Top spring position battles: No. 5

Two weeks of the ESPN.com countdown to spring football practice are in the books, with our crowning of the top position group and player to watch during the 15 practices of March and April.

It’s on to a new category this week: position battles. At this time of year, analysis gets tricky because personnel continues to shift, especially among position groups with multiple spots, like the offensive and defensive lines.

So remember, this is speculative. Feel free to send me a tweet with your suggestions or complaints. With that, let’s get this countdown started with the No. 5 position battle to watch this spring:

Outside linebacker

The contenders: Senior Zaire Anderson; junior David Santos; sophomores Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas; and redshirt freshmen Marcus Newby and Courtney Love

The storylines: Let’s assume first that the emergence and leadership potential of Michael Rose in the middle ices that position for the sophomore and pushes Banderas and Santos to the outside. Both started games at middle linebacker last season, and the Huskers remain thin behind Rose without them, so it’s no slam dunk. But their value on the outside is high, and linebackers coach Ross Els, no doubt, wants efficiency from his roster.

We’ll assume also that the Huskers stay with three linebackers as their base defensive alignment. If a surplus at linebacker and lack of depth up front causes a shift, obviously, it impacts the number of bodies available at many positions.

Love, listed at 230 pounds, could also play inside, though his athleticism should allow him to fit on the outside. He offers a powerful option that was missing at times in 2013. Additionally, Gerry, another superb athlete, may get summoned to safety, something of a more natural position for him.

The outlook: Best bet is that the Huskers start with Anderson and Santos on the outside. Both are veterans who settled nicely into their roles last season during Big Ten play. Banderas, with room to grow and a high football IQ, could fit well as a multi-position option at linebacker or even slide to defensive end at times. And Newby, like Love, brings plenty of athleticism. So does newcomer Jaevon Walton, who will join the mix in August.