April 21, 2011

NU's 5 biggest strengths coming out of spring ball

There are still plenty of questions left about the Nebraska football team following the end of spring practice, but fortunately there are also some proven areas for the Huskers to lean on until those questions do get answered.

Here are HuskerOnline.com's five biggest strengths for Nebraska coming out of spring practice.

1. The depth on the defensive line

As if bringing back the likes of defensive tackle Jared Crick and defensive end Cameron Meredith wasn't good enough, Nebraska actually caught a break having those two sit out almost all of spring ball while recovering from injuries.

In their absence, the Huskers were able to take huge strides in improving their overall depth up front and give younger players a chance to work with the first-team defense for four full weeks.

Now, Nebraska will enter into fall camp at least four, if not seven deep at defensive tackle, and at least five deep at defensive end. Having that kind of depth and talent and now bolstered experience on the front four should be a huge advantage in the physical Big Ten.

2. Rex Burkhead will lead the way

He hardly participated in spring practice, and it's not as if any other running backs stepped up to prove there's any capable depth behind him, but Rex Burkhead needed only a couple drives in the Spring Game to remind everyone he's back and better than ever.

Everyone expected Burkhead to be one of the focal points of Nebraska's offense this season, but with the way the quarterbacks struggled (outside of maybe Brion Carnes) on Saturday, you get the feeling the Huskers are going to have to rely on him heavily, especially early on.

The hope is that one or even all three of NU's talented true freshmen running backs will come in this fall and help take some of the load off of Burkhead in the running game, but until that happens, it looks as if the Huskers' offense is going to ride almost solely on the shoulders of No. 22.

3. Cupboard certainly not bare in secondary

Yes, Nebraska lost a first-round NFL Draft pick in cornerback Prince Amukamara and two potential picks at safety in DeJon Gomes and Eric Hagg from its defensive backfield. However, that doesn't the secondary won't once again be a strength of the defense.

For as much as the unit lost to graduation, it brings back a healthy combination of returning star power, experience and promising young talent ready to make an impact. Senior Alfonzo Dennard will come into the year widely regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the country, and the Huskers return three of the top four safeties from last season.

In addition, young cornerbacks like Ciante Evans, Andrew Green and Josh Mitchell all took big strides over the course of the spring. While they may not be at the level Amukamara and Dennard were last year just yet, they very well could be the next stars in line at the position.

4. David makes up for LB depth issues

One of the biggest concerns for Nebraska coming out of spring ball was the seeming lack of depth at the linebacker position. Even head coach Bo Pelini at one point said he was worried that no one had emerged as dependable backups behind the three starters.

While that issue still needs to be resolved during fall camp, the Huskers can rest easy knowing senior Lavonte David is back again looking to do one better than his breakout performance last year.

It's been a while since Nebraska has had the kind of star power at linebacker that it has with David, who already has his name among the best linebackers in college football heading into the season. As long as he continues to produce at the level he has been, he at least buys a little more time for that depth to figure itself out.

5. The potential for playmakers at receiver

It was only one game - or rather, one practice - but Nebraska fans couldn't help but walk away from the Spring Game with a smile when thinking about what could be at wide receiver.

After a MVP worthy performance from true freshman Jamal Turner and some flashes of playmaking ability from redshirt freshman Kenny Bell, the receiver position took on a much different look than a year ago in that it appeared it finally had players who could score every time they touched the ball.

That new dimension could do wonders for the Huskers' offense this season, as it would take some of the attention off the likes of Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez and keep defenses honest by preventing them from stacking the box to stop the run.

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