Published Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:17 pm
FOOTBALL
Spring Husker roster analysis
Meet the Huskers
Learn their names:
>> Tommy Armstrong (RFr., 6-1, 220, QB)
>> Thomas Brown (RFr., 6-2, 220, LB)
>> Charles Jackson (So., 5-11, 175, Safety)
>> Avery Moss (RFr., 6-2, 270, DE)
>> Jonathan Rose (So., 6-1, 190, CB)

Carrying the Weight
>> Jason Ankrah (Sr., 6-4, 265, DE)
>> Kenny Bell (Jr., 6-1, 185, WR)
>> Quincy Enunwa (Sr., 6-2, 225, WR)
>> Ciante Evans (Sr., 5-11, 190, DB)
>> Taylor Martinez (Sr., 6-1, 210, QB)
>> Spencer Long (Sr., 6-4, 315, OG)

Walk-ons to watch
>> Brandon Chapek (Sr., 6-5, 305, OT)
>> Trey Foster (RFr., 6-0, 240, TE)
>> King Frazier (RFr., 6-0, 220, I-Back)
>> Sam Foltz (RFr., 6-1, 200, P/WR)
>> Jake Long (Sr., 6-4, 240, TE)
>> Brodrick Nickens (Sr., 6-5, 310, DT)

A look at the Nebraska players who need to make a splash, the veterans and backups returning at each position, the new names you need to know this season and much more.

* * *

Offense

Quarterback

The vets: Senior Taylor Martinez enters his fourth year as a starter having already broken NU's career records for total offense, passing yards and completions. He'll leave as the most prolific signal-caller in Husker history. But can he win a conference title or a bowl game? He's 0-5 in those categories. Fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg III is the No. 2 quarterback and knows the offense as well as anyone.
Call for backup: Tommy Armstrong (above) — who drew raves in practices before injuring a knee — will battle for the No. 2 spot. He'll probably win it, if only so NU will have a quarterback with experience in 2014. He's shiftier than Martinez but not as fast, and he's reputedly a good passer. Behind him are walk-ons: redshirt freshman Ryker Fyfe and sophomore Tyson Broekemeier.
Who's out, who's in: Bronson Marsh, the No. 3 quarterback last year, transferred to the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In the fall, NU will welcome freshman recruit Johnny Stanton, who will likely battle Armstrong for the starting job in 2014.
Prove-it player: Over the course of the spring, Armstrong's goal should be to leave no doubt as to who's the real No. 2 — and no doubt that his one-year head start on Stanton will prove meaningful in 2014.
Spring things:
>> According to an SBNation analysis, Martinez threw 73.5 percent of his passes within 14 yards of the line of scrimmage and 84 percent within 19 yards.
>> Martinez was named first-team QB on the All-Big Ten team last year.
>> Martinez's brother, Drake, will join the team as a safety this season.
>> In the Huskers' loss to Georgia, Martinez edged quarterback mentor Joe Ganz for the single-season total offense record. Martinez finished with 3,890 yards, while Ganz had 3,826 yards.


Running back

The vets: Junior Ameer Abdullah led the Huskers with 1,137 yards rushing last year. He also caught 24 passes for 178 yards. He tweaked a knee in practice March 9 and will likely miss the rest of the spring. At fullback, senior C.J. Zimmerer emerged as a No. 1 blocker late last season and looks to build on it heading into 2013. Another senior, Mike Marrow, is getting a look at running back.
Call for backup: Sophomore Imani Cross has been a coach and fan favorite since his arrival last fall. He had a strong first year, running for 324 yards and seven touchdowns. He then shed 15 pounds off his 6-foot-1 frame and looks faster this spring than he did last year. With Abdullah out, he takes over the majority of the No. 1 snaps. Other reserves at running back include Marrow and several walk-ons — redshirt freshman King Frazier, sophomore Murat Kuzu, Elkhorn redshirt freshman Graham Nabity and Omaha Burke redshirt freshman Jordan Nelson. At fullback, sophomore walk-on Andy Janovich is battling Zimmerer for the starting job. One of the team's best all-around athletes, Janovich has said he needs to learn the offense better.
Who's out, who's in: Rex Burkhead graduates after an injury-riddled season. Braylon Heard chose to transfer after two seasons rather than battle Abdullah and Cross for playing time. Arriving in the fall are four-star recruits Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor, a lightning-thunder combination, and both should challenge immediately for playing time. And although he's listed as a tight end, recruit Cethan Carter could play H-back and fullback, as well.
Prove-it player: Frazier has a chance to share the spotlight with Cross this spring before Taylor and Newby join the program. At 6-0, 220 pounds, Frazier is reputedly a physical, shifty runner. He walked on despite scholarship offers from North Dakota State and Indiana because he believed he could play at this level. Now he can prove it.
Spring things:
>> Since the 2005 recruiting class, 12 of the 18 Husker scholarship running back recruits have either transferred, left before their eligibility was up, switched positions or, in the case of Kenny Wilson, gone on long-term injured reserve.
>> Abdullah's longest run last year — 45 yards — is one yard farther than Cross' longest carry.
>> Cross did not catch a pass last year.
>> Both of NU's 2013 recruits — Newby and Taylor — ran for more than 2,000 yards as high school seniors.


Wide receiver

The vets: The Huskers return three starters: senior Quincy Enunwa and juniors Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. They combined for 124 catches, 1,750 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and each brings a different strength to the table. It's arguably the best wide receiver trio in Nebraska history. Their experience helps offset a lack of it at tight end, where Elkhorn senior Jake Long has four career starts and seven career catches.
Call for backup: Position coach Rich Fisher wants to develop a better second wave of receivers, and redshirt freshmen Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore are the two top candidates. Sophomore Taariq Allen and Utica junior walk-on Tyler Wullenwaber, once they return from ACL tears, will be, too. Juniors Tyler Evans and Brion Carnes, plus sophomore walk-on Sam Burtch, could also get some looks. At tight end, new position coach Barney Cotton will look to a trio of Lincoln Southeast graduates — son Sam Cotton, walk-on Trey Foster and David Sutton — to provide depth behind Long.
Who's out, who's in: Two accomplished tight ends — Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed — have departed after playing significant minutes for the past three years. Cotton's blocking and trustworthy hands will be missed, while Reed was a matchup problem. Tim Marlowe is gone after an injury-plagued senior season, and so is Stephen Osborne. Joining the program in the fall as recruits are Cethan Carter, Kevin Gladney, Greg Hart and several promising walk-ons, headlined by Papillion's Spencer Lewis.
Prove-it player: Evans has battled enough injuries to keep him from flashing the speed he showed in high school. But he's got a real shot at being NU's No. 4 receiver with the injuries and inexperience around him.
Spring things:
>> Bell set Nebraska sophomore records for catches, yards and touchdowns last year. The Big Ten Network named him All-Big Ten last year.
>> Carnes switched from quarterback to wide receiver early last season.
>> Enunwa is an economics major.
>> Turner played part of last season with torn cartilage in his left knee, which he had scoped in January.
>> One of NU's backup wide receivers, Sam Foltz, is a leading candidate to be the team's punter.


Offensive line

The vets: A trio of senior tackles in Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale (right) and Andrew Rodriguez return as well as senior All-Big Ten guard Spencer Long. Also returning is senior center Cole Pensick, who might have been NU's most consistent lineman as a reserve in 2012. Overall, NU returnees have started 78 games, making this Bo Pelini's most experienced unit yet. Junior Jake Cotton is the leading candidate to start at left guard. If he's fully recovered from a knee injury and polishes his technique, he's an all-Big Ten candidate.
Call for backup: Nebraska has several players waiting in the wings. One, sophomore guard Ryne Reeves from Crete, will miss the rest of spring with an ankle injury. Sophomore tackle Zach Sterup is expected to make a jump and contend for reserve snaps. Givens Price — an 18-year-old sophomore — will move from tackle to guard. Redshirt freshman Paul Thurston will push junior Mark Pelini to back up Pensick. Coach John Garrison likes the daily progress Thurston is making.
Who's out, who's in: Center and emotional leader Justin Jackson graduated. Guard Seung Hoon Choi departed, but Cotton could be as good or better this year than Choi was in 2012. Senior walk-on Brodrick Nickens has switched to the defensive line. Transferring in for camp is former North Dakota State lineman Sam Hahn. Arriving a semester early as a freshman is four-star Canadian recruit David Knevel, but he's a year and 25 pounds away from contributing. Recruits joining in the summer are junior college tackle Matt Finnin, who's expected to push for a starting job; junior college interior lineman Chongo Kondolo; and freshmen Zach Hannon, Dwayne Johnson and Gabe Miller.
Prove-it player: A highly regarded recruit out of high school, Mike Moudy is now a junior guard who won the offense's scout team player of the year award in 2012. Nebraska wants to see him become a top reserve this year. Otherwise, he may be running out of time to play.
Spring things:
>> Garrison is now the main O-line coach for Nebraska.
>> Long won second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. CBSSports.com lists him as the No. 4 guard prospect for the 2014 NFL draft.
>> Huskers.com lists 30 offensive linemen on NU's fall roster. Seventeen will have scholarships.


Defense

Defensive line

The vets: Due to graduation, defection and injury, senior defensive end Jason Ankrah is the only upperclassman going through spring practice who has played meaningful snaps on the Husker defensive front. Next up is probably sophomore Kevin Williams, who was eased into action last season at defensive tackle as he rebounded from major knee surgery. Also taking aim at No. 1 spots are Avery Moss at end and Aaron Curry at tackle, but they joined the program only last summer.
Call for backup: NU considered using Greg McMullen and Vincent Valentine last season. They bring good size, with McMullen going 6-foot-3, 285 pounds at end and Valentine 6-3, 325 at tackle. Both have seen time with the No. 1s and 2s this spring. Opportunity might be calling for Donovan Vestal, Walker Ashburn, Jay Guy and Tobi Okuyemi, but they'd better answer before it's too late.
Who's out, who's in: NU lost Baker Steinkuhler, Cameron Meredith, Eric Martin, Joseph Carter and Kenny Anderson. Then it announced that senior tackle Thad Randle (knee) would miss spring practice and that Chase Rome was no longer with the program. NU tried to address depth issues last month by signing six defensive linemen — juco transfer Randy Gregory and freshmen A.J. Natter, Dimarya Mixon, Maliek Collins, Ernest Suttles and Kevin Maurice. Prove-it player: Williams might be ready to show why several Big Ten schools were after him coming out of Holland, Ohio. Injuries have caused him to miss all or parts of the past two spring practices.
Spring things:
>> Ankrah has started 18 games and played in 36 over the past three seasons.
>> NU moved Brodrick Nickens from offensive line and converted the 6-5, 310-pound walk-on to defensive tackle after three spring practices. Nickens was running with the No. 2s last week.
>> Nebraska also parted ways with defensive tackle Todd Peat right before the bowl game, another reason for the Huskers' depth woes.
>> Curry appeared in four games last season, but none after the nonconference schedule.
>> With Moss banged up, former linebacker Jack Gangwish from Wood River, Neb., is among the walk-ons who might benefit in spring drills.


Linebacker

The vets: The majority of snaps last season were taken by a trio of fifth-year seniors, leaving behind sophomore David Santos (right) and junior Trevor Roach as the only returnees with any measure of experience. Santos might be in line to lead the corps, trying middle linebacker after playing the weakside spot last season. Zaire Anderson and Thomas Brown started the spring working with the No. 1s at weakside and strongside, respectively.
Call for backup: Brown, Michael Rose and Jared Afalava are redshirt freshmen all looking for an opportunity, with Brown looking like he might have the best chance to help immediately. Also getting good reviews is freshman Courtney Love, who enrolled early to participate in spring practice. NU also has Max Pirman to add depth. Who's out, who's in: It was bound to be a new-look bunch after the Huskers lost Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley, who had combined to play in 125 games. Also gone is Micah Kreikemeier. Nebraska went heavy with linebackers in a second straight recruiting class, adding Love, Josh Banderas and Marcus Newby.
Prove-it player: Santos gave Nebraska a taste at times last season, including the Michigan game when he started and recorded 10 tackles. But he was still getting his feet wet and learning the system, so coaches will look for more from him this year.
Spring things:
>> Linebackers have led Nebraska in tackles each of the past three seasons, with Compton (2012) following Lavonte David (2010, '11). Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the leading tackler on Pelini's first two teams.
>> Anderson was poised to help last season, but tore his ACL in September. The former junior-college transfer has reported no troubles with his right knee during spring drills.
>> Roach has 12 tackles over the past two seasons, contributing on special teams and getting some backup snaps at linebacker.
>> Love was a two-time Division III All-Ohio selection for Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown.
>> Walk-on Austin Williams from Omaha Burke lettered as a sophomore thanks to his consistent work on special teams.


Secondary

The vets: They're all over the place at cornerback. Senior Ciante Evans, who starred at nickel back in the fall, leads a group that includes Andrew Green, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Josh Mitchell and Mohammed Seisay — by far the strongest and most experienced unit on the defense. NU will have two fourth-year juniors at safety next fall, but neither Corey Cooper nor Harvey Jackson has played a lot.
Call for backup: Waiting for a chance at safety is Charles Jackson, who played on special teams as a redshirt freshman and is considered one of NU's most athletic and dynamic defensive players. LeRoy Alexander, D.J. Singleton and Wil Richards also are vying for time. Other cornerback contenders are Daniel Davie and Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose.
Who's out, who's in: Veteran safeties P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford exhausted their eligibility in the Capital One Bowl. Other departures of note were Courtney Osborne, Justin Blatchford and Jase Dean. The list of newcomers includes Singleton, Nathan Gerry, Boaz Joseph and Drake Martinez.
Prove-it player: Time to see what Cooper can do with a little stability. Not only has he bounced around in the NU secondary, Terry Joseph was his third position coach in as many seasons last fall.
Spring things:
>> Green, who started 22 games over the past two seasons, is sitting out the spring to rehab from shoulder surgery.
>> Singleton enrolled in January and is working at safety.
>> Evans ranked sixth on the team with 56 tackles last season, but that's tops among all NU returnees.
>> Jean-Baptiste led NU cornerbacks with two interceptions and nine pass breakups last fall.
>> Rose started his career at Auburn but was dismissed from the team before transferring to Nebraska last summer. He played in nine games for the Tigers in 2011.


Special teams

The vets: Technically, there are no seasoned specialists on this roster right now. The Huskers' do-everything kicker, Brett Maher, and four-year long snapper, P.J. Mangieri, have exhausted their eligibility. Sophomore Mauro Bondi is back, but he redshirted last year after playing sparingly as a true freshman. Nebraska does have some experience at returner. Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner all have fielded punts and kickoffs during their careers.
Call for backup: Maybe Nebraska should find its starters first. Bondi could handle field goals and kickoffs, but the Huskers need a punter and a long snapper. And yes, they could use backups at every spot, too.
Prove-it player: Redshirt freshman Sam Foltz, a walk-on receiver from Grand Island, has potential as a punter. He started working at the spot Monday. Coaches like his hang time, and he could snatch the job if he continues to progress.
Who's out, who's in: Mangieri and Maher (right) are both gone. Holder Jase Dean has finished his Husker career as well. True freshman Gabe Miller, a top-five long snapper nationally according to several recruiting services, signed in February. Walk-on transfer kicker Pat Smith is expected to join the program by August.
Spring things:
>> NU punt returners combined to fumble eight times last season, losing six. The Huskers also fumbled once on a kick return, but they recovered that one.
>> After ranking ninth nationally in kickoff return yardage in 2011 (29.4 yards per attempt), Abdullah dropped to 79th in 2012. He averaged 21.2 yards per return. The NU coaches don't plan to alter any of the kickoff return schemes this spring, instead re-teaching the concepts.
>> Nebraska, benefiting from the strong leg of Maher, ranked fourth nationally in touchbacks with 57 last season.
>> During Bo Pelini's five years at NU, his kickers have made 83.9 percent of their field goals. The national average during that stretch: 69.3 percent.

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust

rich.kaipust@owh.com    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

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