The first week of camp has been completed in Lincoln and we've had a number of stories emerge. The biggest news was the dismissal (due to breaking team rules)of senior defensive tackle Kevin Dixon, who was expected to back up both interior line spots behind Ty Steinkuhler and Ndamukong Suh. Dixon had a pair of off the field incidents over the summer that may have effected his status with the team. Shurkee Barfield, Terrance Moore, Jared Crick and touted frosh recruit Baker Steinkuhler will have to step up and provide meaningful snaps. Crick and Moore have been singled out for praise from both the Pelini brothers, with both Suh and the older Steinkuhler being held out of practice at times due to lingering injury issues, although both practiced yesterday. Suh sat out spring ball with a knee issue and Steinkuhler has supposedly had a gimpy back since winter conditioning. The inside guys should be helped by a quicker more svelt Zach Potter and Barry Turner.
Secondly, there was an "or" at first string I-back between incumbent 1000 yard rusher and 75 reception, 700 plus yard receiving man Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu with the release of the first depth chart, and big back Quentin Castille is also making waves in fall practive, along with blazer Marcus Mendozoza. Kenny Wilson appears to be still recovering from his leg injury of last year and is not listed on the 105 man initial roster.
It sounds as though some of the young receivers behind Todd Petersen and Nate Swift are beginning to step up, with Menelik Holt, Niles Paul and Chris Brooks looking to contribute, along with freshman Tim Marlowe and Khiry Cooper (along with Paul) in the return game. I'd expect Mendoza may get a look here as well, perhaps on KRs. The O-line appears very solid, although RT Javorio Burkes has been held out of practice as a precautinary measure due to a blood pressure issue, allowing reserve Marcel Jones to get lots of reps in the fall. At TE, sophmores Mike McNeil & Dreu Young, along with Redshirt frosh Ryan Hill may give the passing game a boost. QB Joe Ganz is definitely the #1 man, with Patrick Witt and Zac Lee battling for backup duties.
Returning to the defensive side of the ball, questions also remain about the linebacking, with only MLB Phil Dilliard having played meaningful amounts of time last year, and he is backed up by junior walkon Colton Koehler, a guy no one had heard of until the spring. Converted IB senior Cody Glenn appears to have made the switch to defense work, but you have to wonder how effective the former RB will be come game time having never played a down on this side of the ball. Senior walk-on Tyler Wortman starts fall camp at the other "Buck" LB position. Sophs Blake Lawrence and LaTravis Washington back up on the outside, but you have to hope highly touted recruit Will Compton develops quickly.
In the secondary, we've had a setback again at the corner position where Anthony Bleu recovers from a knee injury from last winter, and it might turn out to be a redshirt year for the Texan. Soph Anthony West joins senior Armando Murillo at corner, with fellow sophs Prince Amakumura and Eric Hagg battling for nickelback. At safety, we have probably the best depth and talent in the defensive backfield since 2003 with returning juniors Larry Asante, Ricky Thenarse and Major Culbert along wiht senior Mike O'Hanlon.
What do the Huskers need to do to be more successful this season?
Play harder, particularly with regard to defense, create some takeaways and rank at least in the top half of the NCAA statistically. I'm hopeful we can get to the top 30but in the fast track Big 12, it might be pretty tough. The line has simply got to play better, and early indications from their offensive mates appear to be promising.
I'm worried about the lack of experience at LB. Gotta love Coach Mike Ekeler's attitude, but these guys need to develop right away. The play of the corners and safties should be improved with the return of Coach Marvin Sanders (along with the Pelini brothers), I really didn't like the prvious staff's secondary coaching. Pelini coached teams have a ball hawking reputation and I'm pretty optimistic that will be the case. The conditioning has received very positive reviews, and the slimmer faster Pelini defense should achieve a more Blackshirt like result for 2008.
Offensively, I like the renewed emphasis on running the football, and I believe we have to achieve more balance and also get better in short yardage situations than we were last year. I'm also intrigued by the possibilites of the young TE players contributing to the midrange passing game, which should allow for some vertical stuff to develop for the young speedster wideouts like Paul, Gilleylen, and Holt. I like Swift and Petersen but neither is much of a deep breakaway threat. I imagine Lucky will still be heavily involved in the passing game, but perhaps not to the extent that he was last year given the emergence of the other backs. However, Ganz has to make better decisions about when to put it up for grabs, but it also sounds like we will be seeing more zone read plays for him toting the rock, which I like.
I'm crossing my fingers for 8-4, and hope they overachieve and make me look cautious. I realistically don't see another losing season in the cards, but maybe the red Kool-Aid is just tasty.