Well, with spring practice beginning, it's time to reconvene the Roundtable, with me hosting on the subject of football as we look forward to spring practice. We may need some extra security this time, as the Roundtable invites not only "Blankman" and Jon from MidwestCoastBias but also AJ the HuskerH8er. This is kind of like pairing up Rush Limbaugh with Al Franken on "Meet the Press". If anything, this round should be interesting with some very different opinions... Hopefully, nobody pops a cup here.
The coaching staff says the quarterback race is wide open between Sam Keller, Joe Ganz, Beau Davis, and Patrick Witt. What is your expectation as how this will turn out next season?
First of all, I really do believe this is an open competition. Having said that, if Sam Keller is everything he's touted to be, he'll win the job in the end. As an incoming freshman who joined the Huskers halfway through his senior season of high school, Patrick Witt gains just from the extra bonus experience. As for Beau Davis, his disasterous debut against Texas Tech in 2004 left a bad taste in many Husker fans mouths. Bill Callahan says he's improved dramatically from his freshman year, and since he's only taken 10 snaps in mop-up duty since then, I can't argue. Nevertheless, I think this becomes a 2 person race between Joe Ganz and Keller.
My take on Joe Ganz is that he's Nebraska's version of Rich Gannon. Not a highly regarded physical talent, but found a system with Bill Callahan that fits his abilities. We really haven't seen much of Ganz in game situations, but my take is that he's a better player than most people give him credit for.
Sam Keller is Nebraska's version of Brett Favre. He's a gunslinger that was penciled in as a first-day NFL draft pick next month until Dirk Koetter went insane at Arizona State. Keller brings in a lot of strengths: strong arm and experienced at a BCS-conference program. That experience in handling the pressure of starting, not to mention recognizing and understanding BCS-caliber defenses is huge. That's what Husker fans are banking on when they ink Keller into the starting spot in 2007.
But the gunslinger reputation might not be the best fit for this offense, which has been considered a "dink-and-dunk" offense by some. That's not Keller as I understand him. He's more like Favre, who grew into this offense in Green Bay, but early on, trusted his arm more than his mind and forced balls into coverage, resulting in interceptions. Over time, he learned to go through his projections and throw the ball away if nobody was open. His interceptions dropped, and the Packers ended up in the Super Bowl. Great analogy? Perhaps, except Keller has one year of eligibility left. With the season opening with 3 opponents that went to bowl games (including 2 in the BCS) in 2006, the Huskers don't have the luxury of letting Keller learn the hard way.
Then, there is whatever caused his teammates in Tempe to revolt against him last summer. Perhaps it was more Rudy Carpenter than Keller. We don't know. That's why Keller's little parking lot disagreement is a little concerning to me. Does Keller have a problem with his temper? Will Keller throw the ball into coverage, expecting his receivers to somehow get open, and if it ends up being intercepted, how will he respond?
In the end, if Keller's departure was because of Carpenter and Keller adaps well to this system, he'll win this job easily. Those are big assumptions, and thus, I don't completely eliminate Joe Ganz either.
Besides quarterback, what positions will have the biggest battles and how do you expect them to work out?
In my mind, the next biggest hole is on the defensive line, where Adam Carriker and Jay Moore will be early draft NFL draft picks, and Barry Cryer and Ola Dagunduro graduate. That's a huge loss. Ndamukong ("A Boy Named") Suh and Barry Turner are going to be the first two guys who are going to need to step up and fill 2 of these spots. After that, it's an open competition. At tackle, Ty Steinkuhler has the edge for the other spot, but will Brandon Johnson make a move here? With Turner out this spring due to injury, that will open up the competition. The move of Clayton Sievers to defensive end is intriguing; is CozBohl going for more athletic defensive ends? My instinct suggests that the d-line against Nevada will be Suh and Steinkuhler inside being backed up by Johnson and perhaps Craig Roark. Outside will have Turner and Zac Potter on the ends, being pushed by and alternating with Sievers and Pierre Allen.
After that, the next interesting competition will be in the secondary. Zack Bowman is still out this spring, but will Armando Murillo challenge Andre Jones and Courtney Grixby? At the very least, it will provide more depth in the secondary. And can Rickey Thenarse bring his physical play to the secondary at safety? My take: Next fall's opening secondary: Bowman, Grixby, Thenarse, and Tierre Green.
I'd also like to see some of the touted (hyped) receivers like Menelik Holt, Chris Brooks, and Will Henry make a splash. Nebraska's receiving corp had trouble getting seperation in losses against Oklahoma and Auburn, leaving Zac Taylor few options. Could one of these youngsters explode and push the rest of the group?
2 years ago, the 2005 recruiting class was touted as one of the nation's best. Only a few players from this group have made an impact thus far; who do you expect to emerge this spring?
I've said it before...the 2005 class was good, but not as good as recruitniks hyped them when they signed. So far, only Bowman and Marlon Lucky have made a real splash so far. Turner, Steve Octavien, Suh, and Cody Glenn have had their moments. This spring, I would have hoped that Craig Roark would have made his move, but he's out with a shoulder. Two guys that need to step up this spring are linebackers Nick Covey and Phillip Dillard, as the incumbents at linebacker are all seniors. I also wonder if we're finally going to see Chris Brooks make an impact at wide receiver.
In the 1990's, Coach Osborne started matching up the #1 offense against the #1 defense in the spring game. Bill Callahan switched this around and put the #1 offense and defense on the same team, playing against the reserves. Do you prefer a format?
I really prefer the old format of 1's vs. 1's. Watching the top squads overwhelm the reserves doesn't tell us anything about either squad, unless a reserve breaks through and makes a play against the starters. And the problem is, with the blowouts of recent years, very few reserves make an impact. In fact, it generally makes it an uninteresting event. I gave it a chance the first couple of years, but skipped last year. Right now, I'm leaning towards skipping this year's spring game as well as it seems to be more of a PR show for fans and recruits than anything else. If my daughter was a few years older, I might consider it as an low-cost, low-risk way to introduce her to the game of football.
So what do the rest of the members of the Roundtable think? Brandon and John over at MidwestCoastBias give their thoughts in this week's podcast. (If you can't listen to the whole show, fast forward about 38 minutes in; their response goes for the last 20 minutes or so). At the other end of the spectrum, AJ should inflame with his hostile outsider's perspective. And as always, our regular compatriots over at DoubleExtraPoint, Big Red Network, and Corn Nation will also be checking in as well.