Spring football drills start on Saturday at Nebraska. Below are some of the players in position to make a move:
Jake Cotton: There appears to be a lot to like about Cotton. Still, the fact is he just hasn’t played very much on the Husker offensive line. He competes with an aggressive and physical nature that you can’t teach. Nebraska needs to replace Seung Hoon Choi at left guard, and Cole Pensick might be destined to lead the No. 1s at center, so Cotton and some others should be able to see what they’re working for this spring.
Imani Cross: The hype will continue to grow for I-back recruits Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor, but the bottom line is that they won’t be in Lincoln until June. Until then, NU has just two scholarship I-backs going into spring practice, and Cross stands to benefit more than established junior-to-be Ameer Abdullah. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder gave some hints of his ability last season as a true freshman, including in some short-yardage situations, and the word is that he had a good winter.
David Sutton: OK, first crack at filling the void at tight end will go to senior Jake Long, but NU obviously can’t get by with just one. Sutton, a sophomore-to-be from Lincoln Southeast, was allowed some more time to develop last season — playing in just three games — since the Huskers had Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed and Conor McDermott. Now it’s time to step forward for the former World-Herald All-Nebraska player, an opportunity that also might come for redshirt freshman Sam Cotton or walk-ons Trey Foster and Eddie Ridder — and then possibly to scholarship recruits Greg Hart and Cethan Carter in August.
Charles Jackson: Nebraska needs an influx of athleticism and play-making ability defensively, and Jackson is one of those players who can supply it. He made some regular contributions on special teams last season as a true freshman, which also gave him a chance to get a feel for big-time college football. Jackson’s size (5-11, 175) might seem better suited for cornerback, but the Huskers are loaded there, so more of an opportunity will be available at safety. If he keeps progressing, however, NU just needs to find a way to get him on the field.
Vincent Valentine: The NU staff fought the urge to play Valentine as a true freshman as injuries ravaged the Huskers at defensive tackle last season. The Huskers snagged the 6-3, 320-pounder on signing day in 2012 and think they made a good find. His size gives Valentine a chance to clutter up the middle, but he showed the defensive coaches last fall that he also could move a little. Now, how fast can he move up the depth chart at a DT position where NU lost Baker Steinkuhler, parted ways with Chase Rome and won’t have Thad Randle in the spring?
Kevin Williams: Opportunity has knocked a time or two already for Williams, who might have been in position to play as a true freshman in 2011 and did get his number called in a half-dozen games last season. The problem? Williams suffered a brutal knee injury just before the 2011 season, sat out that season as a redshirt and has been making both the physical and mental comeback from it since. On the smaller side among the DTs at 6-2 and 265, he can make up for it with his quickness.
David Santos: You got bits and pieces of Santos last season, including the Michigan game in which the weakside linebacker was credited with 10 tackles. You also saw some mistakes. Heading into his sophomore season and with no seniors around to lean on or hide behind, Santos needs to shrink the gap between steady and inconsistent — and maybe even lead the bunch. The 6-foot, 220-pounder certainly has the tools to do it.
Thomas Brown: There’s change coming at linebacker after the loss of three fifth-year senior starters, and Brown is among three redshirt freshmen hoping to make a move (along with Michael Rose and Jared Afalava). The reports were mostly favorable last season when Brown was considered a potential candidate to play. The Californian did have a setback with a knee issue, but is good to go for spring.
Corey Cooper: It’s been a bit of a wild ride already for the junior-to-be, who has played not only corner and safety but also in nickel and dime packages. Now he gets locked in at safety, and there are two starting jobs open after NU lost Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith. With his experience and knowledge of the defense, Cooper just has to start performing; much the same for Harvey Jackson back there, too.
Mauro Bondi: Nebraska has been spoiled by steady place-kicking from Alex Henery and Brett Maher over the past six seasons, so Bondi faces the pressure of making sure there’s no dropoff. The scholarship recruit from the 2011 signing class has an explosive leg, but no experience in pressure situations at this level. The Huskers also need a punter, so Bondi and redshirt freshman Sam Foltz will get a look there, as well.
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