August 4, 2009

The top-5 newcomers to watch in fall camp

One of the most intriguing aspects of fall camp is the arrival of the latest crop of incoming freshmen and junior college transfers. With an abundance of fresh faces ready to hit Nebraska's practice field for the first time, this year should be as intriguing as ever.

As the official start of fall practice draws closer by the day, HuskersIllustrated.com continues our fall camp previews by taking a look at the top-five newcomers to watch over the next four weeks.

Rex Burkhead, RB, Fr.

Though he joins the Huskers at one of their deepest and most talented positions on the entire team, freshman running back Rex Burkhead just might be good enough to make an immediate impact anyway.

He may be a bit undersized (5-11, 200), but the Plano, Texas, native has the tools to be a factor in nearly every facet of the offense. As a senior at Plano High School last year, Burkhead rushed for 1,762 yards and 28 touchdowns, averaging nearly seven yards per carry.

On top of that, he hauled in 42 receptions for 594 yards and five touchdowns, while also posing as a dangerous threat in the return game as a kick and punt returner. In other words, Burkhead's versatility will make it more difficult to keep him off the field than on it.

Providing he doesn't redshirt this season - which is still a possibility - I would venture to guess that Burkhead could come in and serve as a third-down back in passing situations while also possibly helping out on special teams, likely as a returner.

Brandon Kinnie, WR, So.

With all the questions surrounding Nebraska's receiving corps heading into fall camp, don't be surprised if sophomore Brandon Kinnie helps provide some answers by the time the season starts.

Kinnie's combination of good size (6-3, 215) and deceptive speed has already drawn some pretty impressive praise from his coaches and teammates. The most notable of which came from offensive coordinator Shawn Watson when he likened the Kansas City, Mo., product to former NU star Maurice Purify, except that Kinnie was faster.

Though he played two seasons of junior college ball at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, Kinnie will have three seasons of eligibility with the Huskers. But with Nebraska's lack of proven depth at wide receiver and Kinnie's impressive physical skill set, he could very well work his way up the depth chart and even compete for a starting spot by the time the season's over.

It will obviously take some time for Kinnie to learn the playbook and all the intricacies that go along with it, but if his physical tools are anywhere near what they've been cracked up to be, he should be able to get by just fine in the meantime.

Jason Ankrah, DE, Fr.

Ranked as one of Rivals.com's top-10 defensive end prospects in the country, freshman defensive end Jason Ankrah isn't going to going to take anybody by surprise when he finally suits up for Nebraska.

The real question with Ankrah is, just how good can he be?

Strong enough to play the run and agile enough to wreak havoc as a pass rusher, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Gaithersburg, Md., native fits perfectly into the Huskers' mix of versatile defensive ends. The problem is that he has guys like Pierre Allen and Barry Turner starting ahead of him, as well as several other up-and-coming ends waiting in the wakes.

But as was shown when Turner was lost for the season last year to injury, playing time is never completely out of reach. Where Ankrah could probably have the biggest impact right now would be as a third down pass rusher to attack opposing quarterbacks in obvious passing situations.

He has a tough hill to climb in front of him in order to see much playing time this season, but whenever an athlete of Ankrah's caliber comes around, sometimes you just have to find a way to get him on the field.

Antonio Bell, WR, Fr.

Freshman wide out Antonio Bell isn't a newcomer in the sense of the others listed here, seeing how he was with the team for spring practice. But as far as a freshman making an immediate impact this season, he might be the most obvious candidate.

Bell caught the eyes of coaches and teammates this spring with his blazing speed and acceleration off the line of scrimmage. Many teammates compared him to former NU speedster receiver Frantz Hardy, except that unlike Hardy - at least from what we've seen so far - Bell has solid hands to go with his wheels.

Bell's speed provides the Huskers with the ability to stretch the field for the home run pass, an element NU hasn't had for some years now. Like Kinnie, Bell could also benefit from Nebraska's inexperience at wide receiver.

Unlike Kinne, however, Bell holds a huge advantage in having practiced with the team this spring. The knowledge he gained in those weeks working with Nebraska's coaches as well as building chemistry with quarterback Zac Lee could prove invaluable in giving him the fast track to immediate playing time.

P.J. Mangieri, LS, Fr.

This one might seem like kind of an odd ball pick for this list, but when you think about it, freshman long snapper P.J. Mangieri could be just as important as anyone in the long run.

With the loss of former long snapper T.J. O'Leary, the Huskers must replace one of the most underappreciated positions in the game. That makes the progress of a guy like Mangieri extremely important, as he - or whoever ends up winning the job - could heavily impact the success of junior kicker Alex Henery and the rest of NU's kicking game.

Mangieri is one of three long snappers listed on the roster along with fellow freshmen Adam Kuhl and Sam Meginnis. The early word heading into fall camp, however, is that the job is Mangieri's to lose.

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