Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing redshirt roulette

Omaha World Herald columnist Tom Shatel had a great sense of timing this week.

Earlier this week, Shatel reasoned that Nebraska might not have the luxury of redshirting true freshman quarterback Cody Green If there is one thing we know about second year Husker head coach Bo Pelini is that it will be a rare set of circumstances that he does not redshirt a true freshman.

The Huskers enter the 2009 campaign with junior Zac Lee as the clear cut favorite to be the starting signal-caller with redshirt freshman Kody Spano, Green, junior LaTravis Washington (a converted linebacker) and true freshman Taylor Martinez battling for the No. 2 spot. The best case scenario would be Lee proving that he is more than ready to play at a high level with Spano being the No. 2 man while redshirting Green.

Spano, however, will miss the season with a torn ACL. The injury, which took place Tuesday, came in the same left leg that Spano suffered an ACL tear in during spring ball. Pelini expects to have him back in the fold by winter conditioning. Spano might pursue a medical redshirt but that’s a discussion for another day.

It was a non-contact injury suffered while running, Pelini said, which occurred during Tuesday's practice. The injury leaves Washington and Green as the likely candidates to backup Lee since they were in Lincoln for spring ball.

Some media members that cover the team daily as well as message board posters have wondered if perhaps Spano rushed back to soon. Hard to say really because for all we know the structure of his knee might make him more prone to injury.

So does this mean Green redshirting is pretty much off the table, or does become the de facto No. 2 guy and you hope that you can redshirt Green by not having to play him?

The answer is pretty simple. Whomever wins the No. 2 job doesn't redshirt. I don't think the coaches can worry about anything else now; you have to get that No. 2 guy some reps in a game early in the season, just in case. You can't try to save Green or Washington for a redshirt, I don't think, like Bill Callahan tried to do with Harrison Beck in 2005. To be fair, Nebraska was seldom in a blowout situation in 2005.

Potentially, if the threesome of Green, Washington and Martinez are dead even for that No. 2 slot, you could play one of them as No. 2 this season, then redshirt him next season and play the other two behind Lee, thereby preserving everyone's redshirt. Had Spano remained healthy, and the No. 2 job was pretty even between him, Green, Washington and perhaps Martinez, then you could've tried to save the redshirts for Green, Washington and Martinez, using Spano in the mop-up role, since he already had redshirted. This re-injury makes that impossible.

I know some will look at this as Spano rushing his return, and he may have, but look at it this way. Spano had already used his redshirt. He knew this fall gave him a great shot at winning the No. 2 job. The doctors probably told him he might re-injure it and was pushing his return date, but he had a reasonable shot of staying healthy too. With his redshirt already burned, he probably figured the reward of being No. 2 was worth the risk of re-injuring it. If he had sat out another couple of months, he would've had little to no chance of being No. 2 this season, so he probably felt like pushing the return was worth a shot. I can understand why he did it - if he sat out another couple of months of rehab, 2009 would be pretty much a lost season for him anyway.

As for Green, I’d say he only burns a redshirt if he is so much better than Washington that the coaches have no choice or if Lee gets injured. If the guy is Terrelle Pryor, Vince Young or Tommie Frazier, then that is one thing but only the coaches will really know if he's that good this soon. If, in their estimation he's not going to be any less mistake prone than Washington then let Washington finish it out.

Let’s also not forget that Ron Kellogg Jr. might be an option too. Kellogg joins the Huskers as a walk-on from Omaha Westside High School, where he starred at quarterback. He also held scholarship offers from Northwest Missouri State and North Dakota and a walk-on offer from Iowa. Kellogg is the son of former Kansas basketball great and NBA player Ron Kellogg.Then again, we also have to truly understand the true meaning of the term “redshirt.”

There is no such thing as a redshirt in terms of being defined as one before the season starts. As long as a player does not play in a game (or gets a waiver for a medical redshirt because he was injured in an early game) and has not used his redshirt year, that player is considered to have used it when the season is over. So, theoretically, Green could be Nebraska's No. 2 QB and still use his redshirt year if he does not play during 2009.

When offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and Pelini think about this, I think this is the most likely scenario. If Nebraska is up big and it's garbage time, Washington and/or Kellogg will likely come in to finish the game. If, heaven forbid, Lee is injured and cannot go when a game is still close, I think you'll see Green. If a game's out of reach with NU ahead and Lee gets injured, I think Washington and Kellogg finish with Green taking over as the starter the next week if Lee isn't healthy. I don't think this automatically means Green does not use his redshirt year at all. There's nothing that says he won't use it next year even if he does have to play this year. This was the plan that was supposed to have been done at Virginia Tech with Tyrod Taylor. He wasn't supposed to play last year, it's just that Sean Glennon was so bad behind a young/poor offensive line that Taylor had to play because VaTech could use more rollouts/QB keeper plays and not have a drop-back passer get sacked routinely because their O-line wasn't very good early in the season.

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