Nebraska spring wrap

2009 overall record: 10-4

2009 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (8) P/K (2)

Top returners: RB Roy Helu Jr., DT Jared Crick, CB Prince Amukamara, QB Zac Lee, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Niles Paul, OL Keith Williams, P/K Alex Henery

Key losses: DT Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante, LB Phillip Dillard, S Matt O’Hanlon, DE Barry Turner, C Jacob Hickman

2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Western Kentucky

Sept. 11 Idaho

Sept. 18 at Washington

Sept. 25 South Dakota State

Oct. 7 at Kansas State

Oct. 16 Texas

Oct. 23 at Oklahoma State

Oct. 30 Missouri

Nov. 6 at Iowa State

Nov. 13 Kansas

Nov. 20 at Texas A&M

Nov. 27 Colorado2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Roy Helu Jr.* (1,147 yards)

Passing: Zac Lee* (2,143 yards)

Receiving: Niles Paul* (796 yards)

Tackles: Ndamukong Suh (85)

Sacks: Ndamukong Suh (12)

Interceptions: Matt O’Hanlon (6)

Three spring answers

1. Defensive identity. The word “Peso” took on a whole new meaning in Nebraska this spring. Though not as revolutionary as some figured it to be, the five defensive back set helped the Huskers finish strong in 2009 and inspired the Mexican currency-inspired moniker in spring 2010. The lynchpin of the Peso is defensive back Eric Hagg, who plays the safety/linebacker hybrid position.

2. Taylor Martinez emerges. Tales of his speed leaked out during spring practices, and Martinez put on a show in the spring game, running for 60 yards and throwing for 79. The redshirt freshman injected himself into the quarterback race this spring, further muddying a logjam at the top for the Huskers.

3. Second target found. Mike McNeill moved from tight end to receiver this spring, but will still play some tight end in a hybrid role, and Nebraska needed to find a second option opposite Niles Paul. Brandon Kinnie looks like the answer. He’s been competitive with Paul in the spring and caught a 36-yard score in which the 230-pounder dragged the pile 10 yards into the end zone. Will Henry caught a 72-yard score in the game, and should be a factor in the passing game as well.

Three fall questions

1. Who’s the QB? Last year’s starter, Zac Lee, sat out the spring after undergoing offseason surgery on his throwing arm. Sophomore Cody Green played in spots last season, and had a good spring. But Martinez has some fan support after his spring and will likely play at least some role in the offense. Nebraska needs its quarterback play to improve if it wants to make the jump to national title contender this year, but who gets the task hasn’t been determined.

2. Is the defense going to sustain? The Pelini brothers aren’t fretting about their defense, despite losing five members of the Blackshirts to the NFL, saying the defense will be “five times better” than it was last season. An improvement is a possibility in the fall, but the defense allowed a nation-best 10.4 points a game in 2009, a tough number to duplicate for a second season without players like Ndamukong Suh, Larry Asante and Phillip Dillard.

3. Burkhead vs. Helu. Rex Burkhead returned from a stress fracture in his foot and received more carries than Roy Helu Jr., who finished the season with 1,147 yards. Burkhead, a former high school quarterback, allows Nebraska’s Wildcat formation to be more versatile, and is shiftier than Helu, but Helu is more experienced, and runs with a slashing style. They’ll enter the fall likely receiving near equal carries, but that balance could shift as the season progresses.