Position-by-Position Preview of Nebraska's 2014 Roster
It still feels far away, but the 2014 college football season is getting closer. With it, previews upon previews are being released in anticipation.
As for Nebraska, the glimpse at what each position brings for next season is what's capturing a lot of attention. From the quarterback to the defensive line, there are a lot of positives. However, there are still some question marks.
Does Nebraska have what it takes to compete for a Big Ten title and have a chance to play in the very first College Football Playoff?
Here's a position-by-position preview of the Huskers' 2014 roster.
The annual spring game may have provided a glimpse at what Ryker Fyfe and Johnny Stanton could do at quarterback, but neither will be the starter. That job falls to Tommy Armstrong.
He's a semi-veteran at this point. After starting most of 2013 in Taylor Martinez's absence, it's clear he'll be the guy to rely on. The team supports Armstrong, though. That's a major positive.
Also, Armstrong has been working hard in the offseason to get better. In doing so, he was recently mentored by Brett Favre, per the Big Ten Network.
In 2013, Armstrong completed 52 percent of his passes, which wasn't too bad. The alarming part was his 6 percent interception rate. That's something that will be fixed with maturity, which is something Armstrong has been working on in the offseason.
Fans may have gotten excited about Fyfe and Stanton's potential this spring, but Armstrong is the guy. It could be sink-or-swim, but a new-and-improved offensive line should help keeps things afloat.
Nebraska fans have a lot to be excited about at the running back position. Most are looking forward to having Ameer Abdullah back for his senior season, but he's not the only one with great potential.
The Huskers also have Imani Cross and Terrell Newby to add support behind Abdullah. Both made a strong case for themselves in the spring game, too.
But Abdullah truly is the shining star of this group. In 2013, he had 1,690 rushing yards on 281 attempts. That's an average of six yards per carry. He also boasted nine touchdowns.
Abdullah is explosive and efficient. While the support will be nice from Cross and Newby, Abdullah will handle most of the workload. Pending no injuries, it should be a big season for him.
Kenny Bell is due for another big season. After a great sophomore season, his junior year was a little lackluster. Bell is the senior now, though. While fans will be looking for a big season from him, he also has a big crew of receivers to lead.
A few of those players include Jordan Westerkamp, Sam Burtch and Jamal Turner. All three had memorable moments from 2013, but none were truly standouts. The Huskers are hoping that changes in 2014.
Regardless, Nebraska has talent at the wide receiver position. It just depends on if everything comes together for the group. A lot of that relies on Bell as a leader.
The tight end position was one that seemed to be noticeably absent from Nebraska in 2013. The players were there, but they weren't making big contributions. It's when that happens that it becomes clear how underappreciated this position truly is.
Cethan Carter returns as a sophomore for Nebraska. He had a decent 2013 season, catching 10 passes for 127 yards. It was nothing stellar, and he had many moments where he was unable to make a catch. If he works on his hands in the off-season though, things could be much different in 2014.
Sam Cotton is also returning as a sophomore for the Huskers. He had some big moments for Nebraska last season, and he should make an impact in 2014. In 2013, he had three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown.
David Sutton and Trey Foster should also be able to help, but neither really made an impact in 2013.
Needless to say, since Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed left two seasons ago, the tight end position hasn't been doing much. With Sutton, Carter and Sam Cotton hopefully stepping up as leaders, 2014 should be a bit better.
The Nebraska offensive line lost a lot of leaders after this last season, but it really isn't as terrible as it sounds.
The 2013 season saw a lot of injuries. While five out of the top eight on the line were seniors, they were often plagued by injuries. That allowed a lot of younger players to get much-needed playing time.
That doesn't mean it still isn't worrisome. Per the Omaha World-Herald, "the five checking out played a combined 215 games, including 127 starts. (Spencer) Long was a second-team All-American in 2012 and (Jeremiah) Sirles a four-year starter." That's a lot to replace.
But Jake Cotton and Mark Pelini have been pegged as potential leaders of the group. Both have experience and can help lead the younger guys.
It would be easy to look at the offensive line and feel defeated. However, the Huskers hardly feel that way. The line may be starting over, but quite a few had a chance to step up in 2013.
It might be rocky at first, but there's a good amount of potential with the offensive line. It all depends on how the offseason goes and how quickly they are all able to adapt come fall.
There is no denying that the defensive line had a rocky 2013 season. At the beginning, things were not looking very bright. The good news, though, is that the group began to figure things out by the end of the season.
A lot of that can be credited to Randy Gregory. He got better and better in such a short time. As a result, he's now being heralded as a potential first-round draft pick in 2015, per the Lincoln Journal Star (subscription required).
Once October rolled around last season, Gregory and the rest of the defensive linemen started to find their groove. Gregory became pretty hard to stop, and his leadership significantly helped those around him.
From Vincent Valentine, to Aaron Curry, to plenty of others, the 2014 defensive line really can only improve. With Gregory leading the way, this group should hit the ground running come August.
Nebraska returns a good list of players at the linebacker position. From senior Zaire Anderson, to junior David Santos, to sophomores Michael Rose and Josh Banderas, this group is starting to address major question marks from past seasons.
Inexperience has been an issue at the linebacker position in recent years. However, 2013 was the beginning of what looks to be some promise for this group. By the end of the season, the linebacker corps was starting to really mesh well.
Plus, the group combined for a total of 17 tackles for loss and five sacks. There's no denying the potential this group has.
That doesn't mean there won't still be issues to address in 2014. As the Huskers head into their fourth season in the Big Ten, though, things should get better. Anderson, Santos, Rose and Banderas will be able to help lead the group.
It might still be a position in flux, but it's starting to head in the right direction.
Nebraska lost Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans, which are definitely noticeable for the team. That doesn't mean the secondary isn't ready to step up and fill their shoes.
At the annual spring game, the secondary looked promising, which was a great sign for fans. The secondary may not be as deep as it was in 2013, but there are plenty of experienced players returning. Senior corner Josh Mitchell, sophomore safeties LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry and safety Corey Cooper all return. That's not a bad list.
Plus, Nebraska has hired Charlton Warren, who has already been making a positive impact with his players.
If the spring game was an indication of anything, it's that this group can't be counted out. Losing Jean-Baptiste and Evans is a blow, but they left behind plenty of talented players.
Nebraska has been known for its kickers, especially recently. That might be a different story in 2014.
After the annual spring game, fans were left shocked by what they saw from the kickers. Missed and blocked kicks are not something Nebraska fans are used to seeing. Pelini wasn't too happy with what he saw, either.
"The bottom line with the guys we have right now, they are capable, but none of them are consistent. So enter Drew Brown, so we’ll find out," Pelini said in his post-spring game press conference.
Brown will be a freshman at Nebraska this fall, and there is a lot of hope around his abilities. The Huskers need him to step up, too.
After all, when it comes to the field position battle, Nebraska struggled there in 2013. The Huskers were 98th in the country in field position margin last season, which is definitely concerning.
So from the punter to the punt returner, Nebraska has a lot to think about. Special teams will be a mess if it's not addressed.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.