises in Memorial Stadium in decades. His reliability as a kicker and his wizardry as a punter was instrumental in many of Nebraska’s wins during his career.
Henery has gone on to the NFL, and he leaves big shoes to fill. Mauro Bondi, Brett Maher and Jon Damkroger will have their work cut out to replace Henery’s performance and dependability.
If they’re not up to the task right away, Nebraska fans will realize firsthand how valuable Henery has been for the past three years.
Nebraska fans have gone back and forth about NU’s inaugural B1G schedule. When it came out, the schedule was almost immediately seen as a murderous gauntlet for NU to run. Then, with the Ohio State scandals and Terrelle Pryor leaving, NU fans started to see the schedule as more manageable.
But just walk through the schedule, week-by-week. A road trip to the defending champion in Wisconsin. A home game against Ohio State, a team with a lot of talent and a point to prove. Ending the season at Penn State, at Michigan, then home to an always-resolute Iowa. And challenging games at home to Michigan State and Northwestern in between.
(Yes, Minnesota, you are being ignored. Sorry.)
There’s not a lot of breathing room in that conference schedule for Nebraska. And if NU gets off to a rocky start—a result that isn’t absurd to contemplate—things could unravel in a hurry.
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