2010 Nebraska Preview – Offense
Nebraska RB Roy Helu & OT D.J. Jones
Nebraska RB Roy Helu & OT D.J. Jones
Posted Jun 11, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Offense

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2010 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: Nebraska was able to win ten games with the 99th ranked offense in America, so it's not like the lack of production was a killer, but the Huskers could be in the hunt for the national title if they can get decent quarterback play. That's how big the quarterback battle is, and that's how important it'll be for Zac Lee and Cody Green to be more consistent. The line isn't special, but it's good enough to win with helped by four returning starters, the receiving corps gets back Niles Paul and some big, promising prospects, and 100% of the rushing yards gained last year return. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson must get something out of the passing game, though, or else all the other pieces won't work.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Zac Lee
177-302, 2,143 yds, 14 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Roy Helu
220 carries, 1,147 yds, 10 TD
Receiving: Niles Paul
40 catches, 796 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Roy Helu, Jr.
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior QB Zac Lee or Sophomore QB Cody Green
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Rex Burkhead
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Niles Paul
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Helu, 2) Paul, 3) TE/WR Mike McNeill, Sr.
Strength of the offense: Experience, Running Back
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, Consistency


Projected Starter: Senior Zac Lee was along for the ride last year, and now the 6-2, 215-pounder has to start producing to have any real shot at hanging on to the job. While he came through big late in the pivotal win over Missouri and he was solid in the bowl win over Arizona, he completed 6-of-19 passes for 39 yards and three touchdowns in the Big 12 Championship when a better quarterback would've been just enough to get by Texas. A JUCO star before coming to Lincoln, he has a nice arm and is a good runner, but he needs to be more consistent and can't throw as many picks after completing 59% of his throws for 2,143 yards and 14 touchdowns with ten picks, but four of his touchdown passes came against Arkansas State and three were in the win over Mizzou. Getting healthy is also a must after undergoing offseason arm surgery.

Projected Top Reserves: As a true freshman, Cody Green saw some garbage time and led the way to a win over Baylor. The 6-4, 225-pound sophomore had a great offseason and looked just strong enough to take over the No. 1 job, or at least be No. 1A going into the fall. One of the nation's top dual-threat prospects coming out of high school, he threw for 3,265 yards and 37 yards and ran for 1,610 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior. At the very least, he'll get plenty of chances.

All of a sudden, redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez has emerged as a dangerous option to throw into the equation. The 6-1, 195-pounder is a decent passer with a live, accurate arm, but the key to his game is speed. After tearing it up in spring practices, complete with a tremendous performance in the spring game, he's getting his shot at playing time after originally being considered for the defensive backfield. If he doesn't get the job, he could turn into a whale of a safety or even be used as a receiver.

Watch Out For … Martinez. Can the Huskers really go with an X factor like Martinez if they're truly hoping to win a national title? If nothing else, he could be a shot of adrenaline from time to time as a dangerous rushing option. He'll be a fan favorite if Lee and/or Green struggle.
Strength: Mobility. The Huskers have no problems with dual threat options with Lee, Green, and Martinez all quick and with decent enough arms to push the ball down the field from time to time.
Weakness: Consistency. There's the old adage that a team with several starting quarterback options doesn't have a starter, and Nebraska doesn't have anyone who can throw a scare into defenses. The Huskers were second-to-last in the Big 12 in passing and were painfully bad against the better teams throwing for 39 yards against Texas, 39 against Oklahoma, and 136 against Virginia Tech with one touchdown pass against those three teams and five interceptions.
Outlook: If the quarterback play is fantastic, Nebraska will be playing for the national title. As is, the quarterbacks should be just good enough to get by and get to the Big 12 title game again, but there's a hard ceiling on what the team can do if the passing game isn't more efficient and more dangerous. It's not enough to not screw up; the offense needs a playmaker under center. It might take the entire season to find one.
Unit Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: If it's possible for a star Nebraska running back to fly under the radar, senior Roy Helu Jr. was able to do it. The 6-0, 220-pounder earned second-team All-Big 12 honors and was the team's offensive MVP after rushing for 1,147 yards and ten touchdowns and catching 19 passes for 149 yards. When he was healthy, he was dominant with 169 yards against the tremendous Virginia Tech run defense, 156 against Kansas, and 138 against Oklahoma, but he struggled through a shoulder injury that needed a full offseason to heal up. Not afraid to run inside, he'll pound away when needed while he also has the speed to bounce runs to the outside to crank out big plays. His biggest problem so far, besides the shoulder, has been bowl production running for -1 yard by Clemson two years ago and running three times for eight yards in the win over Arizona (when he wasn't needed and was banged up). When healthy, he'll be one of the Big 12's top backs.

After coming in as a walk-on, 5-10, 235-pound junior Tyler Legate turned into the team's starting fullback as a great blocker and an occasional receiver catching three passes for 27 yards and a score. A great athlete, he ran for 2,000 yards in high school and was a Nebraska state finalist on the relay team. After starting out his career at South Dakota, now he's a key part of the Husker attack.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Rex Burkhead was one of the team's top recruits last year, and now the 5-11, 210-pound former quarterback from Texas should get a shot at showing off more of his home run hitting speed. He got his feet wet early last year, suffered a broken foot in the middle of the season, and then he got his chance to shine late in the year when Roy Helu was hurt running for 100 yards against Colorado and 89 against Arizona to finish with 346 yards and three scores. Now he needs to use his speed and talent to average more than 4.2 yards per carry.

There was a key stretch in the middle of the year when sophomore Dontrayevous Robinson was thrown to the wolves, and he came up with some nice performance rushing for 77 yards and a score against Iowa State and 61 yards and a touchdown against Baylor. He only finished with 165 yards and two touchdowns on the year, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and he caught four passes for 25 yards, but he proved he can play and be a key part of the rotation. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, he's one of the team's biggest backs and he provides nice power along with a little bit of wiggle.

What do you do with Marcus Mendoza ? He's an I-Back by trade running four times for ten yards, but he gets lost in the shuffle with so many other good backs. Able to see time as a receiver, he caught seven passes for 45 yards. With some of the best wheels on the team, the 5-10, 195-pound junior was moved to receiver last year before moving over to running back again. 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, but the coaching staff has to find a use for him.

6-1, 235-pound junior Mike Hays worked mostly on special teams last year and saw a little bit of time on offense. The former walk-on is linebacker tough and will once again be mostly a special teamer, but he won't ever get the ball in his hands.

Watch Out For … Burkhead. Helu might be the main man and the starter, but Burkhead has more speed and is the more dangerous of the two backs. His biggest run was just 34 yards, but that's going to change. He'll be a home run hitter.
Strength: Experience. Every yard gained last year returns. While the quarterback had a lot to do with that, the 11 players who got a carry are back with Helu, Burkhead, and Robinson a fantastic trio that could be among the best in the Big 12.
Weakness: The passing game. The backs just don't get enough room to move with defenses cheating up and selling out against the run. The passing game has to loosen things up a little bit to keep the linebackers off the line, and there isn't a quarterback who has proven he can do that.
Outlook: As long as everyone can hang on to the ball, and as long as the blocking up front is consistent, the backs will carry the offense. Helu is an underappreciated talent who could be the best back in the Big 12, while Burkhead is too dangerous to not have the ball in his hands. With everyone returning, and Burkhead and Robinson more mature, the running game can't help but be better.
Unit Rating: 8


Projected Starters: The Nebraska passing game wasn't exactly a plus, but senior Niles Paul was a bright spot leading the team with 40 catches for 796 yards and four scores. A bit streaky, he had four 100-yard games (Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas and Missouri) but caught two passes or fewer in eight games. An all-academic performer, he got suspended for a stretch last offseason under suspicion of driving under the influence, but he didn't miss any game time. This year, he not only has to be a No. 1 target, he has to use his deep speed and his 6-1, 220-pound size to be a weapon who takes the pressure off the ground game. He's also an elite returner averaging close to 11 yards per punt return and 27.9 yards per kickoff.

6-3, 220-pound junior Brandon Kinnie is a big, tough, physical target who came on over the second half of last year finishing with 15 catches for 141 yards with 14 of his grabs coming in the final eight games. A top JUCO prospect who originally signed with Kansas State, he has the size and the athleticism to do far more and should make more big plays.

Part tight end and part big receiver, senior Mike McNeill will move around where needed with so many strong tight end prospects. At 6-4 and 235 pounds he has good size and is a matchup problem for most linebackers with nice quickness. The team's No. 2 receiver last year, he finished with 28 catches for 259 yards and four touchdowns with the production spread out over the course of the season. He's a decent blocker, but he'll be utilized more as an inside receiver.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Khiry Cooper wasn't a big part of the passing game, but he came up with 13 grabs for 80 yards and a touchdown and showed a few nice flashes. The 6-2, 195-pounder will be a key part of the outside rotation after he gets done playing baseball. A tall, tough flash on the football field, he's also a solid outfielder and missed time to establish himself as a starter this offseason.

6-0, 215-pound Curenski Gilleylen went from being a limited backup to a spot starter last year finishing fourth on the team with 17 catches for 302 yards and a touchdown averaging 17.8 yards per grab. Consistent early in the year, he was out of the mix in the middle of the season but will now see more time as a top backup. The junior has a nice blend of size and speed with the potential to be a big matchup problem.

While Mike McNeill is like a tight end, even though he's a big wide receiver, senior Dreu Young is a real, live, tight end. A strong blocker and a talented receiver, he averaged 15.6 yards per catch making five grabs for 78 yards. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, the walk-on has good size and excellent toughness, overcoming a back problem to be an important part of the offense.

Watch Out For … McNeill. Working in a hybrid role, the big senior who has been such a key part of the Husker passing game over the last two years will take on even more responsibility. Young can do the blocking, while McNeill will do most of the work as a receiver.
Strength: Size. Including McNeill is he's used like a wide receiver, the Huskers aren't lacking for big, physical targets. There's no shortage of speed, either, but the ability to block and to be physical down the field is everything for the limited Nebraska passing game. The receivers have to take advantage of their chances.
Weakness: The quarterbacks. Is it the chicken or the egg? Where the receivers making the quarterbacks bad, or vice versa? It was a combined effort last year, but a steady No. 2 receiver (other than McNeill) has to emerge. Cooper and Kinnie have the potential, and now they have to produce.
Outlook: There's plenty of experience and plenty of complementary players to work around Paul, a star who would get far more publicity in a better passing offense. The key for this group will be to hit the big play, averaged more than 12 yards per catch, and keep the chains moving on third downs. This is a big, fast, good group that could blow up with better quarterback play.
Unit Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Four starters return to the line with the one loss a big one at center. Gone is Jacob Hickman, a three-year starter, and in steps junior Mike Caputo , a 6-1, 275-pound veteran who has been a strong backup from the start of his career. The former walk-on isn't all that big, but he's feisty and is great on the move. He didn't see any starting time last year, but he's prepared enough to hit the ground running with polished skills and the smarts to know what he's doing.

The star of the line needs to be senior Mike Smith , a 6-6, 285-pound pass blocker who moved over from the defensive side and has been a versatile part of the blocking scheme for the last three years. While not a dominant force, he's a great athlete who should be far steadier and a cagy veteran who will be the anchor.

Arguably the best player up front last year was Keith Williams , a 6-5, 315-pound senior who's the team's most physical presence for the running game. A big-time recruit who's built more like a tackle than a guard, he took over the starting job in the fourth game of the year and was rock solid. While he might not ever be the star he was expected to be when he started his career, he'll be a fringe all-star candidate.

6-4, 305-pound senior Ricky Henry took over the starting right guard job at the start of last year and never let go. With a high motor and great energy, he's always working and he blocks with a mean streak. An honorable mention All-Big 12 performer, he has come a long way since starting his career at North Dakota State College of Science as a raw prospect. A Nebraska state champion wrestler, he's a mauler who should shine as a mauling run blocker in his final season.

Junior Marcel Jones stepped in at right tackle and came up with a great season before getting knocked out for the final three games of the season with an ankle problem. At 6-7 and 315 pounds, he's a massive blocker with a tough frame to get around. Very smart with great character, he's a good worker who does a nice job in pass protection with the athleticism to keep up with most speed rushers and the strength to handle the stronger ones.

Projected Top Reserves: Coming in to try to take over a spot somewhere right away is top recruit Jermarcus Hardrick, a massive 6-7, 320-pound JUCO transfer with the feet to be used as a tackle and the toughness to pound away as a guard. "Yoshi" might not find a starting job with four starters returning, but he'll be a key backup tackle and might end up seeing time on the left side in a rotation with Mike Smith.

When Marcel Jones got hurt late last year, senior D.J. Jones stepped in and did a decent job. One of the team's most versatile blockers, he can play anywhere but center and be fine. At 6-5 and 310 pounds, the one-time super-recruit is tall, moves well, and has excellent strength. He'd be a starter at most other places and should see plenty of action both at guard and tackle.

Former defensive lineman Luke Ligenfelter moved over to the offensive side and was going to be tried out at tackle. Now the 6-4, 280-pound walk-on will be a bigger option at center working behind Mike Caputo, but he could move around where needed. One of the team's smartest players, the junior can handle the line calls without a problem.

Watch Out For … Yoshi. Hardrick is an NFL sized tackle with a world of upside, and while it'll be hard to push Smith and Jones out of a job, he's too big a talent to keep off the field.
Strength: Size and experience. Outside of Caputo at center, this is a very big, very beefy line that's been around the block. With four returning starters, three seniors, this should be a cohesive unit that gets better and better as the season goes on.
Weakness: Talent and production. This is a nice line, but not necessarily a national title one. The talent level is fine, nothing special, the run blocking wasn't nearly as strong or as consistent as it needed to be, and the pass protection struggled against the better lines.
Outlook: It might not be a collection of all-stars, but it'll be a good, sound line that won't be the problem if the offense struggles again. There's starting experience, size, and some decent depth to hope for a consistent year. The key will be the ability to come up big in the biggest of moments. When the offense needs to crank out a long drive, the line has to dominate.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2010 Nebraska Preview | 2010 Nebraska Offense
- 2010 Nebraska Defense | 2010 Nebraska Depth Chart
- Nebraska Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006