Reporters' access to Nebraska football practice came to end Saturday with the Huskers' second major scrimmage.
Thus, this'll be the final roster takes for the 2015 season. From here — it's just football games, which are the ultimate evaluation of a roster.
What follows, again, is one reporter's opinion, in part shaped by observations and conversations with coaches. Other takes may differ. Here we go:
>> Quarterbacks: Tommy Armstrong had two of his better practices on Thursday and Saturday. He threw the deep ball better; that is, he didn't overthrow every one of them. He had better timing on a few intermediate routes that Nebraska will use against zone pass defenses. His ballhandling and craft on playaction fakes could stand to be a little better, and they'll improve with time. Armstrong has to keep progressing when it comes to throwing to the open wideout. The backup is either Ryker Fyfe or A.J. Bush. Fyfe appears to be the more likely choice to start the season; he lacks Armstrong's... arm strength... and running ability, but he's craftier making some tough throws. Bush remains a project — but an intriguing one. If he can shorten up his throwing motion and read defenses better, he'll push for the starting job next season. Zack Darlington is the No. 4 quarterback, it appears. He lacks arm strength — by a considerable margin — but reads defenses well.
>> Running backs: There haven't been too many Terrell Newby sightings since he dinged up his shoulder in the Aug. 15 scrimmage, which has opened the door for other players to get more reps. Mikale Wilbon continues to look like a solid backup option — especially in the pass-catching game — while Devine Ozigbo, long term, appears to be the most complete back. He may not be there in terms of pass blocking, but he has the most balance as a runner, possesses good hands, and just makes defenders miss. Ozigbo has such good feet — he picks them up and doesn't get clipped by foot and leg tackles. He'll need to get better at hitting a hole and being decisive at the point of attack. Among the bigger backs, you have Imani Cross, Adam Taylor and Graham Nabity. Personally? I don't see much difference between them. Cross remains a better back five yards downfield than he is at the line of scrimmage — he's too sluggish through a hole. Taylor is better at blasting through a hole, but he's not going to make two or three guys miss. Nabity is a blend of the two. He might be the most explosive runner of the three, in fact, but it's hard to tell where he's at in the pass game. Jordan Stevenson should redshirt. Better for him. Better for Nebraska. There's talent there — and speed. But more talent than Ozigbo? Perhaps not. Nebraska is in good shape at running back with Ozigbo and Stevenson. Reggie Davis picked wisely.
At fullback, no real changes. Andy Janovich will have a nice year, and Harrison Jordan is one hard-headed blocker.
>> Wide receivers/tight ends: Lane Hovey getting a scholarship — despite missing a decent chunk of training camp with a muscle pull — should give you some indication of what the Husker coaching staff thinks of him. Hovey's best attribute is his size, but he's pretty smart, too. He knows how to run routes. He's Nebraska's new Todd Peterson — just watch. Stanley Morgan will play this year. He's earned that. He's ahead of any freshman receiver in recent memory, with the potential exception of Kenny Bell, who redshirted in 2010 because he got hurt in camp. Jamal Turner had two strong practices last week, which was good to see, given he'd been up-and-down for most of camp. Turner has been tutored rigorously by position coach Keith Williams. Turner's still the same wideout — good speed, exciting in the open field, needs to catch balls thrown his way and run top-shelf routes. Jordan Westerkamp's spot is secured; he's still NU's most complete receiver. Alonzo Moore runs hot and cold; he'll be good for a few big plays this year. Brandon Reilly and Taariq Allen need to get back from injuries. Among the walk-ons, Brady Pelzer may have the best chance to play this season. He's pretty nifty and tough-minded in the slot as a backup to Westerkamp.
As the position coach, I like Williams. He needs to deliver in recruiting. More talent needed.
At tight end, it's hard to see any separation between Cethan Carter, Trey Foster, Sam Cotton and David Sutton. They're all in a bit of a bunch, and even if Carter is the most talented, he's still not a real assertive guy, and hasn't made a ton of plays. Maybe that changes during the season. Foster has had a strong training camp. He catches the ball, he competes as a blocker on the edge, he's a keeper. I'm still impressed by Luke McNitt's hands and consistency. He'll be a contributor in some way this year.
>> Offensive line: The top group appears pretty clear: Left tackle Alex Lewis, left guard Dylan Utter, center Ryne Reeves, right guard Chongo Kondolo and right tackle Nick Gates. Right now, I wouldn't call it a vintage Nebraska offensive line. It needs time and chemistry, and Jerald Foster won't stop making his push at guard. Nebraska must stay healthy at tackle; there's not much depth there. Fortunately, something went right in the offseason weight program, because the offensive and defensive linemen (Vincent Valentine is the exception) have all been healthy and good to go in camp. Behind that top six, you have center Paul Thurston, right tackle Zach Sterup, left tackle David Knevel, and guards Chris Long and Corey Whitaker. That's the 11 in the mix, it seems.
I'd be stunned if all of Nebraska's scholarship offensive linemen are here next year.
>> Defensive line: The top eight to nine remain the same. We'll set aside the defensive tackles — you have to love the group of Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, Kevin Maurice, Kevin Williams and Mick Stoltenberg, only one of whom is a senior — and zero in on the defensive ends. The best of them appears to be Jack Gangwish, in terms of pass rush. Greg McMullen anchors nicely against the run. Neither is an expert in change of direction moments. Their backups, Freedom Akinmoladun and Ross Dzuris, are decent in a pinch. Three more players — A.J. Natter, Joe Keels, Sedrick King — should be more ready than they are. Freshmen DaiShon Neal and Alex Davis could use a redshirt year.
The tackles are among the Big Ten's best group. The ends are not.
>> Linebackers: Like this bunch. There are six — Josh Banderas, Michael Rose-Ivey, Dedrick Young, Marcus Newby, Luke Gifford and Tyrin Ferguson. Gifford and Ferguson are not that far away, either. Ferguson wants to play physical, and he's a big dude — he doesn't weigh the same as Banderas, but he's the same frame. So is Gifford, arguably camp's most pleasant surprise. That's no joke. He makes plays. Young is the best athlete of the bunch, which you can see when he changes directions and moves laterally. Newby isn't quite that fluid, but he can hit.
This unit has gone from a question mark to a strength, and it may have the most talent per capita of any position on the team. And position coach Trent Bray will be getting defensive coordinator offers soon enough.
>> Secondary: I'm not quite sold on this unit. What one thinks in preseason is one thing. What one sees in camp is another.
Perhaps its the safeties. Does Nebraska have two clear starting safeties? It has one in Nate Gerry — who's been beaten a few times in pass coverage. Who's the second? Byerson Cockrell? Aaron Williams? Kieron Williams? Charles Jackson? There are strengths and weaknesses to each. Given the importance of safety in this defense, Nebraska needs to find consistency there. Another safety Antonio Reed, could be in the mix, and may play as a true freshman on special teams.
At cornerback, Daniel Davie has put together some strong practices. Josh Kalu and Trai Mosley appear to be the Nos. 2 and 3 corners. I like both, even if they have strengths in different areas. Jonathan Rose is then behind that trio, but not by much. Can Chris Jones redshirt, or is he more valuable on special teams so that he can work back into the rotation? Boaz Joseph has actually made a few plays recently in camp, and he has decent length, but it's hard to see where he fits in long-term. Eric Lee and Avery Anderson should redshirt unless Anderson emerges as the top punt returner. Anderson has terrific instincts as a runner in open space, so don't discount it. Westerkamp and Turner, the new punt returners in De'Mornay Pierson-El's absence, weren't great at it in 2012 and 2013.