August 5, 2011

Five biggest storylines heading into fall camp

We're now just one day away from the start of fall camp, and there might be more to talk about than ever heading into this season for Nebraska.

Before the Huskers officially kick off the 2011 campaign on Saturday, we take one last look at the five biggest storylines to keep an eye on during the next three weeks of fall camp.

Which Martinez will show up?

Prior to his injury midway through last season, Taylor Martinez was one of the most electric players in all of college football. After he got hurt, however, he was more of a liability than a playmaker. So when the Huskers return to action on Saturday, will we see the return of the Martinez from the first five weeks of the season? Or will it be more of the same frustrating play from the end of the year?

The good news is that all the reports of how Martinez has progressed over the offseason have been nothing but positive. He's supposedly back to 100 percent health wise, and all of his coaches and teammates say he's stepped up his role as a leader tenfold during summer workouts. Seeing how much of Nebraska's success this season might rest on the No. 3's shoulders, Husker fans are desperately hoping that's the case.

Getting the Beck offense up and running

Nebraska was able to install the bare bones of first-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck's new system during the spring, but the Huskers still have a ways to go in perfecting the aggressive, up-tempo offense. While the idea behind Beck's plan was to simplify everything from formations to play verbiage, it will still take more time for the players to run all of the plays with full confidence.

We saw during the spring game that the Huskers have the playmakers at the skill positions to make this an explosive offensive attack, and that was with only a handful of plays being used. With three full weeks of practice ahead, expect NU's offense to continue to take big strides going into the season opener.

What will Bubba do?

At this point, it seems like it would take a small miracle for heralded freshman quarterback Bubba Starling to turn down the millions waiting for him with the Kansas City Royals and stay in Lincoln to play football. However, the fact remains that Starling is on campus, registered in classes and ready to practice with this Nebraska teammates come Saturday.

Until Starling makes the biggest decision of his life, which most expect to be right around the August 15 deadline he has to sign with the Royals, there's no doubt that he will be one of the most watched players on the roster through the first two weeks of camp. For all the hype that has surrounded the four-star signal caller since he committed to NU, everyone will be eager to see just how good Starling really is.

The introduction of the freshmen backfield trio

Starling won't be the only freshman worth watching during camp, as Nebraska will also see the debut of its three highly touted freshmen running backs. There has been a lot of buzz over the potential firepower Aaron Green, Braylon Heard and Ameer Abdullah will bring to the Huskers' backfield over the next four years, and their impact could be felt as soon as this season.

During Big Ten Media Days last week, head coach Bo Pelini openly said all three freshmen would get a chance to contribute this season behind stud junior Rex Burkhead, adding that he had no predetermined plans to redshirt any of them coming into fall camp. Considering Nebraska's lack of depth at running back, there's no reason why one, two or even all three freshmen couldn't work their way into the offense in some capacity and make an immediate impact.

Defensive star power will lead the way

With so many question marks surrounding the offense, Nebraska can rest a little easier knowing it has one of the best defenses in college football to fall back on. In particular, it will be the three star seniors on each level of the defense - defensive tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard - that will set the tone for the entire team.

The trio has made a combined seven watch lists for major individual awards, and all three are already being projected as potential first-round NFL draft picks when the season comes to a close. There's obviously a lot of hype for Crick, David and Dennard to live up to this year, but all of that praise came for a reason, and all three should be in store of a great 2011.

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