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Spring practice predictions: No. 4

The final countdown in advance of spring practice at Nebraska is underway. This week, ESPN.com is offering predictions for the March and April workouts.

We looked first at the Nebraska receivers. Now it’s on to the defensive side, where two newcomers from junior college join the Huskers for workouts that start on Saturday. They’re the subject of prediction No. 4.

Joe Keels or Byerson Cockrell will make an immediate impact.

Let’s look first at Cockrell, a safety who factored prominently on a defense that intercepted 30 passes at East Mississippi Community College last season. The Huskers would like Cockrell to bring a bit of that ball-hawking mentality to Lincoln.

Nebraska’s turnover problems were well documented a year ago, and it was more than just a propensity to lose the football that hurt the Huskers. Over the final six games of the regular season, Nebraska created just two takeaways.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Cockrell has a redshirt season available, but Nebraska recruited him to compete for a position. His chance comes right away, as the Huskers look to replace Andrew Green in the secondary. One safety spot, held by Corey Cooper, rates as a strength of the defense. The other is a question, with Harvey Jackson, LeRoy Alexander and perhaps Nathan Gerry -- who played linebacker last season -- as the primary contenders.

Cockrell can add his name to the mix in a hurry.

The path to a starting position looks clearer for Keels, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end who transferred from Highland Kan.) CC. His list of scholarship offers, which included Alabama and USC, was an impressive as any Nebraska signee last month.

His statistics as a sophomore were modest, but the Huskers expect Keels to challenge for the job opposite All-Big Ten junior Randy Gregory, who started straight out of junior college last year at this position.

Redshirt freshman A.J. Natter and sophomore Greg McMullen will compete with Keels in the spring.

Countdown of Nebraska spring practice predictions: