What to Make of Nebraska’s 2011 Offense?
By Todd Neeley
Husker fans have been burned so many times when it comes to spring football.
As we learned during the Bill Callahan era, the Nebraska west coast offense was proven to be deceptively explosive in the spring. Sam Keller looked like Joe Montana under center, heck, even Joe Dailey played like Joe Ganz in the spring. And remember in the Frank Solich era when Bobby Newcombe had Husker fans salivating?
Name two people who were not convinced Newcombe would start ahead of Eric Crouch. The rest is history.
In other words, spring football rarely provides a window into what NU will look like come fall. Spring football 2011 really isn’t all that different, but for a few exceptions.
We’ve learned in a short time is that Bo Pelini can recruit. The fruits of those labors were obvious at this year’s glorified scrimmage. Pelini’s defense likely will go at least three deep at every position, while the offense is pretty much a mystery stacked with good, young talent at this point.
Chalk up at least one journalist who believes the Husker offense will be vastly improved, more explosive at wide receiver, deeper and more talented at quarterback with the emergence of redshirt freshman Brion Carnes, somewhat inexperienced and young in the offensive line and seriously lacking proven depth at I back.
The good news is Pelini said at the end of spring ball that he’s not the kind of guy to automatically hand redshirts to young players. He proved that with Taylor Martinez in 2010. Pelini is willing and eager to get the best talent on the field.
Nebraska will likely rely on many young guns to make this offense better in 2011.
Probably sitting atop the list is redshirt freshman receiver Kenny Bell. For such a young guy, Bell has a multitude of moves in the open field and breakaway speed similar to Martinez. Coaches raved about Bell’s play on the scout team in 2010, and in particular his 10.5 speed in the 100-meter dash. To put that speed in perspective, when Eric Crouch was a senior in high school he won the Class A state championship in the 100 with a 10.7 – and we all remember what was Crouch’s breath-taking speed.
In addition, true freshman Jamal Turner is likely to see the field a lot in 2011. In the spring game Turner had 94 yards in receiving yards including a 49-yard touchdown catch and he was a special teams star in the return game. Since Turner moved to the receiver spot around spring break, he has a long way to go to learn the offense.
What really stands out, however, is that new offensive coordinator Tim Beck appears to be willing to put his best players on the field and then have them do what they do best.
If the season was to start today, Rex Burkhead would probably see 80 percent of the carries from the I-back spot. Right now Austin Jones and Ty Kildow are the best options behind Burkhead.
Though Nebraska is banking a lot on young guns Braylon Heard, Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah, it’s hard to put too much stock into any freshmen let alone relying on such a group for depth at a virtually bare
Considering how much pounding Nebraska I backs take, this could be a real problem spot come fall.
And how about the quarterback spot?
Even though Nebraska ran very basic offense in the spring game, Martinez was less than impressive. The same old habits are still alive and well – throwing off the back foot in to double coverage, and still playing extremely tentatively from the pocket.
I’m going to wage a guess that this year’s spring game will be a sign of things to come for Nebraska, especially when it comes to the future of quarterback Brion Carnes. Again, the guy ran basic offense but was poised in the pocket, has a smooth passing delivery and impressive feet.
More than anything, Carnes brings intensity to a position where Nebraska could use a leadership spark. Is he going to challenge for the starting job in 2011? Not unless Martinez and Green completely meltdown – only if the Martinez-led offense continues the disappointing struggles that marred the 2010 season. It’s not yet a full-blown quarterback controversy, but it get a violent shove into controversy if Carnes continues to develop.
It’s a lot harder to get a feel for the Nebraska defense in a spring game. Coaches played a myriad combination of players on that side of the ball and a handful of starters didn’t play. Having said that, converted linebacker, defensive end Eric Martin was all over the field. In addition, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jay Guy has come a long way in a short time. He was a chore to block in the red/white game and has a great future at Nebraska.
Keep in mind, so much can change when fall rolls around. The Nebraska offense has a long way to go. After all, coaches had just 15 practices to install an offense that Nebraska really didn’t run at all in the spring game.
So when the lights come on in the fall there will be growing pains. But there’s little doubt that Nebraska will have a great defense and will be capable of giving the offense plenty of time to develop by shutting down the opposition – at least until the first Big Ten game at Wisconsin.
My guess is we’ll find out how good that defense will be in a nationally televised night game against a powerhouse Badger team.
Nebraska needs to rebuild its offense, but doing it with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State on the schedule will be a tall task.