Last night, I left work and found myself in the middle of a tornado warning and hailstorm. Tornadoes? Hail? Must be spring. And that means one thing in Nebraska: football.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everyplace else, it's baseball. But around here...it's football season. Spring practice starts tomorrow, and following a 9-4 season that had the team making leaps and bounds to improve from the Steve Pederson error, everybody has hopes for 2009. CornNation has some much more detailed previews, but here are a few notes about each position as we move forward.
Quarterback: Originally, I thought this was going to be a battle between Patrick Witt and Zac Lee, but Witt already bailed out. Cody Green was the intriguing factor, but his injury status makes it unlikely we'll see a lot out of Green. Right now, it looks like it's 90% likely that Lee will be your starter going into the fall. LaTravis Washington's move to quarterback helps depth there, but it probably makes it unlikely that we'll see much of him on the field as a Husker. Maybe he'll surprise us.
Running Back: Roy Helu and Quentin Castille should be the 2nd best combination in the Big XII, behind the Sooners DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. Castille lost some weight; Helu picked some up. That bears watching to see if Helu lost speed and Castille lost power.
Wide Reciever: This is the primary area of focus for me this spring. Nate Swift is a huge loss, and we'll need to see somebody fill the void. I think Menolik Holt will be fine, but I really want to see others step up. Fortunately, tight end Mike McNeill blossomed at the end of last season. That'll fill up some of the void.
Offensive Line: We should see improvement here as well. Lydon Murtha won't be around to frustrate us anymore. Matt Slauson will be missed, however. Andy Christensen is back, and we'll see how things develop with the younger players. Javorio Burkes will miss spring practice due to another medical issue.
Defensive Line: Here's all you need to know: Ndamakong Suh is back. Barry Turner and Pierre Allen at defensive end too. Who will replace Ty Steinkuhler up front? You know that offensive lines are going to concentrate on Suh, so the opportunities for a nose tackle to emerge are huge.
Linebacker: The following Bo Pelini quote caught my eye, regarding Phillip Dillard: "He is healthy and I expect him to come out there and compete for a job." A lot of fans might be assuming Dillard will be the starter at linebacker in the fall; I think the improved depth at linebacker may surprise folks. Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley, and Sean Fisher all redshirted last season, but probably could have contributed...and with all the injuries, started last season. This is another position I'll be focusing on.
Secondary: Anthony Blue is back....and Marvin Sanders loved the guys who were redshirting last season. Yes, John Levorson left the program, but there's plenty of depth here. The secondary was an enigma last season, but it really sounds like Sanders had an even bigger reclamation project from 2007 than we even thought. It really sounds like Sanders had to go remedial on these guys, and as the season progressed, we saw fewer and fewer mistakes from the secondary. Another position I want to keep an eye on for emerging stars.
Here's the thing to remember about the defense last year: they went from the worst defense to second best in the Big XII last season. That's an incredible turnaround, and when you remember the returning experience, a great sign of optimism for 2009. Sure, we'll need to figure out the quarterback situation, but if the defense can hold their own, Nebraska could be a solid team in the Big XII North. Remember, Missouri and Kansas State will also be starting new quarterbacks, while Colorado and Iowa State probably are hoping they will as well. Questions at quarterback will affect everybody in the North except for Kansas this season.