May 6, 2011

Spring grade out: Safety

As the Nebraska football team moves closer to the start of summer conditioning, continues our daily position grade outs of where things are coming out of spring ball. Today, we breakdown the safety position and the positives and negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice, and we also preview what lies ahead.

Other spring grades: QB | RB/FB | WR | TE | OL | DT | DE | LB | CB |

Overall spring grade: A

There are a few positions that have some depth issues on Nebraska's roster at the moment, and then there is the safety position. With three players returning with starting experience and two redshirt freshmen who are some of the most exciting young players on the defense, the Huskers appear to be absolutely loaded at safety this season. Leading the way are senior Austin Cassidy and junior Courtney Osborne, who started the final seven games of last season and combined for 89 tackles, two interceptions and a sack. Then you have junior P.J. Smith, who started three games last season and had four interceptions in NU's first three games. The you add in redshirt freshmen Harvey Jackson and Corey Cooper, who have built up some serious hype with their play in practice so far. The only problem for this unit will be figuring out how to use all of that talent.

Spring surprise: No surprises at all

Coming into spring practice, it looked as if safety would be one position Nebraska wouldn't have to worry about much considering its wealth of talent and depth. By the end of the Spring Game, that feeling only got further confirmation. Cassidy, Osborne and Smith all picked up where they left off last season, and Cooper and Jackson both continued their rise through the four weeks of spring ball. Usually you'd like to see at least one player come out of nowhere and make a big impact, but in this case, no news is good news.

Question that still needs answered: What improvements have been made?

While Nebraska has the luxury of a ton of experience coming back at safety, it's not as if the position didn't end last season with some issues still left to correct. One of those issues was covering the deep ball, as the Huskers were beaten several times on long pass plays over the course of last season after safeties either made the wrong read or were out of position. The other problem, which eventually led to Smith and Rickey Thenarse getting benched midseason last year, was tackling. Cassidy and Osborne did a good job of picking it up in that area, but it's still an area of emphasis for the safeties.

What does the future hold at safety?

At this point next year, Nebraska will have Osborne and Smith back again to lead the way as even more experienced veterans, and Cooper and Jackson should be better than ever and competing for starting spots. Looking a bit more to the near future, the Huskers will add another topnotch athlete to the safety mix this fall when junior college transfer Daimion Stafford joins the team. Stafford, who was rated as one of the top-20 overall juco players in the country last season by Rivals, will have three years to play two seasons, and he should immediately make his presence felt in the secondary.

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