This is the second part of our Big Red roundtable, part one was posted earlier today.
3. Now that the season has come to a close we know that Coach Callahan will go over all areas of the team with an IRS auditor's attention to detail. Help him out by offering a brief assessment of the 2006 offense, defense and special teams.
The early injuries to cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Isaiah Fluellen meant that Cortney Grixby spent the year having to match up against the other team's best receiver. I think he did a pretty good job considering that he didn't get a lot of help from the safeties most of the time. The injuries gave players like Major Culbert and Andre' Jones much more playing time - Jones started every game at cornerback and started to look pretty good at the end of the season - so we will have more experience coming back next year.
Those injuries changed a lot about what we were able to do on defense in 2006. We gave up a lot of yardage on defense playing soft and then tightening up as the opponent's offense reached scoring position, which lead to our defense being ranked much lower than they were playing.
There was little starting rotation on the defense because Callahan's focus in recruiting his first couple years has been the offense, and it shows.
- Special teams
Dan Tichtener is a very very good punter. His touch on the ball pinned opponent's deep at times, giving the defense the help they needed. Kick coverage was pretty decent, finishing 17th in the nation.
Other than that, special teams weren't very special.
In kickoff returns, we finished 113th - in punt returns, we finished 68th. Both of these need to improve for us to compete with the best in the nation. We couldn't kick field goals longer than 40 yards, and had a difficult time early in the season getting kickoffs deep into the opponent's territory. Special teams cost us at least one game.
Special teams is the one area where we need to see the most improvement in 2007.
We had a great offense this year, any Husker fan knows that, but any great offense begins in the offensive line. I believe that Nebraskans have taken this fact for granted, and not given enough credit to the 2006 offensive line. It seems like everyone is willing to crown Sam Keller as the next great Husker quarterback, but Keller will be worthless without the guys ahead of him to protect him and provide him with a running game.
The 2006 offensive line had three seniors - Kurt Mann, Greg Austin, and Newton Lingenfelter. Kurt Mann's illness early in the season cost him a starting spot and much playing time in 2006. after being a pre-season All Big 12 pick. Austin played like a warrior, but was injured most of the season and had limited mobility. Newton Lingenfelter played sparingly, if at all.
Junior Brett Byford stepped in after Mann's illness, providing leadership at the center position. Fellow junior Chris Patrick started most of the season. Beyond those two juniors, most of the offense line consisted of sophomores and even a couple of freshmen.
By the time the 2007 season starts:
- Brett Byford, junior, will have started 12 games
- Chris Patrick, junior, will have started 13 games.
- Mike Huff, sophomore, will have started 12 games.
- Matt Slauson, sophomore, will have started 14 games.
- Lydon Murtha, sophomore, will have started five games.
- Andy Christensen, sophomore, will have started five games.
- Carl Nicks, freshman, will have started twice.
- Jacob Hickman, freshman will have started once.
The fact that we had only one senior offensive lineman who contributed heavily on the field to the 2006 offense speaks volumes about where the Nebraska offense is headed over the next few years. If I had to take away a single positive item about the 2006 season, this is it, the rebuilding of the 'pipeline', the core of any offense.
Given what we're not losing off the line, 2007 looks to be an even better year for the offense.