2012 Nebraska Preview – Offense
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The goal for the offense when coordinator Tim Beck took over last season was to simplify everything to make the attack faster and more efficient to keep defenses on their heels. The problem, though, was that the O came down to Taylor Martinez or Rex Burkhead running over and over and over again. The passing game was efficient at times, but that was only because the ground attack did all the heavy lifting. The line is going to be okay, not elite, but it should just good enough to get the job done for the running game. Can Martinez and Burkhead hold up to combine for over 450 carries again? There are some home run hitters in the backfield behind Burkhead, and there's a veteran receiving corps that could break out with more of an emphasis on the passing game, but a consistent third offensive option has to emerge to take the pressure off the two main men.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Rex Burkhead
Passing: Taylor Martinez
162-288, 2,089 yds, 13 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Rex Burkhead
284 carries, 1,357 yds, 15 TD
Receiving: Kenny Bell
32 catches, 461 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior C Cole Pensick
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Tyler Moore
Best pro prospect: Burkhead
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burkhead, 2) QB Taylor Martinez, 3) OG Spencer Long
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Martinez & Burkhead
Weakness of the offense: Consistent Passing Game, Line
Is this the year it all comes together for Taylor Martinez? The 6-1, 200-pound sophomore looked like a world-beater at times as a freshman, tearing up Kansas State for 241 rushing yards and four scores, and bombing away on Oklahoma State for 323 yards and five touchdowns, but he started to have ankle problems and was hit or miss over the last part of his first year. Last season he managed to be the main man at quarterback for the entire year completing 56% of his passes for 2,089 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight picks while finishing second on the team with 874 yards and nine touchdowns. However, all nine scores on the ground came in the first six games and all 12 of his rushing scores in 2011 also came in the first six. He's not all that big, he's not built to take big shots and he doesn't have the biggest arm, but he's a dynamic playmaker who ran for over 100 yards three times and was just steady enough on the short-to-midrange throws to get by. However, he has to do more with the passing game to show that the offense can be about more than the ground attack.
6-1, 200-pound sophomore Brion Carnes is a fast, fast, fast, extremely athletic dual-threat quarterback from Bradenton, Florida, the hometown of Nebraska legend Tommie Frazier – Carnes is Frazier's cousin. But now Carnes needs some real, live time on the field to show that he's ready to take over if and when Martinez goes down or struggles. He has the speed and rushing ability, but can he throw on a consistent basis? He completed both of his passes for 26 yards last season but didn't take off and do anything on the ground.
6-1, 210-pound junior Ron Kellogg has been a good scout teamer and has been great in practices, but he hasn't seen any time yet. The former walk-on can run and is a nice, smart athlete, but he has to show he can play when the lights are on. Redshirt freshman Tyson Broekemeier is a 6-1, 185-pound walk-on who dominated after dominated as a Nebraska high school star. As a senior he threw 31 touchdown passes and just three picks and was also a strong runner, but he wasn't exactly a hot recruit. It's possible he could be moved to another position, but he's just enough of a passer to be given a look for backup time.
How long will it take before Tommy Armstrong is ready? The 6-2, 210-pound top recruit can do it all with one of the best arms on the team and with terrific rushing skills. A superstar dual-threat prospect who had his pick of BCS schools, he might be the team's most talented all-around quarterback;
he just needs a litle bit of time.
Watch Out For … Martinez's consistency. After two years as the starting quarterback and a few rocky parts, he has to be better with the passing game and he has to do even more for the ground attack. He has the speed and rushing ability, but if he's not great, the team can't win.
Strength: Rushing. Martinez is one of the Big Ten's most dangerous quarterbacks on the ground not named Denard. He's a proven runner who showed last year he could take a bit of a beating. Carnes could do even more to crank out big plays if given a shot.
Weakness: Backup experience. The Husker offense needs "T-Magic" to stay in one piece with Carnes not exactly proven and with few sure-thing prospects to rely on. Considering what happened when Martinez had ankle problems two years ago, the fans will be holding their breath on every pop.
Outlook: Martinez is never going to be Aaron Rodgers, but he has to start throwing the ball down the field a bit more and a lot more effectively. He's a runner who can carry the offense by himself at times, but he needs to be better against the stronger teams. Carnes needs meaningful playing time to show he can handle the work.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The might have been better running backs in the Big Ten last season, but there wasn't a more valuable player than Rex Burkhead, a 5-11, 210-pound senior who led the team with 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with 21 catches for 177 yards and two scores. While he's not huge, he's a workhorse who handled the load time after time after time with 35 carries in the win over Michigan State and 38 in brilliant effort to beat Iowa. The former quarterback from Texas was one of the team's top recruits a few years ago with good enough size to get by and terrific speed. Well past the broken foot he suffered a few years ago and able to get through a slew of bumps and bruises last year, he ran for 100 yards or more seven times with the Huskers winning all seven games. Over the last three years, Nebraska is 11-0 when Burkhead hits the century mark.
Sophomore Ameer Abdullah came up with a phenomenal year as one of the nation's top kickoff returner averaging 29.3 yards per try with a 100-yard return for a score against Fresno State. Now he's going to become a bigger part of the running game after finishing third on the team with 150 yards and three touchdowns. At 5-9 and 185 pounds he's not all that big, but he can fly and he needs to use his jets to make more big plays with a long run of just 24 yards last season.
With Aaron Green leaving the program for TCU, there's a shot for Braylon Heard to play a bigger role after finishing fourth on the team with 114 yards and a touchdown. However, is he a corner or a running back? At 5-11 and 185 pounds he's built like a defensive back, and he has the speed and athleticism to grow into a playmaking defender, but he might be needed more on the offensive side. He'll work where needed.
6-2, 250-pound junior Mike Marrow is expected to be the main option at fullback with the ability to carry the ball a little bit as well as block. It's been a long journey to Lincoln after starting out his career at Alabama before transferring to Eastern Michigan. Now he should become a blaster of a hitter who'll add a more physical pop to the ground attack. Junior C.J. Zimmerer has been a special teamer so far and has yet to touch the ball, but he has been around just long enough to be a part of the attack. At 6-0 and 230 pounds has decent size and enough ability to do a little of everything for the attack.
Watch Out For … true freshman Imani Cross might not see the light of day this season if Burkhead and Abdullah can handle the workload, but if Heard really does spend most of his time on the defensive side there will be a hole for the new recruit to fill. He's 6-1 and 220 pounds with a physical, pounding style.
Strength: Burkhead. Is this the year he starts to get more national respect? Nebraska wouldn't have gone anywhere last year without him, and as long as he can stay in one piece he'll be fed the ball early and often as the centerpiece of the ground game.
Weakness: The backups. Green is gone, Heard is probably going to stick at corner and Abdullah is more of a kick returner than a running back so far. Burkhead ran for 1,347 yards while Abdullah ran for 150.
Outlook: Burkhead needs a break. There's no questioning his toughness or his ability, but can he handle more than 300 touches again? Abdullah needs to add even more of a big play threat and at least one other option has to come through in the rotation. If No. 22 is healthy, through, he'll join Taylor Martinez as the main men for the ground game.
Unit Rating: 8
The Nebraska receivers have to be a bigger part of the fun, and that means that Kenny Bell needs to be even more of a factor. A bit of a surprise, the 6-1, 185-pound sophomore stepped up and became the team's leading receiver with 32 catches for 461 yards and three scores. Extremely fast, he's explosive enough to have taken off on an 82-yard touchdown run against Minnesota and was a nice kickoff returner late in the year.
Junior Quincy Enunwa finished third on the team with 21 catches for 293 yards and two scores, but his real strength is as a blocker. The 6-2, 215-pounder isn't exactly a gamebreaker – most steady than spectacular – but he's strong and isn't afraid to make the tough play when needed. However, his biggest game was a four-catch, 58-yard day against Chattanooga. While he made one catch for a key 36-yard touchdown against Ohio State, he wasn't enough of a weapon.
Senior Tim Marlowe has been a decent returner while also serving as a strict possession target. The 5-10, 185-pounder is smart and quick, but he only caught 12 passes for 113 yards and a score. He'll combine in the rotation with Jamal Turner, an elite athlete who has the skills and upside, but lacks consistency. The 6-1, 185-pound sophomore caught 15 passes for 243 yards, and now the former dual-threat quarterback needs to be a bigger factor in the open field. The talent is there to be a weapon.
Senior tight end Ben Cotton caught 14 passes for 189 yards, but he's a blocker. An all-star in the classroom, the 6-6, 255-pounder is at his best when he's able to shove people around for the running game. The son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton had better know how to blast away. He'll combine with 6-3, 230-pound senior Kyler Reed, a nice deep play target who averaged 17.1 yards per pop catching 15 passes for 257 yards and a score. He set the Nebraska record for touchdown grabs in a season with eight in 2010, and while he can block, he's more like a big wide receiver.
Watch Out For … Turner. Bell is the No. 1 guy, but he's not good enough to blow up if focused on – he can be erased by an above-average corner. However, he'll demand attention leaving Turner in plenty of one-on-one situations. Give Turner the ball in the open field and watch him go.
Strength: Experience. Brandon Kinnie is gone, but Bell, Enunwa and Reed form a nice trio of targets to work around. Turner and Marlowe know what they're doing, but now they need …
Weakness: Someone to get the receivers the ball. Martinez isn't a bomber, but he can make plays with his arm now and then. It's all about opportunity for the Nebraska receiving corps, and considering the passing game is along for the ride, the team has to average more than 12.9 yards per catch.
Outlook: It's the type of receiving corps that could be made a whole lot better by a veteran passing quarterback who knows what he's doing. The Husker targets can block and they'll occasionally rise up and keep the chains moving, but if Bell and Reed can be contained, there's nothing to worry about.
Unit Rating: 6
For the second straight season the Nebraska offensive line has to undergo some major changes up front, but the one key mainstay will be junior right guard Spencer Long, a 13-game starter last season who earned second-team All-Big Ten recognition. The 6-4, 305-pound former walk-on is smart, tough, and has proven he can handle himself to blast away when needed. If it's possible for a right guard to be an anchor, Long should be it.
Undersized senior Seung Hoon Choi started six times at left guard, taking over the job late in the season. The walk-on isn't a road grader at 6-2 and 295 pounds, but he moves well and has a full-tilt motor with the ability to finish his blocks. He worked last year at the position with Andrew Rodriguez, a big, versatile junior who'll likely kick outside to tackle at some point. He started seven times at left guard before suffering a foot problem. With 6-6, 325-pound size and good smarts, he'll fight for time again on the inside but could end up as a key replacement at one of the tackle jobs.
Replacing mainstay Mike Caputo at center will be tough, but longtime backup Cole Pensick will give it a shot. The 6-2, 275-pounder isn't big, but he's a feisty former defensive lineman who's active enough, smart enough and quick enough to handle the job. He's not going to be Caputo, but he should be ready for the job.
With Yoshi Hardrick gone at right tackle, it'll be up to 6-6, 300-pound sophomore Tyler Moore to try to fill in the gap after coming up with a nice first season. He started the first four games at right tackle becoming the first true freshman in the history of Nebraska football to start his opening game. A backup behind Marcel Jones for the remaining nine games, now he'll move over to the other side where he should be a rock for the next three seasons.
With Moore moving and Jones gone, 6-6, 310-pound junior Jeremiah Sirles will take over the right tackle job. A CFN Second-Team Freshman All-American two years ago, he never quite got back into the swing of things after undergoing shoulder surgery last off-season. He could end up starting on the left side – where he got the call in every game in 2010 – but he's better suited for the right.
Watch Out For … Rodriguez. He has the size and the bulk the line needs, and he has the versatility to play wherever there's a hole. One of the best blockers this offseason, he'll find a starting spot somewhere and could grow into one of the team's top linemen if he can stay healthy.
Strength: Run blocking. This isn't going to be the massive line it was last season, but it should be able to push people around and it should be able to dominate at times. Can it do what it did last season against Ohio State and step up and blast away when push comes to shove? The line might not necessarily be built for that, but it'll be an effective front five.
Weakness: Depth. It's Nebraska, so there will always be plenty of options and lots of good prospects waiting in the wings, but the 2012 line will be relying on an undersized and relatively inexperienced center and two walk-ons – even if Long is a good one. There will be a good rotation in time, but the lack of veteran depth could be a bit of an issue.
Outlook: It's hardly the Nebraska offensive line of the big years, but it should be patched together to be a positive as the season goes on. Moore has to be terrific at one of the tackle spots and Pensick has to be a star in the middle. This will be a good, functional line, but it's not going to be dominant.
Unit Rating: 7
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