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The current missing pieces of the Husker football puzzle

A good chunk of what will comprise the 2017 edition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team is being expertly set into place as fall camp carries on. There’s already plenty to feel comfortable about for when the Big Red takes on the Arkansas State Red Wolves. However, some elements still stick out as significant concerns.

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf is installing a quarterback depth chart that blows away anything Nebraska fans have seen in at least seven years. It almost feels longer than that since a Taylor Martinez “athlete quarterback/quarterback athlete” was running the show. At running back, no one really stands out yet, but there is plenty of athleticism to effectively move the football.

The wide receiver position has seen some tough times with Jaevon McQuitty going down for the year with a knee injury that will require surgery. While the likes of JD Spielman and Keyan Williams have had to stay out of practice with muscle pulls, they’re expected to return soon enough. Aside from McQuitty, it’s been a pretty healthy fall camp (insert the sound of knocking on wood here.)

One thing that has yet to be established is something that can only truly be tested once it matters most and that’s confidence in the offensive line.

It’s early, but the Huskers have struggled with quarterback-center exchanges and Bob Diaco’s new 3-4 scheme has frustrated the Nebraska big men protecting Tanner Lee. If Lee can stay upright, this offense has the potential to rival most in the Big Ten conference. Despite the irritation, perhaps the line’s challenges are truly a blessing in disguise.

Offensive guard Jerald Foster gave his thoughts about how facing such a maddening defense in practice may end up being a net positive.

“When we’re playing the 3-4 defense, it’s a lot harder to get used to the kind of game that they have to do.

They’re using their hands more and things like that. I would say it’s going to be easier for us to go from playing a 3-4 to a 4-4 or 4-3 because a base 4-3, we’ve done that for years and years. The defense shows us a lot.”

As fall camp continues, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the defense continue to take steps forward while the offensive line works to tighten up and fight off what Diaco dials up. Only 13 days in, there’s plenty of time for Mike Cavanaugh’s crew to find their footing and begin to push back. From that point, it will be all about putting everything together against a team wearing different helmets.

“I think we’ve just got to keep working. We didn’t handle the third down twist game in there with a [linebacker] in the A gap and the [defensive end] coming off. So that’s what camp’s all about. We just have to keep growing and keep working.” – Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh

What this group can do when cracking pads against the Red Wolves (and especially the Oregon Ducks) should tell us a great deal about what Nebraska is capable of achieving this fall.

On defense, the group appears to be such an overall positive that it’s difficult to find much to take issue with. If there’s one area where Diaco may have to work some magic early on, it’s at the CAT position. Alex Davis and Sedrick King have seen the majority of work which comes as no surprise. Both have the size for the position with Davis appearing to be the more athletic of the two, but both lack consistency in their duties so far.

There’s a possibility that the Huskers consider plugging redshirt freshman Pernell Jefferson in at that spot to see how he meshes with the starting 11. While officially listed at 235 pounds versus Davis’ 255 and King’s 245, Jefferson is most certainly well put together. Having a CAT that’s 10-20 pounds lighter should theoretically aid in pass rush situations, not to mention give him an extra step in coverage as well.

Despite these two deficiencies gumming up the works, there’s ample time to smooth things out before game week. It’ll be exciting to see how the staff addresses these issues and if they can be appropriately sorted, Nebraska should step on the field for the season opener ready to do significant damage to the visitors from the Sun Belt conference.

To comment or keep up with the author, follow Brandon on twitter at @eightlaces

A member of the Football Writers Association of America, Brandon has spent over a decade reporting on and researching college football, both the sport itself and recruiting.

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