Moving to the midpoint in our five-day countdown of Nebraska players to watch in spring practice, we find the first newcomer to make the list.
He plays a position perhaps more in need of a boost than any other on the Nebraska depth chart. With no further ado:
Junior defensive end Joe Keels
Why to watch: For the junior college transfer's unknown factor. It’s natural for Nebraska fans to hope Keels can match the impact made last year by Randy Gregory, another juco transfer on the edge of the defensive line. Gregory quickly blossomed into an All-Big Ten performer. Keels, who played at Highland (Kan.) Community College last year after stints in Minnesota and North Dakota and a prep career in Kenosha, Wis., offers promise. He turned down Alabama, Missouri, Penn State, USC and picked the Huskers over Wisconsin.
What to watch: At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Keels lacks little in physical readiness to step into the role of a contributor. But how will he handle other aspects of the change, starting with the attention to detail necessary to compete against an increased level of opponent? For some juco transfers, it’s no big deal; others face an adjustment equal to freshmen. Through the 15 practices of spring, Keels ought to offer a few hints about the time required to complete his transition.
What to expect: It’s hard to imagine, one year after Gregory’s arrival, that the Huskers found another player of his caliber. But Keels, 43rd in the ESPN JC 50 before his January enrollment in Lincoln, would fill a huge need even if he can push for a starting spot. Nebraska lost Jason Ankrah after 2013, and Avery Moss, a high-impact redshirt freshman last season, is suspended. That leaves untested sophomore Greg McMullen, redshirt freshman A.J. Natter and little room for injuries. Look for Keels to immediately jump into the mix.
Countdown of Nebraska players to watch in spring practice: