August 20, 2010

Checking in on the top five position battles

Coming into fall camp, there were several starting positions that were completely up for grabs. With the first two weeks of camp nearly in the books, decided to take a look at how five of the most competitive position battles have progressed over the past 17 practices.

Quarterback: Lee vs. Green vs. Martinez

This was the position everyone was talking about heading into fall camp, and nothing has changed after the first two weeks. On the surface, it's hard to gauge if senior Zac Lee, sophomore Cody Green or redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez have been able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The coaches insist their performances have been equal across the board, and all three have been getting exactly equal reps with the first-team offense in practice. However, I'm hearing Lee is having a great camp so far. Considering the experience advantage he has over the other two, I wouldn't be surprised one bit if the incumbent starter Lee leads the offense on opening day.


Left tackle: Hardrick vs. Sirles

Maybe even more so than quarterback, the battle for the starting left tackle job could be the most highly contested of any on the team. When you take into account that you have two players in junior Jermarcus Hardrick and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Sirles who could arguably be starters for the majority of teams in the Big 12, it's pretty much a win-win situation. Hardrick has drawn praise since his first practice last spring for his unrivaled physicality and dominating presence in the run game. Sirles, on the other hand, is in his second year in the program, and his progress has elevated him to become one of the most promising young players on the line. In the end, I see this coming down to who has a better grasp of the offense as a whole, and right now that's Sirles.


Defensive tackle: Steinkuhler vs. Moore

This is another position that garnered plenty of offseason attention because of the task of replacing the great Ndamukong Suh. While junior Jared Crick will handle the bulk of the responsibility, someone needs to emerge as the one to fill Crick's spot at the other tackle position. The two leading candidates are sophomore Baker Steinkuhler and junior Terrence Moore. Many fans and media had already appointed Steinkuhler as Crick's successor, but Moore's performance the past two weeks have made this a wide-open competition. Steinkuhler definitely came to Nebraska two years ago with plenty of acclaim, but Moore plays with an admitted chip on his shoulder to prove to everyone he shouldn't be overlooked. Right now though, I still see Steinkuhler winning the job.

PREDICTION: Steinkuhler

Safety: West vs. Smith

Prior to last year's Holiday Bowl, former NU safety Larry Asante hand picked then-redshirt freshman P.J. Smith as his successor this season. A few position changes before spring practices have complicated that prediction a bit, however. In particular, the move of senior Anthony West from corner to safety has given Smith all the competition for the starting job he can handle. Since making the move, West has flourished at his new position, and word is he's surpassed Smith as the No. 1 safety along with senior DeJon Gomes. Smith has all the athletic ability in the world, and there's no doubt in my mind both players will see plenty of playing time, but right now the starting job looks to be West's to lose.


Linebacker: Compton vs. Martin vs. David

The move to the peso defense as Nebraska's base package essentially eliminated the BUCK linebacker position, meaning an already crowded unit would be battling for playing time at one less spot this offseason. While there is certainly a lot of depth to work with, sophomores Will Compton and Eric Martin and junior college transfer Lavonte David look to be the leaders in the race for the starting MIKE and WILL positions. Losing sophomore and returning starter Sean Fisher to a broken leg this past week was a big blow for the defense, but it also opened things up for guys like Martin and David to pick up the slack. Compton should hold on to his starting job again this year, and David and Martin will likely battle it out for the rest of camp and on into the season. What makes the position unique is that the linebackers need to know both the MIKE and WILL positions, as their responsibilities interchange depending on opposing offensive formations. That means regardless of who ends up winning the starting jobs, all three are going to play. As for the season opener, I see Compton and Martin getting the initial nod.

PREDICITION: Compton and Martin

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