August 2, 2008

S fall camp preview: Safeties looking for respect

The Nebraska football team will open up fall camp in less than a week when they take the practice field on Aug. 4. As the countdown to practice begins, will breakdown each position heading into camp with in-depth position analysis. This afternoon we breakdown the safeties, a position widely regarded as the weakest link in the Huskers' defense.

Biggest question: Are things really as bad as they seem?
As bad as things were at times last year - and things certainly did get bad - all hope isn't lost for a drastic turnaround this season. Juniors Larry Asante and Rickey Thenarse are expected to man the starting jobs at strong and free safety, giving the Huskers a good combination of athleticism and decent experience. Asante ended last season as NU's second-leading tackler with 78 and started 10 of the 12 games he played in. Thenarse will be making his starting debut, though he played in all 12 games last year, as well as all 14 in 2006. He won the hearts of Husker Nation for his big hitting ability on special teams, and was named the team's special teams MVP the past two years. Behind Asante is junior Major Culbert, who seems to have finally settled in at safety after a multitude of position changes. Senior walk-on Matt O'Hanlon is listed as the No. 2 free safety behind Thenarse, but several new freshmen could make a serious push at his spot, as well as Culbert's.

What we know right now: There's plenty of room to grow

Despite their bad rap heading into the year, the Huskers' safeties could end up being a decent unit. But that's only if they progress, quickly. Considering the circumstances of last year's defense, Asante did about as well as could be expected. Sure he had his bad moments, but so did the rest of the defense. A year older and wiser, Asante should be counted on as a leader of the secondary and will likely continue to develop into a playmaker. Thenarse has shown numerous examples of his playmaking ability on special teams, and if he can translate those into the secondary the Huskers should be in pretty good shape. The same can even be said for Culbert, who obviously has tremendous athletic ability considering the last coaching staff's effort to play him essentially at every position on the field.

Fresh fall camp faces:

As far as freshmen go, the Huskers' incoming safeties are arguably the deepest of any unit on the team. Highlighted by P.J. Smith, Nebraska added four probable safeties to its roster this offseason. Smith has already made his presence felt with the new coaching staff, and has been rumored to make a serious push on O'Hanlon for the No. 2 spot at free safety this fall. Also in the mix are John Levorson, Courtney Osborne, and Mason Wald. Levorson (6-foot-3) and Osborne (6-3) both posses great size, and will likely start out competing at free safety, while Wald made a reputation as a big hitter coming out of Vestavia Hills (Ala.) High.

Early camp prediction

My guess is that things aren't nearly as bad as most people think when it comes to the state of Nebraska's safeties. Asante will be much improved, and Thenarse has consistently shown a nose for the football and the ability to like ball carries up like a Christmas tree. Add in the addition of guys like Smith and Co. into the mix, and the Huskers appear to be relatively set for the next few years at the position. Now, just for clarification, I'm saying the safeties will be better than they were last year. Put that into perspective, and that's not saying a whole lot. But still, it's a start.

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