•  Register
30

2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #30 Nebraska

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 30, 2015

#30 Nebraska Cornhuskers

2014 Recap:
Another 9-3 regular season wasn’t enough to save Bo Pelini, as Nebraska once again got near the top of the conference and couldn’t get over the hump. The losses came in the regular season against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota before dropping their Bowl game to USC and finishing 9-4. Pelini is now out as Nebraska head coach.

Coaching:
The coaching staff is all brand new with Mike Riley coming over from Oregon State. Riley has 14 years experience as a head coach at the NCAA level, and he was briefly a head coach with the San Diego Chargers in the NFL. Danny Landsdorf will run the offense and serve as the quarterbacks coach. Langsdorf was the QB coach for Eli Manning this past season and has a pair of stints under Riley at Oregon State. Mark banker will run a unit that ranked 52nd in the NCAA in total defense last year but has an impressive defensive line.

 

Offense Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:
Tommy Armstrong Jr. will once again be back to guide the offensive attack after throwing for over 2,600 yards a season ago. While Armstrong has the experience there were a lot of turnovers at inopportune times a season ago, as his 12 interceptions and eight fumbles were troubling. Now Armstrong will be learning what looks to be a dramatically new system with Mike Riley in charge. Armstrong ran for over 700 yards, and Riley usually installs a more pro style type of offense. Just how will Armstong respond or the offense as a whole?

Nebraska lost their top runner and receiver from 2014 to the NFL in the form of Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell. Terrell Newby had just under 300 yards rushing in 2014 and found the end zone five times, but it will be difficult to replace the over 1,600 yards rushing Ameer Abdullah was responsible for. Nebraska always seems to have plenty of runners in their stable, but Armstrong being the starter may be something that changes. Expect Armstrong to have a short leash if he struggles early and relinquish the job to last seasons backup Ryker Fyfe. If we see Fyfe as the quarterback Armstrong could still see the field as a running back. Armstrong has the escape-ability and decision making skills to be able to contribute in the backfield. Nebraska can also lean on senior Imani Cross, a player who seems like he has been on the roster and contributing for about six seasons.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
It’s true that Kenny Bell is gone, but Jordan Westerkamp remains, and the junior knows how to make big plays. Westerkamp seems to be the better receiver of the two, and he contributed 44-747-5 to Kenny Bell’s 47-788-6. The numbers are very similar, but Bell will be missed due to his blocking ability. Last season we ranked Kenny Bell as the #1 blocking wide receiver in the draft, something that is very important for teams running spread offensive formations. Getting Westerkamp reliable targets around him will be the focus in order for him to make big plays down the field.

Cethan Carter may only have caught 6 passes a season ago, but the tight end has the ability to do wonders in the new offense. De’Mornay Pierson-El is a reliable slot receiver who will see his role increased after the departure of Bell. Jamal Turner is back in the fold after suffering an Achilles rupture during the second game of last season. Turner seems to have a clean bill of health, and if he isn’t a starter he will see a lot of time at receiver. There seems to be adequate talent here for an offense that should change to a more up-tempo pro style attack.

Best Draft Prospect: Jordan Westerkamp WR 5th Round 2017.

 

Offensive Line:
The offensive line is only returning two starters, but the three players moving into starting roles have a wealth of experience. Alex Lewis is the most talented of the bunch, and the senior should hear his name called during the later rounds of the 2016 Draft. Zach Sterup started 10 games in 2014 and he should be the starter come opening day at right tackle. Sterup has the size you are looking for at 6’8″ 320 pounds. Zach Hannon and Dylan Utter are a couple of tough interior lineman that will lead the youth movement in the middle of the line. The real story here is how will Mike Riley and his offense change the philosophy of the block schemes. Nebraska has been built on the premise of run first and then run some more, pass block when it’s necessary. It remains to be seen how the recruiting classes and focus will change in the upcoming years, but Nebraska should still get plenty of studs along the line.

Best Draft Prospect: Alex Lewis OT 6th Round 2016.

 

Defense Analysis

Defensive Line:
We said it last year, and we will say it again, Randy Gregory was not the most talented lineman along the Nebraska line.. Sure Gregory led the team in sacks, and he is what we describe as an athletic freak. Maliek Collins is the blue collar worker along the line, and his genius should be on display for all this season. Collins has the natural ability to be a first round pick, and we have him as a second round prospect leaving early, as he is a junior this season. Collins actually had more tackles for loss then Gregory last season with 14, and his penetration in the middle still accounted for 4.5 sacks and 13 quarterback pressures.

What makes things even better for Nebraska is that fellow defensive tackle Vincent Valentine is also NFL caliber talent. On a number of teams Valentine would be a star, but he is just a complimentary piece to the outstanding line in Nebraska, one that is among the ten best overall in the nation.

Next to Ohio State, Nebraska has the best defensive line in the Big Ten. Jack Gangwish and Greg McMullen look like they will be the starting defensive ends, and they will have their opportunities to make plays with Valentine and Collins attracting double teams on a regular basis. Gangwish and McMullen both showed they could contribute a season ago and now will be relied upon to make plays on a consistent basis.The only perceived problem we can see is a problem with depth along the edge. Nebraska should work to get some younger blood involved early in the season to gain some experience.

Best Draft Prospect: Maliek Collins DT 2nd Round 2016 (early declaration is very possible).

 

Linebackers:
As tough and solid as the front four is for Nebraska, just as many questions can be posed about the back seven. Nebraska was hit hard by graduation, especially leading tackler linebacker Zaire Anderson. The best athlete and player at linebacker didn’t see the field a season ago, as Michael Rose-Ivey is back after missing 2014 due to injury. Rose-Ivey set the Nebraska freshman tackle record with 66 stops back in 2013, and he is back to take the next step and lead the unit.

David Santos is another player with NFL possibilities, but he has been slowed by injuries during portions of the last two seasons, missing spring ball as a result. The Cornhuskers remain optimistic that Santos will find the field, but that may not be for the season opener against BYU. Many of the starters remain up in the air at the time this article is being written, and the uneven play against the run is what Nebraska has to avoid this season. There are some capable leaders at linebacker, but the injury history makes things so uncertain that Nebraska fans have to be holding their breath.

Best Draft Prospect: Michael Rose-Ivey LB 7th Round 2017.

 

Secondary:
Nate Gerry will need to step up and take the place of the departed leader Corey Cooper, and the ceiling for Gerry is higher. Gerry led all returning players with 88 tackles and five interceptions a season ago. Those numbers came playing with Cooper who was responsible for some plays and assignments being funneled his way. Gerry is a sure tackler, but the five interceptions was a surprise to many.

Keiron Williams should see the starts come at the other safety spot, and he saw action in all thirteen games a season ago. For Williams the biggest contribution came in the form of special teams play, where Williams had half (3) of Nebraska blocked kicks (6) for 2014. With the inexperience the Cornhuskers possess at cornerback it is more imperative for that stout defensive line to generate as much pressure as possible. One thing Nebraska does have in their starting corners is size as the perceived starters stand 6’1″ and 6’0″. Daniel Davie and Byerson Cockrell should be the starters, but this has yet to be officially announced.

Best Draft Prospect: Nate Gerry S 4th Round 2017.

 

Special Teams

Sam Foltz is an experienced punter that started his first two seasons at Nebraska, and he leads a lethal special teams unit. We talked about the fact that Nebraska blocked six kicks a season ago, and wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El is such a good return man we can see him getting drafted based solely upon his return ability. Drew Brown is back to kick after a successful freshman season. Drew is the younger brother of former Nebraska and NFL kicker Kris Brown. Brown was 12-14 in kicks under 40 yards, and he was a perfect 59-59 on PAT’s. Brown has the leg, but 2-7 in kicks over 40 yards shows a need for improvement from long range in terms of accuracy.

Best Draft Prospect: De’Mornay Pierson-El KR/PR/WR 6th Round 2018.

 

2015 Schedule

Nebraska got out of the gate 5-0 last season, but two of their first three games this year will be challenging with the home opener against BYU and a road game against the Miami Hurricanes. Wisconsin and Michigan State are both home games this season. At no time during the 2015 season will the Cornhuskers have to play consecutive games on the road. While the overall talent is not on par with the top tier Big ten teams, this easier schedule will get the Cornhuskers a win or two.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

It’s all about the defense with Maliek Collins looking like a star ready to breakout. Vincent Valentine will garner a lot of attention and form one of the best duos art the NCAA level. Michael Rose-Ivey could be the real story here. If he is able to regain his form he could fly up the boards despite being undersized at 5’10”.