May 4, 2009

Spring grade out: Wide receivers

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

Overall spring grade: C
On one hand, Nebraska had several wide receivers emerge into what appear to be quality options in the passing game over the course of the spring. On the other, the Huskers still haven't accomplished their biggest goal of the offseason at the position - find legitimate No. 1 and 2 receivers to replace Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. While many assumed senior Menelik Holt would take over as NU's top receiver, he had a less-than-stellar spring that left more questions than answers. Junior Niles Paul had arguably the best spring of any wide out, but he was suspended in the last week of spring practice and didn't get to showcase his progress in the Red-White game. The good news was that guys like Chris Brooks and Will Henry both finally started to play up to their potential.
Spring surprise: Bell's immediate impact
Though Nebraska has had several receivers who came in with high expectations and never quite lived up to them, true freshman Antonio Bell was even better than advertised. Bell walked into spring practice and was immediately one of the fastest players on the team, if not the fastest. That speed gives Nebraska a true deep threat receiver it hasn't had in years, which should open up the passing game immensely when he's in the game. He also showed off his hands in the spring game, as he made one of the catches of the day when he snagged a ball out of midair and stayed in bounds after landing flat on his back. There's still a chance he might redshirt this season, but with the way he played this spring, he just may have put himself near the top of NU's receiver rotation.

Question that still needs answered: Who will be the go-to guys?
They weren't the fastest or flashiest guys on the field, but it seemed whenever Nebraska needed to convert a crucial third down or get into the end zone, Swift and Peterson were almost always there. With them gone, the Huskers now have to find their replacements. Unfortunately, that really wasn't accomplished this spring, as no one truly emerged as the leader of the unit. Holt still could be that guy, but his relatively quiet spring didn't give much confidence that he was ready to fill the void. Brooks has always had the potential to be a big time player, and he finally showed some of that potential in the spring game with a game-high five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. Henry also had a breakout spring, as he earned reps with the first team in front of Holt by the end of practice.
What does the future hold at wide receiver?
The biggest plus this unit has going for it is some of the younger receivers just beginning to show what they can do. Along with Bell, who is already one of NU's better wide outs, sophomores Curenski Gilleylen and Marcus Mendoza and redshirt freshman Steven Osborne all showed flashes this spring. Then add in guys like Khiry Cooper, who spent the spring with the baseball team, and sophomore juco transfer Brandon Kinnie, and this unit could get a whole lot better in the next couple of months.

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