Let's look at what Nebraska has back for this season, and who will step up.
QB: Zac Taylor steadily improved throughout the 2005 season. In the first 3 games, only the most illogical kool-aid drinker would have seen much to be optimistic about. Even Taylor knew it: "I expected a little more success, and a lot of that has to do with me," Taylor said to the World-Herald after the Wake Forest game. "I've got to be able to get the ball to guys to make plays. Callahan put him into the shotgun, and the improvement. Taylor is a solid quarterback, and for the first time since 2001, Nebraska has a returning QB and offensive coordinator. That's huge for building consistency.
"Timex" Taylor took a lickin' last season, and kept on tickin'. Which is going to be important in 2006, since depth is an issue. Recruiting sensation Harrison Beck had to be pulled out of his redshirt year after Taylor was knocked out of the KSU game, and struggled. Then, his shoulder began to act up in spring practice, causing him to miss even more valuable development time. In 2006, keeping Zac Taylor healthy will be a huge key to the Huskers success.
IB: Well, 12 games later than they expected, the Recruitniks are finally correct. One of Callahan's prized recruits is going to replace Cory Ross at I-Back. Ross was a warrior for the Huskers the last 2 seasons and will be sorely missed, not only for his running ability, but also for his blocking, his leadership, and his heart. Replacing Ross will likely be either bruising Cody Glenn or flashy Marlon Lucky. Glenn impressed in short yardage situations last year, but occasionally struggled with controlling the football. Lucky has the speed to be a game breaker in the open field, but last season struggled with finding the openings to the open field. JuCo transfer Kenny Wilson appears to be making an impact in summer conditioning, but I haven't heard anything about his blocking ability. Which probably is the point that will decide who ends up being the #1 back...who blocks the best?
WR: Terrence Nunn and Nate Swift will anchor this group. Nunn has nice speed, and Swift shows a knack for getting open and making the catch. Behind them are Franz Hardy, who started hot and then disappeared for most of the season and Tyrell Spain, who sat out last fall due to academic issues. Recruitniks looking for major contributions from Menelik Holt and Maurice Purify should review their expectations from the last couple of years and remember the contributions Chris Brooks, Hardy, Shamus McKoy, etc. made and scale back their expectations.
TE: How recovered will Matt Herian be? Herian was a true difference-maker at tight end before suffering a gruesome broken leg against Mizzou in 2004. He finally was able to practice towards the end of spring practice. If Herian can return to even 90% of his pre-injury level, he can be major contributor to this offense. Converted tight end Justin Tomerlin, who redshirted last season, looks to be making progress as well.
OL: Last season, I was a little too optimistic about the line. The 2004 line wasn't nearly as bad as I feared, and I hoped that they would be even more improved in 2005. But injuries forced some players to play out of position, while other players really struggled. But against Colorado, Matt Slauson and Chris Patrick started to get more time at the tackle positions, and the line finally started to give the protection that Taylor needed and the holes the I-backs need. Observers this spring said the line continues to progress very well... If so, that bodes very well for 2006.
DL: Nebraska loses 2 defensive linemen to the NFL: LeKevin Smith and Titus Adams. But, Ola Dagunduro and Barry Cryer were more like alternates than second stringers. Ndakukong Suh was impressive before getting hurt last season. Craig Roark and Ty Steinkuhler will be need to provide more depth. Jay Moore and Adam Carriker should be outstanding at defensive ends, and young Barry Turner and Zach Potter are talented backups.
LB: Every Husker fan is anxious to see what Steve Octavien can do against 1-A opposition. In one quarter of the Maine game, Octavien spent more time in the Black Bear backfield than any of their running backs. Stewart Bradley and Bo Ruud also return from injuries, and Corey McKeon is a team leader.
DB: Zac Bowman and Courtney Grixby are solid corners. Bowman is a nice talent who will probably be in the NFL next season (recruitniks thought he'd be there by now). I think Andrew Shanle will have a good senior year; he was hampered last season by injuries. At the other safety, Tierre Green returns to his native position and should be solid as well. Titus Brothers has a history of alternating between making great plays and getting burned badly.
Positions of strength: IB (though none are proven to date, there is talent there), DL (loads of returning experience), LB (if everyone's healthy, though we need some young guys to start to emerge).
Positions of concern: QB (big dropoff after Zac Taylor), DB (need to see some young players emerge here)
Coming up... a game by game look at 2006...