ESPN.com blogger Adam Rittenberg recapped the Huskers' spring practice with three answers and three questions that still remain. My first take is to ask ask how anybody can really judge the Huskers spring practice without a spring game, but then I quickly reminded myself that the spring game is now much more exhibition than evaluation. Even if we had seen a spring game, we'd still be dependent on the same quotes from coaches and players to get any sort of feel as to the progress of the program.
In answers, Rittenberg calls out the secondary, the receivers, and Will Compton. While I'm optimistic about these areas, I'm not sure how anybody can label theses areas as "answered." Will the secondary be better, even with having to replace Alfonzo Dennard? It's certainly possible. We have no idea how good Mohammed Seisay can be, let alone will be... but with a spring practice to get himself familiarized with the scheme, I have to expect him to be serviceable at worst.
So why the optimism after a sub-par season in 2011? Everything seems to revolve around new assistant Terry Joseph. Nobody seems to want to directly throw former secondary coach Corey Raymond under the bus, but you do get the impression that everybody is excited about Joseph. Can Nebraska be better? Yes, but that's not assured. Change does not always mean things will get better, and frankly, for as bad as the secondary played last season, it is possible to get worse (*cough*Cosgrove*cough*)Receivers being a point of optimism? I'll go there as well. Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed both battled injuries last season, robbing the offense of a couple of playmakers. Kenny Bell emerged as the season evolved as a real threat as well. The weapon in waiting, though, is Jamal Turner. People who attended the 2011 spring game know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. The Turner situation is one to pay particular attention to: he's a player who this coaching staff HAS to find a way to get on the field. If he's not figuring out the offense, simplify enough of the offense to at least get him a few touches. Heck, get him in the kick return game. We want to think that there's talent there to work with, but right now, it's just talk.
From my perspective, Will Compton made Lavonte David better last season. That being said, David's production is going to be nearly impossible to replace. Compton always seemed to be the steadying influence that enabled David to become a disruptive heat-seeking missile. But that missile is gone...and we haven't seen anybody who can be another missile...unless it's one of the incoming freshmen. That's why one of Rittenburg's questions for the fall is also the linebacker corps. Is it going to be Sean Fisher, who's apparently finally healthy, or Alonzo Whaley? Or one of the incoming players, like Zaire Anderson or Michael Rose? If it's one of the new players, the defense will need Compton to make sure the others are in the right place...and make sure he's a rock in the middle of the field.
The number one question that Rittenburg raises is quarterback Taylor Martinez. Husker fans' opinions of Martinez range from extreme to extreme. He started his career as the subject of a viral Heisman campaign, yet other fans insist that he be benched. We know that Martinez spent part of his spring vacation with a quarterback coach to refine his mechanics, but without the spring game, we have no way of truly evaluating whether he made progress. One thing to keep an eye on this summer is whether Martinez is spending more time with Steve Calhoun now that the spring semester is over.
The other remaining question is the defensive line rotation. With the number of injuries on the defensive line this spring, it's unlikely anything developed this spring. But one sign of optimism in my mind is that new line coach Rich Kaczenski was hired to improve the production of the front four. Pelini's best defenses had a dominant lineman (Ndamukong Suh, Glenn Dorsey)...and Kaczenski has a track record of developing those types of players at Iowa. But with so many players missing time in the spring, will we see that this fall?
Frankly, when I look at Rittenburg's list, I see five questions without solid answers. That's troubling to some extent...but also not a surprise when you consider the inconsistent performance of Nebraska the last few years. How many answers will be find this fall...or how many more questions will we find?