Preview 2009 - Offense
2009 CFN Nebraska Preview
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What you need to know:
The offense finished 15th in the country
with a good group of players, but there weren't many superstars
and they are replaceable. At least that's the hope for the
Huskers. The line will undergo some shuffling, but there's
plenty of talent and plenty of versatile blockers to create a
decent front that should be solid after a few games of work. Zac
Lee appears to be a more than capable of replacing Joe Ganz and
be a quarterback to work around for the next few years, but he
needs receivers. The one big problem area is the loss of Nate
Swift and Todd Peterson, who combined for 125 of the team's
catches, but Lee will have a tremendous group of tight ends to
throw to, led by Mike McNeill. Roy Helu and Quentin Castille
form a nice 1-2 rushing punch that should be serviceable. There
might not be a slew of All-Big 12 performers across the board,
but the numbers should be impressive once again.
Passing: Zac Lee
1-2, 5 yds
Rushing: Roy Helu
125 carries, 803 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Mike McNeill
32 catches, 442 yds, 6 TD
Star of the offense:
Junior RB Roy Helu
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior WR
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Marcel Jones
Best pro prospect: Junior TE Mike McNeill
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Helu, 2) McNeill, 3) OT
Strength of the offense: Tight End, Speedy Skill Players
Weakness of the offense: Experienced Quarterback, Proven Wide Receivers
The big question mark going
into spring ball was the quarterback play and the potential of
Zac Lee to replace Joe Ganz. The 6-2,
210-pounder had a great offseason and was fantastic in the
spring game completing 15-of-18 passes for 214 yards and three
scores. He only completed one of two throws in game action last
season, but the junior who came to Lincoln after starring for
San Francisco CC has been fantastic for the last few years in
practices, has a nice arm, and brings far more speed and
quickness than Ganz, who ran for 159 yards and five scores.
Projected Top Reserves: There are position
changes, and then there's Latravis Washington,
a 6-3, 225-pound former linebacker who's making the switch over
to quarterback. He has a surprisingly accurate arm, completing
13-of-21 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the spring
game, is extremely smart, and he moves extremely well. He's no
threat to take over the starting job, but he's a potentially
dangerous option in a pinch.
In a perfect world, star
recruit Cody Green doesn't see the light of day
for two years and is the face of the program in 2011. The 6-4,
220-pounder is one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks
after throwing for 3,265 yards and 37 touchdowns and rushing for
1,610 yards and 25 scores last year for Dayton High in Texas. At
6-4 and 220 pounds he has the size and he has the deep arm, and
he has the rushing ability. Now he needs a little time to get
used to college life before he's a star. He got to school early
to work out in spring ball and was solid.
Watch Out For ... Lee to be more than fine. Ganz was
terrific, even if he didn't get a whole bunch of attention in a
league full of ultra-talented quarterbacks. Lee isn't quite a
Ganz clone, but he's not far off and he's a better runner. The
offense isn't going to have a problem with him under center.
Strength: Mobility. This won't exactly be the days
of Eric Crouch or Scott Frost when it comes to the quarterbacks
running the ball, but Lee is fast, Washington is a terrific
runner, and Green is special. The Husker quarterbacks are
supposed to do a little of everything well, and this trio can.
Weakness: Experience. Lee has JUCO experience, but
he has thrown two passes in anger in the big leagues. Washington
is a former linebacker and Green should've been kicking back in
his senior year of high school. There will be a learning curve,
even if this is a very talented group.
Outlook: Somewhat quietly, Nebraska finished 15th
in the nation in both passing and passing efficiency. While it
might be a lot to ask for a revamped passing game to do that
again, Lee appears to be good enough to be able to handle
himself well in shootouts. The backups have talent, but they
need time and seasoning.
Marlon Lucky was supposed to be
the main man for the running game, but Roy Helu Jr.
followed up a great spring with a team-leading 803
yards and seven touchdowns. At 6-0 and 215 pounds, he packs a
nice punch inside and has the speed to make things happen when
he gets into the clear averaging a nice 8.4 yards per carry. He
took over the running game in November with three 100-yard games
in the final four before getting stuffed for -1 yard by Clemson
in the bowl. A good receiver, but not an elite one, he caught 26
passes for 266 yards but will be used mostly as a runner once
he's 100% healthy from a hamstring injury.
Jordan Makovicka continues the tradition of
Mackovickas rolling through the Husker program following
brothers Jeff, Justin, and Joel. At only 5-10 and 205 pounds
he's not a big, bruising fullback, and will likely be used more
like an I-Back and a power runner. He was an ultra-productive
high school runner, but he's not the talent that Jeff and Joel
Projected Top Reserves: At 6-1 and 235 pounds,
junior Quentin Castille is a big, tough runner
who finished second on the team two years ago with 343 yards and
added 467 yards and six touchdowns last season being used mostly
on short yardage plays until the Gator Bowl when he rumbled for
125 yards. He has tried to keep his weight down to add more
quickness to his game, but he'll still mostly be the tough back
who's used to beat up defenses. He can catch a little bit,
making nine grabs for 109 yards, but he's not a top receiver.
Sophomore Austin Jones walked on to the
team a few years ago and now will make a push to be the No. 3
back in the rotation. A smart players with good quickness, he
has yet to see any action outside of shining on the scout team.
The 5-10, 210-pounder isn't going to carry the load, but he
should come in and see action in blowouts.
speed to the backfield is Rex Burkhead, one of
the team's top recruits. The 5-11, 200-pounder out of Texas has
home run hitting speed and the potential to be a dangerous
returner. He ran for 1,762 yards and 28 touchdowns last season
and caught 47 passes along the way. A nice get for the Huskers,
he should be a big part of the offense sooner than later.
One of several fullbacks looking for time in the rotation is
Tyler Legate, a walk-on who started out his
career at South Dakota before sitting out last year in Lincoln.
The 5-10, 210-pound sophomore was a tough defender and a
2,000-yard runner in high school, and he also showed enough
speed to be part of a relay team that got to the Nebraska state
Watch Out For ... Helu to come up with a bigger year.
He has to stay healthy, and he's trying to bulk up a bit to be
able to take more of a pounding. He might not be the sexiest
back in the Big 12, but he'll put up some big numbers and should
warrant all-star honors if he averaged over six yards per carry
again like last year.
Strengths: Receiving ability. The offense likes to
use all the running backs like third down backs with the ability
to do a little of everything. While Helu and Castille might not
be phenomenal pass catchers, at least like Lucky was, they're
very good and very reliable. They can be used in a variety of
Weakness: Fumbles. This was expected to be a problem,
and it was. While the Huskers lost a not-that-horrible 17
fumbles, they put it on the ground 31 times. This will be a good
ground game, but not an elite one, and it doesn't need to
sputter by putting the ball on the ground.
Outlook: Helu and Castille are good, solid backs
who can each carry the workload and should combine to balance
out the offense. Now the task will be to find a reliable No. 3
back who can add a bit more speed, along with a good fullback to
pave the way. With a mobile quarterback in Zac Lee helping the
total, Nebraska should finish in the top 30 in the nation in
rushing, but the more the backs can do, the better.
The team needs a No. 1
receiver, and while senior Menelik Holt might
not be that type of a target, he's a sound, reliable producer
who finished fourth on the team with 30 catches for 355 yards
and a score. While he was M.I.A. for a big portion of last year,
catching just one pass over a four game span, he has the ability
to do a lot more. At 6-4 and 220 pounds and with nice deep
speed, he has the potential to be a matchup nightmare. However,
potential defines his career after coming to the program as an
elite recruit who hasn't quite panned out.
Niles Paul has the ability to be a top target, even
though he didn't score and averaged just 9.3 yards per catch
last year on 23 grabs. While he's smart enough to earn academic
honors, he made a boneheaded move and got suspended for
suspicion of driving under the influence. While he missed time
this spring, the 6-1, 215-pounder is expected to be back in the
starting spot this fall where he needs to show off his
phenomenal deep speed.
The tight ends should be the
strength of the passing game led by junior Mike McNeill,
the team's leading returning receiver who caught 32 passes for
442 yards and six scores. the 6-4, 240-pounder has nice hands
and has shown just enough toughness as a blocker to be more than
just a beefed up wide receiver. After a strong finishing kick to
last year, he should be the go-to target early on.
Projected Top Reserves: Freshman Antonio
Bell was fantastic this spring showing off the best
wheels in the receiving corps to go along with 6-2, 180-pound
size. There was a question about whether or not he was going to
redshirt, but he was too good this offseason to be kept on the
sidelines. He'll be a third down target and will be used in
three and four wide sets as a deep threat.
Chris Brooks has never been healthy and only
caught two passes for 27 yards with a touchdown coming against
Kansas. At 6-2 and 210 pounds he has excellent size with the
type of excellent deep speed that made him one of the nation's
top recruits in 2005. He has great hands and he makes every grab
in practice, and now he'll work in combination with Holt.
Former I-Back Marcus Mendoza was lost in
the shuffle at running back running for 103 yards and a
touchdown in his limited work. At 5-9 and 190 pounds he's built
more like a receiver and has the tremendous speed to make big
plays on the outside. One of the fastest high school players in
Texas a few years ago, he ran a 10.64 in the 100 and 21.6 in the
200. Great in spring ball, he's a tough blocker for his size.
Certain to be used in two tight end sets is Kyler
Reed, a 6-3, 230-pounds all-around playmaker who can
block well and has the hands to be used as a nice deep threat.
The redshirt freshman proved this offseason that he could take
short passes to the house, highlighted by a 71-yard touchdown in
the spring game. He's a weapon.
Even with great tight
ends in McNeill and Reed already in place, 6-6, 250-pound
Ben Cotton is certain to see plenty of action.
The redshirt freshman was a nice recruit with a good all-around
mix of toughness, hands, and route-running ability.
Watch Out For ... the wide receivers to be an issue
early on. There isn't a Nate Swift or a Todd Peterson to count
on right away, and while there's a ton of speed and nice overall
upside, there isn't a sure-thing wideout to rely on from day
Strength: Tight end. McNeill would be in the hunt
for first-team All-Big 12 honors if it weren't for Oklahoma's
Jermaine Gresham. Reed and Cotton are likely to be too good to
keep off the field.
Weakness: Receivers who have lived up to the prep
hype. Bell and Mendoza are nice young targets who should add
some more pizzazz to the corps, but Holt, Paul, and Brooks
haven't come close to playing up to their promise.
Outlook: The whole should be better than the sum
of the parts; the production will be better than the players.
There might not be a superstar, go-to wide receiver to count on
out of the gate, but there are enough big, fast, talented
players to hope for one to quickly emerge. The Huskers are
loaded at tight end where QB Zac Lee should have plenty of good
targets to rely on.
The right side of the line needs to be
replaced with sophomore Marcel Jones getting the first
shot at taking over for Lydon Murtha at tackle. At 6-7 and 310 pounds
he's a big blocker with a long frame that's good at keeping pass rushers
at a distance. He started at right tackle in the opener against Western
Michigan and saw time throughout the season as a key backup, and while
he can play on the left side if needed, he should be a rock on the other
The other big loss is all-star guard Matt Slauson. Junior
D.J. Jones is versatile enough to play either guard or
tackle, but he's been groomed to play right guard after spending last
year as the main backup. A big-time recruit for the program, he was the
top prospect in Nebraska in 2006, he's about to step up and become a
major factor. Built like a tackle at 6-5 and 305 pounds, he's tall,
moves well, and has excellent strength for the inside.
In one of
the big moves of the offseason, sophomore Mike Caputo
will go from being a backup guard to center after a nice spring. The
former walk-on isn't big at just 6-1 and 275 pounds, but he's feisty and
good on the move. While it's hardly a lock that he'll be the starter in
the middle, he'll be a key piece to the puzzle in some way.
Caputo good enough to move to the middle, that will allow senior
Jacob Hickman to move to left guard where he should be more
useful. The 6-4, 290-pounder was an honorable mention All-Big 12
performer at guard two years ago, and now he's expected to be an
The one big issue up front is replacing center Brett Byford, the only
starter to last the whole season, but the Huskers have two-time honorable mention
All-Big 12 performer Jacob Hickman moving over and ready to step in.
The 6-4, 290-pounder was a bit questionable going into last year with a
knee injury, but he ended up turning into a steady starter at left
guard. The anchor of the line and a good, tough veteran, he can play
where needed and could end up moving back and forth between spots.
Even with all the movement, the most important position might be at
left tackle where 6-6, 290-pound junior Mike Smith is
back after started 12 games last year. Originally projected to be a key
backup, he has been a nice surprise after moving over from the defensive
side. A great athlete who's still trying to get enough polish to become
a steady all-around blocker, he's expected to become a steady all-around
blocker now that he knows what he's doing. He's also expected to be the
team's top pass protector.
Projected Top Reserves: There's a good chance
Jaivorio Burkes will end up starting at right tackle at
some point this year. A nice producer as a true freshman, he was a key
reserve last year earning three starts and being a steady blocker. He'll
work at right tackle as a part of a crowded group with 6-5, 295-pound
size, quick feet, and a world of upside.
6-5, 310-pound sophomore Keith Williams was a big-time recruit
who's built more like a tackle than a guard, but but he ended up playing
on the inside and now will back up Huff at left guard. He has the talent
to eventually be special.
Trying to find a spot somewhere in the
tackle mix is Ricky Henry, a 6-4, 305-pound junior who
is great at finishing blocks and has a defensive lineman's mentality. He
went to North Dakota State College of Science where he became a star at
right guard. In high school he was a Nebraska state champion wrestler
and brings that sort of mauling ability to the offensive front.
Watch Out For ... the right tackle situation. There
are at least four players good enough to take over the gig with Jones,
Burkes, Henry, and Derek Meyer all trying for the same
spot. Jones has the inside track, but there should be a fight.
Strength: Versatility. Along with the right tackle
job, there are several options for all the positions to allow the
coaching staff to tinker with the combination. There's talent up front,
but it has to be molded.
Weakness: Pass protection. The line last year was
fine at keeping the quarterbacks upright, but it wasn't great allowing
21 sacks and several big hits. This year's line has athleticism and
upside, but with several new starters and a lot of shuffling, it could
take a little while for everything to jell.
Outlook: This isn't going to be the Nebraska line
of the heyday, but it'll be good. The former coaching staff brought in
several great prospects, and the new staff has come up with some nice
new talents to mix in. The key early on will be to find one set lineup
and stick with it, but there are several good options to play around
with in case of injuries of if someone isn't getting the job done. This
might not be a team strength, but it'll be a positive.