March 24, 2010

Much left to be answered for NU's safeties is priming its subscribers for Nebraska's 2010 spring practice with a daily countdown of coverage.

Each day, will break down a different position and focus on what needs to be accomplished at that position over spring practice. We will also talk about other faces to watch at each position.

In addition, each day we'll feature one key veteran and one rising underclassman at all positions until spring practice gets underway. Today, we take a look at the safety position.

The contenders

The position coach:
Marvin Sanders, third year at Nebraska

The frontrunner: Rickey Thenarse

Class: Fifth-year senior

Size: 6-0, 205

Early take: After missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury, fifth-year senior Rickey Thenarse returns as Nebraska's most experienced safety.

While he's always shown the ability to deliver the big hit, Thenarse may be especially valuable when his knowledge of the system is taken into consideration compared to the rest of NU's young safeties.

If he can stay healthy and translate his experience on to the field, there's no reason Thenarse won't come into the season as a starter or at least see some serious playing time.

The frontrunner: P.J. Smith

Class: Sophomore

Size: 6-2, 210

Early take: Prior to last year's Holiday Bowl, former Husker safety Larry Asante was asked who he thought would be his eventual replacement this season. His answer was P.J. Smith.

With two years of learning Nebraska's defensive scheme under his belt, Smith should now be able to pair his impressive athleticism with a good mental grasp of the system.

As long as he can figure out a way not to screw up too much, there's no reason Smith won't see the field a whole bunch this season. He's too gifted of a player not to play.

The frontrunner: Eric Hagg

Class: Senior

Size: 6-2, 205

Early take: There's still some speculation about where exactly senior Eric Hagg will play this season, as there's a chance he may or may not move from nickel back to safety.

One this is for sure, though - wherever he does end up, there's no doubt he's going to play.

Should Hagg make the move to safety, he'll bring a nice combination of experience and physicality to the position, as he's seen about as many snaps as any NU defender the past two seasons. However, the coaches might deem him too valuable to move out of the nickel, which has become a starting position over the past few seasons.

The contender: Austin Cassidy

Class: Junior

Size: 6-1, 215

Early take: Junior Austin Cassidy is definitely a dark horse here, but it seemed whenever you would ask the coaches about who was standing out at safety in practice last season, his name would come up.

Cassidy played in all 14 games last year, primarily on special teams. However, he did get some snaps on defense. He obviously has an uphill battle to see more playing time this season, but as long as he keeps performing the way he has in practice, it certainly isn't out of the question.

The challenger: Courtney Osborne

Class: Sophomore

Size: 6-3, 195

Early take: Probably not a very likely candidate, but Courtney Osborne did raise some eyebrows with his play of Nebraska's scout team defense.

What makes him so unique is his tall, long frame. At 6-foot-3, Osborne has the ability to make plays on some balls that his shorter teammates might not.

If he can continue to progress and add a little more bulk, he should be able to take some steps towards seeing some playing time, if not this year than the next two to come.

Other contenders: Redshirt freshman Dijon Washington.

Early take: Washington came to Nebraska ranked as one of the top-15 safeties of the 2009 class, and he could be in the mix for Nebraska this season. Anyone who was an all-state selection in California has no shortage of talent, and with a year under the Huskers' coaching staff, he could make some big time gains this spring.

There will also be some newcomers that will make their case in the fall. Guys like freshmen Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson should help provide some more competition at the position.

Spring prospectus: The hype for Smith has been building over the past two seasons, and this spring will be the first time he'll get to show what he can do on the big stage. He's a freak athletically, and as long as he can put it together mentally there's no reason Smith can't hit the ground running by the time the season starts. It will also be interesting to see how Thenarse responds to coming back from injury, as the Huskers could definitely use his experience at safety.

What does the future hold?: Similar to the situation at defensive end, Nebraska's safeties should be fine atop the depth chart, but there are still lots of questions as far as depth. An influx of freshmen and redshirt freshmen could put those worries to rest by the season opener, but the Huskers need to have a couple guys step up to both provide depth and increase competition.

Key veteran
Niles Paul

Position: Wide receiver

Class: Senior

Size: 6-1, 215

The skinny: Just like last year, senior Niles Paul will be the leader of Nebraska's wide receiver corps. Paul showed the ability to make big plays, but he'll have to come up with them far more consistently this season to make up for the lack of experience at wide out. He ended the season with one of the plays of the year with his 74-yard touchdown catch to cap off the Holiday Bowl, and the hope he picks up this season right where he left off.

The final word: Fans have been waiting three years for Paul to emerge into the type of star many expected he'd be coming into his freshman season. Now a senior, this should finally be the year he does it. There's no doubt that Paul will be the No. 1 option in the passing game, and if the Huskers can continue to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands, plays like his Holiday Bowl score will almost certainly follow.

Rising underclassmen
Brent Qvale

Position: Offensive line

Class: Redshirt freshman

Size: 6-7, 330

The skinny: Because of his massive size and unusually quick feet, Brent Qvale was emerging as a freshman on the brink of seeing some serious playing time on offensive line last season. However, an injury forced him to sit out the year. If he can stay healthy, though, there's no reason Qvale can't make a serious push for playing time or even a starting job this offseason.

The final word: Qvale is one of a handful of talented redshirt freshmen on the offensive line. Considering that Nebraska lost just one starter from last year's line and the addition of junior college transfer Jermarcus Hardrick, the competition for playing time should be hotter than ever this spring. How well Qvale has been able to rebound from last year's injury will likely play a huge role in how much he'll be able to stay with the rest of the pack.

More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!