Quick - name a receiver other than Brandon Kinnie who'll be a consistent, productive starter this season.
If you answered without much hesitation, I'd appreciate hearing your opinion on the Husker receiving corps in the comments section.
Fact is, just like the running backs, there may be a lot of potential but there is not a whole lot of experience.
There are currently 19 receivers listed on the Husker football roster. Four of them are freshmen who won't be with the team until fall, and another five are redshirt freshmen who have spent a year in the program but never seen the field.
And you thought there might be some depth issues at running back.
Thank goodness for Brandon Kinnie.
Kinnie is a lot like Rex Burkhead in that he's proven he's tough, he's dependable, and he's capable of consistently picking up yardage. He's also like Burkhead in that he's not a break-away playmaker who's a constant threat to score from anywhere on the field.
Niles Paul played that role last season, finishing the year as Nebraska's top receiver with 39 receptions for 516 yards, but only one touchdown. Redshirt freshman Kenny Bell seems to be generating a fair amount of buzz as Paul's replacement coming into spring practice, largely because Husker fans have yet to see him play (forever the cynic!). Bell has top end speed and good hands, getting on the field will be a matter of whether he can develop the blocking skills required in the run game.
Curenski Gilleylen could fit Paul's role should things turn around for his final season. Gilleylen played in seven games last season, but went without a reception. Gilleylen has speed enough, but hasn't yet to develop consistency in catching the ball.
Tim Marlowe has made his mark on special teams as Nebraska's top returning kick returner. Marlowe played in every game last season, but did not have a reception. He did get his first career rush (for 13 yards) against Western Kentucky and finished with two on the season. Marlowe remains a wild card. With his speed it's clear he's going to get on the field - it's a matter of how much and in what situations.
Khiry Cooper won't be around for spring practice as he's currently making plays for the Husker baseball team. While Cooper didn't catch a pass in 2010, he did have 13 receptions in 2009 while playing in 12 games with four starts. Cooper has a nice combination of size (6-2, 195 lbs) and speed - and will be another another wildcard in the fall.
Sophomore Stanley Jean-Baptiste is another big-bodied receiver (6-3, 220 lbs) who resembles Brandon Kinnie. Jean-Baptiste has yet to play, having transferred from Fort Scott Community College (same college as Kinnie, Jermarcus Hardrick, and Lavonte David, all of whom have turned into productive players. Just sayin'.) It wouldn't hurt the Huskers to have another productive, physical receiver given Tim Beck's emphasis on the physical nature of the new offense.
The coaches must have seen something in Enunwa in that he saw the field as a true freshman last season, playing in nine games including the final four. Enunwa is another big, physical receiver (6-2, 215 lbs), complete with good hands. Count on him playing a significant role in the 2011 offense.
Another big body, junior Steven Osborne (6-4, 210 lbs) has yet to make a career reception. He will provide depth at the position, along with fellow juniors Taylor Dixon, and KC Hyleand, sophomore Ty Kildow, and redshirt freshmen Tyler Evans, Dillon Schrodt, Tyler Wullenwaber, and Keegan Hughes.
Mike McNeill is gone (as is Dreu Young who was forced to miss the 2010 season due to injury), but the top returning receiver from the unit, Kyler Reed, returns. Ben Cotton, Ryan Hill and freshman Jake Long all had at least one reception last season.
Besides quarterback Taylor Martinez, junior Reed may be Nebraska's best playmaker. He was responsible for eight of Nebraska's 16 touchdown receptions, and finished the season with 22 receptions for 395 yards, averaging nearly 18 yards a reception. His 79-yard touchdown reception against Kansas State was the longest pass play in eight seasons, while his eight touchdown receptions broke a single-season scool record for the tight end position. It's no question that Reed will be a big part of the 2011 offense - the only question will be whether he can break his own record.
Junior Ben Cotton earned his first start against Baylor in 2009, and added 12 more starts in 2010. He only had three receptions for 34 yards last season, but has proven to be a pretty decent blocker in the run game. Husker fans should know of him for getting violated by Tony Jerod-Eddie in the Texas A&M game. Cotton should continue to be productive in 2011, although that may not translate into more receptions.
Sophomore Jake Long played in three games last season, earning his first career reception last season against Colorado. Fellow sophomore J.T. Kerr missed last year's spring practice due to a knee injury and didn't see any action last season. Kerr has had some bad luck with injuries, having suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in 2009. He has potential and see should get some action this season.
Sophomore Robert Barry will push for playing time. At 6-8, walk-on Barry is the tallest player on the team.
Ryan Hill suffered a career-ending injury in 2010, while junior Mychael McClure's career has ended due to concussions. Lester Ward has moved from running back to the tight end unit this spring. Jay Martin has also moved from fullback (H-Back) to tight ends, but will miss spring practice due to injury.
2010 vs 2011
Given the experience of the tight end group, paired with Rex Burkhead at running back and Tyler Legate, one would think the Huskers are prepared to run the "big sets" mentioned by Pelini in his opening spring press conference.
Like the running backs, there is a fair amount of potential in this unit, but Husker fans have to hope that Kenny Bell can live up to the hype, or that Tim Marlowe can become a deep threat receiver. There are plenty of big body, physical receivers who can supply the physical offense Pelini desires. The deep threat guy - he's still waiting to be found.
Things may not look as bad as they appear. Even though the tight ends and receivers group returns 53% of the total receiving yardage from last season, they return 88% of the scoring. In the end (pun!), that's what counts, right?