Published Saturday, April 6, 2013 AT 10:38 PM / Updated at 10:41 PM
Nebraska spring game: Five concerns, five things to like
Big Red Today Omaha World-Herald

World-Herald staff writers Jon Nyatawa and Rich Kaipust list five things about the Huskers to like and five things to be concerned about.

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Defensive line deficiencies: It’s going to be a work in progress for Nebraska’s defensive line, which is not only replacing three veterans (Baker Steinkuhler, Cameron Meredith and Eric Martin) but also has been without senior Thad Randle all spring and redshirt freshmen Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen on Saturday. Can those stepping into more regular roles at defensive end and tackle make plays? There weren’t a whole lot of them in the Red-White scrimmage.

Shaky secondary: As impressive as it was to see walk-on receiver Brandon Reilly track a lob pass, shield off two defenders, haul in a pass and get a foot down in bounds along the sideline, that doesn’t necessarily reflect well on the NU secondary. Reilly’s 32-yard grab came against two potential first-teamers, Josh Mitchell and Corey Cooper. The Husker defensive backs didn’t record a pass breakup and allowed the quarterbacks to complete 68 percent of their passes.

Offensive line depth: Nebraska still has to build depth behind its first-team offensive line. No great assessment could be made of the scrambled unit Saturday, though. Bo Pelini did speak highly of his O-line after the game, saying the Husker coaches feel confident in four different tackles and five or six interior linemen. Those unproven guys have shown “really good progress and (are) showing real potential,” Pelini said. But are the backups ready to be relied on for a game’s worth of snaps?

Health is paramount: The final count on Saturday was 16 Huskers out for the spring game, including 11 scholarship players. Although some were for protective reasons, Nebraska won’t have the depth in the fall to absorb injury losses at places like I-back (Ameer Abdullah) and defensive line. Staying healthy through preseason practice and into next season will be a must.

Hungry for turnovers: Nebraska has been looking to find its mojo defensively the last few seasons when it comes to forcing turnovers. So it probably wasn’t a good sign Saturday when the Blackshirts failed to create any. Although the defense did force two fumbles, both were recovered by the offense. And not one defensive back was credited with a pass breakup despite the quarterbacks throwing a combined 44 times.

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Trusting new tight ends: Nebraska lost Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, so there is some obvious work to do at tight end to avoid any major dropoff next season. At least on Saturday, the NU offense both utilized and showed some trust in those taking over. Senior Jake Long caught a 45-yard pass from Ron Kellogg on the fourth play of the game and finished with three receptions for 72 yards. Redshirt freshman Sam Cotton added three catches, and David Sutton made a nice grab on a 17-yard touchdown.

Quarterbacks on target: Both the Red and White offenses got some receivers open, and the Nebraska quarterbacks showed good accuracy in finding them. Taylor Martinez went 8 for 10 for 105 yards and a TD, and Kellogg finished 11 of 12 for 148 yards and a score. At one point in the first half, Martinez, Kellogg and Tommy Armstrong were a combined 21 of 24 (87.5 percent).

Huskers show personality: The Husker fan base that coach Bo Pelini often praises for staying passionate and loyal got rewarded Saturday. He stopped the game action for drills. He had a Big Ten Network cameraman on the field (extension cord and all!) for much of the afternoon. Don’t forget: Nebraska’s full team danced on a short YouTube video last month. Kudos to Pelini and his staff for giving back, and making an effort to showcase some of the personalities of the players and coaches.

Strong day for Armstrong: Redshirt freshman QB Tommy Armstrong looked natural and smooth running the traditional option. He deceptively lured defenders, then pitched accurately to his trailing I-back — the first two laterals went to Imani Cross, who totaled 23 yards and a touchdown on those plays. If Armstrong’s trying to make a sales pitch for meaningful playing time this fall, he’s on the right track.

Moore’s impressive debut: Alonzo Moore, battling an undisclosed injury, was purposely limited at times in practice this week, just to make sure he’d be healthy enough to play Saturday. Receivers coach Rich Fisher wanted the redshirt freshman to showcase his skills. Moore didn’t disappoint. He turned a quick screen pass into a 22-yard gain and caught a 37-yard touchdown pass. Said Fisher: “Alonzo, he doesn’t even look like he’s running … but he’s running by people.”

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