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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #17 Nebraska

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 1, 2014

#17 Nebraska Cornhuskers

 

2013 Recap:

It was a nasty year in Nebraska at times as it looked like Bo Pellini was losing the fan base. Nebraska pulled it together and scored a bowl win with a 9-4 record overall. One has to wonder if Pellini has alienated the fans or if this was just a bump in the road.

 

Coaching:

Bo Pellini looked like his time was done at Nebraska but now he has a contract extension. This doesn’t change the fact that Cornhusker fans are growing weary and want titles and not just seasons with 9 or 10 wins. We suspect that contract extension had an unwritten clause stating that if Nebraska didn’t win at least a Big Ten title then Pellini’s days would be finished.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Tommy Armstrong officially takes over for Taylor Martinez even though he played the majority of the year while Martinez was hurt (seemed like Martinez was at Nebraska for 8 years or so). Armstrong is more of the traditional running quarterback and the field general Nebraska is known for but when he puts the ball up he has to be sure he is accurate, and 9 TD/8 INT ratio isn’t going to cut it. Backup Ryker Fyfe was a perfect 100% throwing the ball last year…1-1 for 5 yards. Nebraska has to be more efficient throwing the football even though everyone knows this is not what gets the offense moving.

It is the running game. Nebraska is led by a couple of very nice options in Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross. Abdullah is a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate after a year in which he posted 1,690 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns. Cross had 447 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a whole Nebraska had over 2,800 yards rushing placing them #19 in the country. The big problem for Nebraska is holding onto the football as they had a whopping 32 fumbles last year, 16 of which were lost. In all Nebraska was -11 in TO margin which was last in the Big Ten and 117th in the country. The fact that Nebraska was even 9-4, given that obstacle, is surprising.

Best Draft Prospect: Ameer Abdullah RB 2nd Round 2015.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Kenny Bell is a legitimate draft day presence for 2015 as he led the team in receptions a year ago while finishing second in touchdowns and yards. Bell is also one of the best blocking wide receivers that will be available in the draft. This should enhance his stock with the number of teams going to spread formations in order to run the football. Jamal Turner, Sam Burtch, and Jordan Westerkamp may not have a lot of experience or catches between them but they are talented and speed is not an issue with this group.

Young sophomore Cethan Carter will be used more at tight end this season and he looks like he may be a future prospect. When all else fails Ameer Abdullah caught 26 passes out of the backfield, but he or the running back is usually a last ditch option for the offense.

Best Draft Prospect: Kenny Bell WR 4th Round 2015.

 

Offensive Line:

Jake Cotton is the only returning starter to this unit and he is the unquestioned leader. Cotton can play a variety of positions and his value is tremendous despite being athletically limited. Cotton has worked hard on improving his footwork in open space and he should be a late round selection in the draft process this year or a highly regarded undrafted free agent. The real prize for the Huskers should be Alex Lewis. Lewis was a starting guard at Colorado and sat out a year to complete the transfer and will take over at left tackle this season. Nebraska seems like a likely landing spot for Lewis since his father Bill Lewis was a center who played at Nebraska and for seven years in the NFL. Lewis had some shoulder issues and even played some tight end when he first came to Colorado but he is filling out his 6’6” frame well and seems suited for tackle with only 1 returning starter from last season. The top two recruits from this last class were both offensive lineman so Nebraska knows where building for success starts from.

Best Draft Prospect: Alex Lewis OT 5th Round 2016.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

Randy Gregory is one of the best lineman in the Big Ten who is still learning the position after coming to Nebraska as a JUCO transfer. Gregory had 10.5 sacks with 19 tackles for loss and an additional 18 quarterback hurries. We had him listed as an early 2nd round selection but that is now the late stages of round 1 at this point. Greg McMullen saw action in 11 games last year and although he didn’t start any games, he made solid contributions. This sophomore will be the one to carry the torch at defensive end with Gregory leaving after this season.

The defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine are good examples of players who are not solid individual prospects but work well together. They should help form a pretty cohesive line despite Gregory being the only returning starter. Aaron Curry will more than likely platoon with both starters forming a 3-man rotating set.

Best Draft Prospect: Randy Gregory DE 1st Round 2015.

 

Linebackers:

At first glance the linebackers don’t look that imposing but you have to dig a little deeper to realize they may be the most underrated group of linebackers in the Big Ten led by future pro David Santos. There is much of Santos game that is reminiscent of former Cornhusker Lavonte David who is enjoying a successful pro career. Santos will miss some tackles but has very impressive range and is solid against the pass. Trevor Roach is back from injury and he should bring some pass rushing ability along the edge. Players like Zaire Anderson and Josh Banderas combined for 82 tackles while only starting nine games combined last season. This is a versatile group with some key reserves that will see time in the form of Michael Rose and newcomer Marcus Newby (who could be a starter before the end of the season).

Best Draft Prospect: David Santos LB 5th Round 2016.

 

Secondary:

The secondary is not one that is going to wow opponents but it’s also one that you cannot take lightly. Nebraska does have a nice draft prospect in safety Corey Cooper who does show versatility with his ability to play strong and free safety with ease. Cooper led the team with 91 tackles and had a pair of sacks. He is a sound tackler that was one of the few Huskers to look like he was going for strips routinely last season. Copper shows good instincts with 52 solo tackles, as play recognition seems to be his strongest attribute. LeRoy Alexander played in all 13 games last season and the sophomore is now ready to step into a starting role opposite Cooper. Josh Mitchell started six games last season at cornerback and his 6 passes defensed was good for second on the team behind the departed Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Charles Jackson and Jonathan Rose will be the other primary players at the cornerback spot, both whom have limited experience.

Best Draft Prospect: Corey Cooper S 5th Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

The Kick return game with Kenny Bell is in good hands but he may also be used on punts. This was an anemic portion for special teams last season averaging 3.0 YPR and having less than 100 return yards for the season. Mauro Bondi and freshman Drew Smith are in a heated battle for kicker. Bondi has the leg as he handled kickoffs last season and 63% went for touchbacks, one of the highest rates in the nation. Sam Foltz is a capable punter who had 22 punts downed inside the 20 last season.

Best Draft Prospect: Kenny Bell WR/KR 4th Round 2015.

 

Schedule:

Nebraska was a little faster out of the gate then expected last year and they get some nice warm ups before traveling to Fresno State and then having a home game with the Hurricanes of Miami. Nebraska is unfortunate in that many of their toughest Big Ten games (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa) are road games this season, though Nebraska only dropped 1 road game all last year (Minnesota). The finale on the road against Iowa could have huge conference implications.

 

Draft Outlook:

Randy Gregory has a ton of upside and Ameer Abdullah will be one of the first 3-4 running backs off the board if he can show fumbling will not be a worrisome problem.  David Santos has an outside shot at early declaration but he and Kenny Bell look like nice mid-round prospects. Alex Lewis at left tackle is the player to keep an eye on to see how he fits in the Nebraska system.

 

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