LINCOLN — You might have assumed running back Adam Taylor's choice to redshirt his first year at Nebraska pointed to a lack of on-field readiness or a need to polish his skill set.
Senior defensive end Jason Ankrah will assure you: That's not the case.
“That's going to be a special kid,” Ankrah said. “And he redshirted this year — that's a very smart decision on his part. He has a lot of football ahead of him.”
We start this year's version of The Hope Report — a look at Huskers who didn't play much or at all in 2013 but who could emerge as major playmakers in 2014 — by revisiting the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Taylor's potential impact on the team next year. The starting defenders who faced him on Nebraska's scout team certainly were impressed. NU players voted him the offensive scout team player of the year.
“Physical,” nickel back Ciante Evans said. “He runs downhill. He's been giving us a good look all year. He tries to be a bruiser. He's going to lower that shoulder.”
NU already has one bruiser type in sophomore Imani Cross, who's worked as hard as any Husker runner in recent memory to be a complete back. Cross, who came from a limited veer offense in high school, could've used a redshirt year in 2012 to acclimate to NU's offense. But once Rex Burkhead got hurt on his third carry in the 2012 season opener, that wasn't a luxury the Huskers could extend to Cross, who played in the second half of that easy win against Southern Mississippi.
Taylor, who rushed for 2,745 yards and 45 touchdowns during his senior year at Katy (Texas) High School, got the chance in part because Ameer Abdullah and Cross stayed healthy enough to push through. Had either gone down for several weeks, Taylor may have been forced into action. Instead, he took his redshirt and spent a season with the scout guys. Not that he played like one.
“He goes every time,” Ankrah said. “A lot of scout team runners go just to do the bare minimum and not really show up the starting defense. But he goes. Nothing's going to hold him back.”
That echoes what defensive backs like Prince Amukamara and Eric Hagg used to say about Kenny Bell when the receiver was on scout team. Ditto for offensive linemen in their praise last year for linebacker Michael Rose. Rose, who seized the starting middle linebacker job midway through Big Ten play, will have stiff competition for playing time in 2014. That's because two more redshirting linebackers — Courtney Love and Marcus Newby — will join the fray.
Newby — 6-1, 213 pounds, though he looks bigger — arrived late in preseason practice because of academic qualifying issues. Though Love — 6-1, 230 — enrolled in school early in hopes of playing this fall, an injury in the preseason coaxed NU coaches to keep him redshirted. As a freshman wide receiver, Bell had a similar preseason injury that kept him under wraps for a year. Love was named defensive scout team player of the year Sunday by his teammates.
“Courtney Love looks like a grown man,” offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “I mean, he's a big dude, and he's an old-school linebacker. No gloves, no tape. He's going to come at you and he's going to put his helmet on your chin and he's going to hit you, and you're going to feel it. He's a solid, solid dude.”
Newby, Sirles said, reminded him of a young Lavonte David with his sideline-to-sideline pursuit skills.
Senior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa lumped both players together.
“Oh, shoot, linebackers,” Enunwa said. “They look like linebackers. And they played well, as well. There were a couple plays where they wowed me. Those two guys, man, I'm going to be excited to see what they do.”
Several more players I heard about during the fall, or guys Nebraska's seniors liked:
Ľ Tackle David Knevel: At 6-9, 305 pounds, Knevel's long and athletic, but Ankrah said he has a nasty streak, too. Knevel will get his shot at starting next year at tackle. Only one semi-proven commodity — sophomore Zach Sterup — returns.
Ľ Cornerback Boaz Joseph: Enunwa said Joseph has “amazing speed” to go with his 6-1, 190-pound frame. Joseph appears to me to be a candidate for slot corner/nickel. He has too lean a build for safety, but Nebraska lucked into a late recruit whom SEC teams stayed away from because of eligibility concerns. Their loss. Joseph didn't have any.
Ľ Tight end Greg Hart: Good enough hands for the slot, strong enough to play in-line, Hart wasn't needed at tight end once Cethan Carter emerged at the spot. Hart, more of a natural receiver than Carter, could create some interesting matchups once or twice next year.
Ľ Quarterback Johnny Stanton: He arrived in Lincoln with hype and a repaired ACL that needed to finish healing. The 6-2, 225-pounder will be a different kind of runner than Tommy Armstrong. We'll see how he throws in the spring against college defenses. Stanton's smart to the point of worldly. But Husker players have really warmed to Armstrong.
On with a truncated Rewind as we head into finals week.
Who takes the Texas job? A guy willing to embrace the challenges of UT as much as the luxuries of the program. Mack Brown's will-he/won't-he road to resignation last week should prove the job involves not only running a football team, but also navigating backroom politics with the skill of a dual-threat quarterback. While football is a religion in Texas, Longhorn football isn't quite the holy communion that ESPN would like you to think it is. Lots of folks turn the page from high school football Friday to 11 other in-state college teams Saturday to the Cowboys on Sunday without necessarily genuflecting at UT's altar. If you think the hottest college football spot in Texas hasn't been wherever Johnny Manziel's throwing a football these last two years, you're nuts.
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher would be worth a call, though Fisher has a pretty sweet gig in Tallahassee and an easier conference than the Big 12 in which to contend.
How quickly can Craig Bohl win at Wyoming? It may take a year or two unless Bohl is prepared to ease his power offense into existence and let the spread elements of former coach Dave Christensen linger for a smoother transition. No criticisms here if Bohl junks the “Mizzou” offense and starts building a bigger, tougher football team. Bohl shrewdly took a job at Wyoming where the conference opposition isn't so fierce that it takes a full four recruiting cycles to restructure the program. Midwestern football — run the ball, stop the run, punt well, limit turnover exposure — still has its place in the game, and I expect Bohl to do well after the usual adjustments.
What are the best bowls of the season? The Big Ten has three fascinating matchups on New Year's Day beside the Nebraska-Georgia tilt, and while Michigan State-Stanford is the best of them in the Rose Bowl, I like Iowa's chances to take LSU deep into the fourth quarter and perhaps win the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes' defense will work against Tiger true freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings — advantage, Hawks — and Iowa's offensive line has the stuff to slowly pound away at LSU's front.
Other games that intrigue me? Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater facing his hometown team Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl; a defensive fight in the Sun Bowl between UCLA and Virginia Tech; Mack Brown's farewell against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl; BYU vs. Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl; and an old Big 12 defensive fight in the Cotton Bowl between Missouri and Oklahoma State.
One: That's how many of the five Heisman finalists in 2009 who still starts in the NFL. That'd be former Husker-current Lion defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting that year. The winner, former Alabama running back Mark Ingram, is the No. 3 back for the Saints. Runner-up Toby Gerhart backs up the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. Third-place finisher Colt McCoy is the backup quarterback for the 49ers and fifth-place finisher Tim Tebow is out of pro football.
23: Opponent first downs gained by Nebraska defensive penalties. That tied for 99th in the nation with Georgia and Oklahoma, among other teams. Lest you think that's indicative of poor defense, know that Michigan State gave up 25 first downs. On the flip side of the coin, Iowa gave up seven first downs by penalty. That reflects the difference between man and zone pass defense, for one thing. Opponents completed 54.2 percent of their passes on NU's defense this year. Iowa allowed 56 percent.
3.91: Yards per carry allowed by the Husker defense. In 2012, that number was 4.76. In 2011, it was 4.0. In 2010, 3.90. In 2009, 2.78. In 2008, 3.67. If the 2013 defense was a rebuilding unit like the 2008 bunch was — the 2013 unit was a little younger and facing worse offenses — then it stands to reason that the 2014 run defense could look a lot like the 2009 unit. The question is: What will the pass defense look like? A second question: Can NU improve on giving up 4.69 yards per carry on first down?
|BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.|
Each week I ask fans a question on Facebook. This week: Which three Husker underclassmen are you most excited about?
Phillip Blomstedt: “Vincent Valentine, Michael Rose and (Terrell) Newby. All three showed a ton of promise by the end of the year. If Newby can cut down the mistakes, his talent is killer. Valentine is a monster in the middle for his age. Rose seems to get Bo's plan.”
James Hunke: “Knevel, Sterup and Ryne Reeves. The explosive plays we thought we'd get in 2013 are not going to be there in 2014. We are going to have to grind out long, multiple-play drives. That all starts with the o-line.”
Fred Farrell: “Valentine. Spectacular and dominant when he wants to be. Maliek Collins. The thought of these two guys together ... can't double-team everybody. Hello Suh and Crick! Michael Rose. He's a natural. Nose for the ball and sure tackler. Young defenders are going to be fun to watch.”
Rob Warren: “Kelly Hunter and the Rolfzen twins. Volleyball actually has a shot to win three straight. Oh ... you were talking football players?”
A lighter mood. Nebraska's coaches and players usually have one around this part of the year.