August 27, 2011

Five questions left to answer at the end of camp

When Nebraska takes the field this afternoon, it will mark the final fall practice before the official start of the first game week of the season on Monday. After three weeks of camp, there are still some big question marks surrounding the Huskers as they enter their first year as members of the Big Ten Conference.

Today, HuskerOnline.com takes a look at the five biggest questions still facing Nebraska at the end of fall camp.

Is Green up for the challenge?

Sophomore cornerback Andrew Green was getting some high praise for his play over the course of the spring and on through the first couple of weeks on camp, and then senior Alfonzo Dennard got hurt.

With Dennard's status uncertain for next week's season opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga, it looks as if Green will go from expected contributor to starter for the Huskers. While the Mocs might not be the toughest competition on the schedule, the fact remains that Green will have to help fill the shoes of one of the best corners in the country for at least that first game, if not more.

The good news for Nebraska is that Green and fellow sophomore Ciante Evans should be more than capable of holding their own until Dennard returns. The Huskers won't be trying to rush Dennard back and risk suffering a setback in his recovery, so look for Green to be counted on to hold down the fort at the second cornerback spot until Dennard's leg injury fully heals.

What will the offensive line look like?

No unit has been more fluid for Nebraska than the offensive line since the start of spring practice, as injuries and the somewhat surprising emergence of some young talent have made guessing the starting five up front a difficult task.

On Thursday, head coach Bo Pelini answered what many had been wondering when he said true freshman Tyler Moore was in position to win the starting job at right tackle. Moore enrolled early and had a terrific spring and fall camp, and it looks as if he could be holding down one of the tackle spots for the next few years to come.

Then there's the rise of redshirt freshman Jake Cotton, who has flourished since moving to right guard to right tackle this fall. Should he be able to translate his impressive play in practice to game day, he could very well join left tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, left guard Andrew Rodriguez, center Mike Caputo and Moore as the possible starting line for the opener.

Who will provide the depth at linebacker?

Nebraska is set with its three starting linebackers in Will Lavonte David, Mike Will Compton and Buck Sean Fisher. But one of the biggest concerns going back to spring ball was the lack of proven depth behind them at the position, and that concern hasn't quiet gone away at the end of fall camp.

The Huskers suffered a bit of a setback in figuring out that second linebacker unit since redshirt freshman Mike Trevor Roach has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. With Roach out, Fisher has had to move inside to the Mike in practice with the second group, and junior Alonzo Whaley appears to be a lock as the No. 2 Buck after a strong fall camp.

Senior Mathew May finally came back after being out with a hamstring injury of his own, and so long as he stays healthy he should man the backup Will spot behind David. However, keep an eye on other guys like true freshman David Santos, who Pelini said has already been seeing some time with the No. 2 unit.

Which freshman running back will emerge?

No group of freshmen have been more closely watched this fall than the running back trio of Braylon Heard, Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah. Through their first three weeks as Huskers, it sounds as if none of the three have separated themselves from the others in terms of coming in and making an immediate impact this season.

It will be interesting to see how the Huskers use the three backs in next week's opener, as which one plays and how they use each player should hopefully clear up the immediate plans for the young and loaded backfield. There's a chance all three players could see the field at some point this season, but it will be what Heard, Green and Abdullah show on the big stage that will determine where they factor into NU's offense this year.

Through fall camp, the offensive coaches have had nothing but positive reviews for the three freshmen, but from what the likes of offensive coordinator Tim Beck and running backs coach Ron Brown have said, none have stood out from the pack more than another. At this point, though, it wouldn't a big surprise if all three played a role for the Huskers right away.

Who will win the returner jobs?

There's no question that Nebraska has more playmakers than it knows what to do with at the kickoff and punt returner spots. The issue now is who will the coaches pick out of the talented group to handle the starting jobs?

Special teams coach John Papuchis said the competition for both spots is still as high as ever, and there's a chance the starters won't be decided until late next week. Whoever ends up getting the nod will certainly have earned it, however.

Between the likes of freshmen Jamal Turner, Kenny Bell, Heard, Green and Abdullah, senior Brandon Kinnie and junior Tim Marlowe, the Huskers have plenty of electric playmakers competing for two spots. Picking just two out of that group could prove to be one of the toughest decisions of all for the coaching staff this fall.



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