With Taylor Martinez at the wheel of a quick offense, Nebraska could light up the field this season.
The Husker quarterback joins skilled receivers and running backs — not to mention a young, speedy defense — to try to race up the Big Ten standings.
Buckle in, the Big Red season is in gear.
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Ameer Abdullah, junior running back
No one would dispute that Ameer Abdullah can run. Put the Nebraska junior on the starting line for a 100-yard dash and he'd match strides with the fastest backs in the Big Ten, if not nationally. Speed to burn. And that's great.
Only Ron Brown has been around college football long enough to know that top-end speed takes a back only so far. What helps set apart somebody like Abdullah is the ability to drop his hips, put his foot in the turf and go, and accelerate his pads into things (think Barry Sanders).
“You better have a guy that can change direction, too,” Brown said.
Abdullah already has turned his combination of speed and all of those other things into a 1,000-yard season, going for 1,137 and eight touchdowns as a second-team All-Big Ten pick last year. It also makes him one of the top backs to watch in 2013.
Jason Ankrah, senior defensive end
It's been a while since Nebraska defensive end Jason Ankrah ran a timed 40-yard dash, but he recalls his last being about 4.6 seconds as he was coming out of high school as a 240-pounder.
Trouble is, it takes a little more size and bulk to stand your ground against Big Ten offensive lines, so Ankrah now goes about 260. And it's more about explosion these days than trying to beat anybody in the 100 meters.
“I feel more powerful with my speed now,” he said. “It's a different kind of speed.”
Nebraska will need Ankrah to show all he's got coming off the edge. The Huskers got a combined 13Ĺ sacks last season from Eric Martin and Cameron Meredith, who are no longer with Ankrah at defensive end.
Kenny Bell, junior wide receiver
The first catch of Kenny Bell's Husker career went for 42 yards. The next one was a 50-yarder.
So yes, Bell has figured out a way to use speed to his advantage.
He's had 13 career catches of 30 yards or more, leading Nebraska in yards per reception (17.3) last season. All eight of his touchdown catches in 2012 were on plays of 25 yards or longer.
Considering also that Bell's a tenacious blocker, a precise route runner and a sure-handed target — he's one of the most complete receivers in the conference.
Quincy Enunwa, senior wide receiver
The perception might be that Quincy Enunwa doesn't have the same speed as fellow Nebraska receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner, but that likely has something to do with his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame that screams more body builder than sprinter.
So could he run with Bell and Turner if they broke out the starter's pistol and stopwatches?
“Jamal will tell you I can,” Enunwa said, smiling. “I'm faster than what most people see, but I'm not going to get too high on myself. I just want to show it on the field.”
Enunwa did run on the 4x100 relay unit for his high school track team. But he was better known for being a high jumper who once went 6 feet, 9 inches.
Still, Bell and Turner might be the more likely candidates to take a play 80 yards to the house. Enunwa is OK with using what he's got to make the 12-yard reception on third-and-9.
Ciante Evans, senior cornerback
Speed certainly makes a difference at cornerback. But if senior Ciante Evans is solely relying on his quickness, he'll find himself giving up more passes than he'd like.
That's why the talented NU defensive back does everything he can to study film and pick up tendencies on his opponents. When he can predict a little and then use that speed, he's at his best.
Can't forget the technique, either.
Here's a scouting report from receiver Quincy Enunwa. “He has great hips and pretty good speed.” So when you try to maneuver past him, Enunwa said Evans is shifting his weight and staying stride for stride.
“Ciante's a great corner,” Enunwa said.
Taylor Martinez, senior quarterback
Nebraska has gone through its share of fast quarterbacks.
Eric Crouch had that blink-and-he's-gone kind of speed. Gerry Gdowski could really run. Bobby Newcombe was lightning before his knee injury. Then there was Scott Frost, Tommie Frazier, Steve Taylor, Turner Gill, et al.
And the list goes on and on.
It's still hard to forget, though, the sight of Taylor Martinez turning the corner and racing down the field those first few times after he won the starting job in 2010. Dashing 67 yards against Idaho, 80 yards against Washington, 80 more at Kansas State.
The bad ankle injury late in his redshirt freshman season cost him a step for a while, and his game gradually evolved to where his passing became as important as his running.
Still, it's not by accident that you run for 2,858 yards — second most by any NU quarterback and currently No. 8 overall on the Huskers' all-time chart — and the flat-out speed of Martinez still makes defensive coordinators toss and turn in their sleep.
David Santos, sophomore linebacker
One of the knocks on the Nebraska linebacking crew last season was that it lacked some speed after losing Lavonte David. The hope in 2013 is that David Santos and others can help restore it.
Husker fans saw flashes of it last season, when Santos got his feet wet as a redshirt freshman. Seeing how it might help with matchups against Michigan, the NU staff started Santos and he made 10 tackles.
The hope for the 6-foot 225-pounder is that a better knowledge of the system and feel for the game will only help him find another gear in 2013.
Jamal Turner, junior receiver
Ask high school coaches around Arlington, Texas, and they would tell you that chasing Jamal Turner around the local fields was a little like trying to run down a deer on the open prairie.
The Nebraska junior was a dashing, darting blur who put up obscene numbers as a prep quarterback.
After NU moved him from quarterback to receiver in 2011, one of the first things offensive coordinator Tim Beck called him was “electrifying.” It has just been a matter of him developing and becoming more consistent ever since, because the speed has never gone away.
Watch for even more of it this season as NU takes a longer look at Turner on punt returns.
Tyler Wullenwaber, junior receiver
OK, so Tyler Wullenwaber isn't exactly a household name, and it would take a die-hard Husker fan to tell you that he's a walk-on from Utica, Neb., who set receiving records at Centennial High.
Since the junior joined the Husker program, however, NU teammates and assistant coaches have regularly mentioned him as one of the fastest players on the roster.
And if you were starting a track team out of Husker football players, you might think about Wullenwaber as a first-round draft pick. He was the Class B state champion in the 200-meter dash as a junior and also won three state titles in the long jump and one in the high jump for Centennial.