May 8, 2009

Spring grade out: Cornerbacks

As the Nebraska football team moves closer to the start of summer conditioning, will begin our daily position grade outs of where things are at out of spring ball. Today we breakdown the cornerback position and the positives and the negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice, and we also preview what lies ahead.

Overall spring grade: B
One position Nebraska wanted to see a good deal of improvement out of this spring was cornerback, as the Huskers saw some pretty hefty passing numbers put up on them at times last season. As expected, junior Anthony West asserted himself as a starter, but someone needed to step up and fill the void left by the departure of Armando Murillo. That player was undoubtedly junior Prince Amukamara, who had one of the best springs of any defensive player and finally looks to be living up to the potential many expected of him when he arrived last year. Behind them, sophomore Anthony Blue took big strides in his comeback from last year's knee injury, and sophomore Alfonzo Dennard had the best Spring Game of any NU defensive back with five tackles and two pass break-ups.

Spring surprise: Dennard's big jump
While he was one of only three true freshmen to see the field for Nebraska last season, Dennard's role was limited almost exclusively to special teams. After his performance this spring, though, he just might have expanded that role a bit. He still has a way to go in grasping NU's defense and coverage schemes, but Dennard's impressive athletic ability helps make that learning curve much more manageable. Boasting great speed and one of the best vertical leaps of any Husker, the Rochelle, Ga., native showed flashes of his potential in the Spring Game, as he jumped two passes for break-ups (that should have been interceptions) and tied for the Red team lead with five tackles. If anything, the only real hole he showed in his game was a need to improve his hands and turn those break-ups into picks.

Question that still needs answered: How far have they really come?
Nebraska's cornerbacks certainly looked better than last year over the course of 15 spring practices, but that doesn't necessarily mean much come game day. Admittedly, NU's corners had trouble learning the different coverage responsibilities of head coach Bo Pelini's defense. Now with a year of experience under the system and a more simplified coaching approach from Pelini and his staff, the corners have every reason to make big strides from last season, when the unit allowed an average of 233 passing yards per game (89th nationally) and combined for just three interceptions. West returns with a year's worth of starting experience, Amukamara looks like a budding star and some solid depth appears to be emerging behind them. However, some concerns still remain. (i.e. West getting burned for a 40-yard touchdown by none other than Wes Cammack in the Spring Game.)
What does the future hold at cornerback?
With no seniors on the entire unit, Nebraska's cornerbacks are nowhere near reaching their full potential yet. West and Amukamara will both be back as the likely starters next year, and guys like Blue, Dennard, Dejon Gomes and Lance Thorell will all be another year wiser in NU's system. This year's incoming freshman class, which was full of promising corners, should make the unit even deeper, as newcomers like Dijon Washington, Andrew Green and Lazarri Middleton should all provide instant competition when they join the team this fall. This unit may be young, but it's still arguably one of the deepest on NU's defense. In a couple years, there's no reason it couldn't be one of the best.

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