Huge Questions Surround 2011’s Fall Camp

By at August 1, 2011 | 12:59 PM | Print

For Nebraska football fans, there’s no better time than the first week of August. Players return to Lincoln, helmets and jerseys are issued, physicals are taken and fall camp finally commences. Big Ten Media Days have come and gone. Pundits have published their pre-season polls. Now there’s actual work for the Nebraska football program to do that counts heavily towards the 2011 season.

Some early storylines as we embark on the start of yet another year of college football:

Bubba Watch 2011: it’s become a tense summer for fan bases in the Midwest waiting to see who flinches first between Team Bubba led by Scott Boras and the front office of the Kansas City Royals. There’s no question that the Royals want Starling, but it’s interesting that he’s been in Lincoln for almost three weeks. He’s been going to school and participating with the team, too.

The start of fall camp will only ratchet up the pressure on both the Starling camp and the Royals’ front office. There’s no doubt that this’ll come down to the last moments of Monday, August 15 with plenty of monetary figures being thrown out and finally the ultimate decision. The longer that Bubba is in Lincoln bonding with coaches and players, the tougher it’ll be for him to say goodbye to his peers and shift gears entirely.

It’s a question of whether Bubba wants to be the “Head Man on Campus” or spend two to three years toiling in a baseball farm system. Either way, there’ll be a number of eyes on him. Unfortunately, one group of fans is going to be incredibly upset.

The Maturation of Taylor Martinez: According to several media outlets, player comments and what Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini stated this week in Chicago, quarterback Taylor Martinez has made some big strides this offseason. From being the shy freshman that was seemingly very tense both on the field and sidelines to a more vocal leader who has opened up to his teammates and the media.

His mid-summer interview with Dennis Dodd of CBSSportsline.com was surprising and very refreshing. Martinez was open and forthcoming about his relationship with Pelini, especially in regards to last year’s controversial Texas A&M game. To lead his team to a Big Ten championship and BCS bowl game, Martinez must continue to mature.

His health is also a concern considering the ankle and turf toe issues that hampered him from the 2010 Missouri game onward and seemed to give him a sense of vulnerability. He’ll take his lumps with the rest of the team this year. Should he stay mentally tough, show he’s learned from his past mistakes and has the trust of his teammates and coaches, there may not be a better dual-threat quarterback in the Big Ten conference and possibly the nation.

The Tim Beck Experience: To help with Martinez’s maturation as a confident starting quarterback, newly-appointed offensive coordinator Tim Beck has been given free reign in Lincoln allowing him to display his offensive creativity. Beck has allegedly followed Pelini’s request of having a simple system that focuses more on reaction to a play as opposed to several decisions. Martinez isn’t the only weapon that Beck has to throw at opposing defenses, either.

Junior running back Rex Burkhead spearheads a powerful rushing attack accompanied by freshmen Aaron Green, Braylon Heard and Ameer Abdullah. Newcomer Jamal Turner appears to provide an electrifying x-factor. Martinez also has multiple talented receivers in Turner, Brandon Kinnie, Kyler Reed, Quincy Enuwna, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

Beck’s playbook may be heavily diversified, but what will set this offense apart from last year will be how it develops during the season and if it can form an identity. This is something that Nebraska has lacked during the tenure of former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

The Pipeline: If there was a bigger frustration last year than the roller coaster season that Martinez endured, it was the play of Barney Cotton’s offensive line. This year figures to be far better due to the return of two familiar faces to aid him: John Garrison and Brenden Stai. The line’s youth doesn’t help matters with 27 offensive linemen dotting the roster and only four being seniors. What the unit lacks in age, they make up for in talent.

Center Mike Caputo and offensive tackle Marcel Jones are proven leaders of this group. Players such as Ryan Klachko, Jeremiah Sirles, and Brent Qvale have the size and strength to make a big impact. This is the year that Nebraska fans are hoping that with the depth and coaching available, the offensive line makes a return to its punishing ways of Nebraska’s glory days.

Replacing Alex Henery: Perhaps the most glaring absence on the Nebraska roster is that of All-Everything kicker Alex Henery. He left Nebraska as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history and the school’s leading scorer. The Cornhuskers have two capable replacements in Brett Maher and Mauro Bondi. No matter who wins the race to start, he will no doubt be measured to not only Alex’s standard, but that of kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic who made a living off of his amazing ability to rack up touchbacks.

Secondary turnover: Gone is stud cornerback Prince Amukamara, but Alfonzo Dennard returns to take his place. Secondary coach Corey Raymond takes over an experienced unit, but needs to find replacements for Eric Hagg and DeJon Gomes. Ciante Evans, Antonio Bell and Anthony Blue will all take a shot at filling the empty space that Dennar’s shift leaves.

At safety, Austin Cassidy and the hard-hitting Courtney Osborne look to take over. This defense could quite possibly be one of the Pelini brothers’ best. For this to happen, the secondary needs to continue the same quality of play that they have for the past two seasons.

Expectations abound: With the move to the Big Ten, a new offense and a defense with a great track record, there are multiple reasons for Husker fans to be hopeful for the 2011 season to be a return to excellence. However, with higher expectations, there’ll be more eyes on the program than there’s been in a good decade. Last year was considered a wasted season with no Big 12 title and an embarrassing bowl loss.

If Bo and company can’t learn from history, they’re doomed to repeat it. Every play of each game will be available to a national audience for the first time in the program’s history. There are plenty of things that should give fans hope, but there are a number still of question marks for this team.

Can Martinez become a true game manager? Will Tim Beck’s offense make life easier for everyone? Can a defensive line with a great player like Jared Crick cause other players step up and become a more efficient defense against the inside run? Can LaVonte David play to a level similar to last year? How will this team react to playing in the most hostile of Big Ten envrionments?

There are a number of factors that will define the season but a quote from Bill Parcells that was articulated 30 years ago still rings true today. “You are what your record says you are. Nothing more and nothing less.” Buckle in, folks. It’s time for another wild ride.

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