While every single player on the team is important. There are seven players that I expect to make or break this upcoming season. There are a few players which we know need to play well this season like Adrian Martinez, Dedrick Mills (maybe?), DiCaprio Bootle and Mohamed Barry. The list also doesn’t include Wandale because it seemed too easy at the time. I’ve been wrong before. I will be wrong again. Including today. Probably including this article.
The following is a list of players who may be stepping into a role they have not yet been asked to fill or a role they have been trying to fill but have yet to meet their potential. Fortunately or unfortunately, the ability of these seven players to fill that role or live up to their potential may be the difference between a six win season or a ten win season.
The Oklahoma State transfer and big brother of Damion Daniels will look to anchor the nose tackle position of Nebraska’s 3-4 in 2019. He has one season at Nebraska and is hoping to make the best of it.
Erik Chinander likely cannot afford Darrion Daniels to be “another guy” on the defensive line. He needs to be a disrupter in as many ways as possible. That doesn’t mean getting 5 sacks in the season, but it could mean he requires at least two offensive linemen to block him on every play. He has to make offensive linemen accountable.
It is already been said numerous times that he immediately stepped into a leadership role at Nebraska. That says two things. Either there was a lack of leadership on the defensive line and he just fell into the vacuum or he merely has those leadership qualities which required respect from his teammates.
I have no reason to believe it isn’t the latter.
While he was a productive player at Oklahoma State he will be encountering bigger and stronger offensive lines on a week by week basis in the Big Ten when compared to the Big 12. Especially in the Big Ten West.
I still remember when Lamar Jackson released his commitment video a little over three years ago. Actually having just watched it again, as far as commitment videos went that one was actually pretty good.
Hopefully it will be in his final season that Jackson finally lives up to the hype he came in with at the time he released that video. We were expecting a lock-down corner that had sights on the NFL.
While he didn’t start until the bowl game his freshman year, he did play in every single game. His sophomore season could be characterized as regression. Then his junior season he spent about half of it in the dog house before coming out and playing very well toward the end of the season.
So now here we are in his senior season where he looks like he should be on the radars of every single NFL team. He is 6’3” and 215 pounds. That is quite the frame for a cornerback in the NFL.
However, Nebraska fans would also merely settle for somebody who can be a lock-down corner along with DiCaprio Bootle.
In the case of Lamar Jackson it isn’t really a question if he has the ability to be that guy. He has every tool in the tool-box. We aren’t asking a player who cannot be that guy. That is why he is so important this year. A defense with two lock-down defensive backs opens up an entire different defensive playbook for Coach Chinander.
Possibly the most important guy on this list. He needs to be productive and also stay healthy. It is nice to have Will Honas there as well, but I think Collin Miller has an opportunity to be a play-maker on defense. Honas seems to be one of those guys that does his job and does it well, while Miller can go and make some big plays.
Regardless, somebody needs to play fill in the other inside linebacker position opposite of Mohamed Barry. After Miller and Honas it looks like it could be any one of four true freshman inside linebackers which includes threes scholarship players and a walk-on in Luke Reimer.
You love to hear about those guys coming up, but it would be okay if we didn’t need to rely on them for a year or so.
Whoever Plays Center
So who wants to play the most important position on the offensive line?
Whoever it is it is extremely important that they play well. The timing and communication from the center position is key in this and probably any football offense.
Who could it be? Will Farniok? Broc Bando? AJ Forbes?
Cameron Jurgens is the heir apparent but cannot seem to stay healthy.
So whoever ends up taking the reins, I hope they hold on tight and not let go for the rest of the season.
Like the inside linebacker room, the outside linebacker room is stark. However, unlike the inside linebacker room there are apparent bodies in the OLB room that could actually be quite effective for the defense this coming season.
It is however Alex Davis who looks like the part, but simply did not play the part in 2018. He started in four games but ended up with only five tackles on the season.
Davis has mentioned that he finally understands what the coaches are asking of him that he will be able to make the strides in his senior season to have a breakout campaign. I believe him. When you think slow, then you play slow. After a second season in the same system which might be one of the first times in his career, then I think we have an opportunity to see the huge jump.
We better hope so. With the injury to JoJo Domann, it is even more important to have somebody at that OLB position to make an impact. There are more bodies at those the OLB position than the ILB position, but if Alex Davis is the player I hope and maybe even expect him to be then that would make the difference.
He’s the hammer of the secondary. Probably the best athlete, and if he fully understands where he needs to be and when then he could be an all-conference safety this coming season.
If he doesn’t play well, then things could get a little stark. I wanted to put Noa Pola-Gates in this slot because I think he might be needed right away but then I remembered Deontai Williams who I think could put the fear of the almighty into some WR/TE/RB catching a ball around the middle of the field.
I am excited to see how much growth he makes from last year.
Marquel Dismuke was also a consideration here as we have seen him makes a couple plays over the past couple years but I think that Deontai’s ceiling is above and beyond Dismukes. If Deontai becomes the player we hope he can be, with what we hope to be two lock-down corners in Bootle and Jackson, then there are serious reasons to get excited on the defensive side of the ball.
The forgotten man.
I saw from more than a few people on twitter and in the comment sections of our articles that they forgot about Kanawai Noa. Yet, he could be an extremely productive wide receiver this coming year. In fact, in 35 games at Cal he caught 96 passes for 1,267 yards and six touchdowns.
I am excited to see what happens with Noa. There are numerous options to be the number two wide receiver behind JD Spielman. There are times where there are three, four or five (likely including Wandale) wide receivers on the field. Andre Hunt, Mike Williams and Kade Warner, Demaryion Houston, Jaevon McQuitty, and Jaron Woodyard are guys that we should hope to see this upcoming season.
However, Frost is going to need more than the “proven guys” of Mike Williams and Kade Warner.
Luckily, a proven receiver in Noa is there this coming season. Hopefully, he is who we expect him to be.