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March 25, 2008

NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS
Head coach: Bo Pelini
Last season: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in Big 12.
Spring practice: March 26-April 19.

The state of Nebraska is hopeful a new coach can bring back the good old days of Cornhuskers football. Bo Pelini, architect of outstanding defensive units everywhere he has coached in college football, faces a major task of rebuilding the Huskers' defense. Nebraska allowed an average of 37.9 points per game last season. Pelini must replace all of last year's linebackers and half the secondary and also decide which returning starters deserve to remain atop the depth chart. Here's a look at the Huskers as they open spring drills.

NEBRASKA
Tailback Marlon Lucky should be the focal point of Nebraska's offense.

RETURNING STARTERS
EARLY ENROLLEES
TE Tyson Hetzer (junior college transfer), QB Kody Spano (from high school).

POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Nebraska is deep at tailback. Lucky rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a pass-oriented offense last season and also had 75 receptions. Quentin Castille and Cody Glenn provide good depth. An injury to starter Sam Keller thrust Joe Ganz into action late last season at quarterback and he responded by throwing 16 touchdown passes in four games. What could have been a position in question appears to be in good hands.

HELP IS NEEDED

The Cornhuskers ranked 116th in the nation against the run last season. Some starters return on the defensive line, but obviously they need to raise their level of performance. The linebackers also need improvement. What, did you think line was the only culprit for the poor showing against the run? The Huskers lost their top four linebackers from '07, but perhaps that's not a bad thing.

KEEP AN EYE ON

OT Jaivorio Burkes: A 6-foot-5, 315-pound sophomore, Burkes took over at tackle and played well for five games after Murtha suffered a severe foot injury. He figures to nail down a starting job with a good spring showing.

LB Blake Lawrence: Once a four-star prospect, the sophomore Lawrence is expected to make a strong challenge for a spot at outside linebacker.

HIS TIME IS NOW

Barry Turner, a senior, was solid as a freshman and sophomore at defensive end, but wasn't effective in 2007. He needs to regain some quickness and prove himself again.

THE BUZZ

Without a doubt, rebuilding the defense is new coach Bo Pelini's top priority. The Huskers endured one of their worst defensive seasons ever in 2007 and have plenty of starting jobs open. Any progress in that area would have to be encouraging.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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