How Big of a Role Will Injuries Play for Nebraska in 2011?

| by Alex Groberman

There are a number of factors going into a successful college football season. A team has to work hard, exhibit the right attitude and genuinely be willing to devote themselves to everything that winning entails. There's also players lost to graduation (or the NFL draft) and  strength of schedule. 

But in theory, so long as players listen to the coaching staff, have a moderate amount of talent and do what’s asked of them, the team should flourish.

In theory.

Unfortunately, there is one other factor that is involved in having a successful college football year, but that’s the one nobody wants to talk about. The reason nobody wants to talk about it is because it’s outside of anyone’s control. And worse yet, it could prove to be the most important factor of them all.

Injuries, for better or worse, can make or break a given team’s entire year. It was an injury in 2010 that took Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez from a monster-in-training early in the year to the inconstant, hobbled passer that graced the Huskers’ offense towards the latter portions of the season. It was also injuries to the Nebraska offensive line last year that limited the team’s offensive production and forced the stellar defense to have to overcompensate for the other side’s weaknesses.

Already, the pain appears to be pouring in for the Huskers in 2011. Without ever having played a single game, important players at various positions on both side of the ball have been hobbled and seen limited preseason action.

For the last few years, you could seemingly set your watch by the inevitable injuries that will come to the Nebraska offensive line. This offseason, senior Marcel Jones has sat out camp with lingering back problems that stretch all the way back to 2010. Although he returned to the squad this past week, it remains to be seen how effective he will be, and how quickly he’ll be able to get up to speed on what he’s missed. Similarly, the other key pieces of the offensive line in Brent Qvale, Jeremiah Sirles and Brandon Thompson have also been out – with the latter two due to return to the team on Monday and Qvale making his comeback late last week.

On the defensive side, Alfonzo Dennard -- the team’s prized, preseason All American cornerback -- has missed camp almost entirely as a result of his bad knee. Although Bo Pelini insists that his guy is making great strides and is getting healthy “ahead of schedule,” only time will tell how accurate those statements really are. Keep in mind, the Huskers already have a massive Prince Amukamara hole that needs to be patched up, so the loss of Dennard will do even more damage to a secondary that held opposing quarterbacks to 49 percent completions in 2010. 

Now, to be fair, sometimes there can be an upside to injuries. Coming into 2010, Lavonte David was just some afterthought linebacker for the Huskers, a small part of a deep, deep position for the team. Then, injuries to Sean Fisher and Will Compton changed everything. By virtue of some extra playing time, David emerged as a marquee defensive star and accumulated a school record 152 tackles -- and six sacks, to boot -- en route to an All American campaign. This year, because of the exposure he received in 2010, David is being touted as a must-see defensive force in the Big Ten.

Of course, that’s a rarity. More often than not, the guy replacing your starters is no Lavonte David, and you shouldn’t expect record-breaking production out of him. There is a reason that you usually can’t remember a team’s backup, and that reason is: he’s not good enough to earn consistent time on the field.

Nebraska was hit by the injury bug early in the summer, so here’s to hoping the worst is over. With all of the offensive lineman supposedly back to practice and Dennard hopefully getting healthier and stronger by the day, perhaps the most injury-riddled part of the year for the Huskers will be the preseason.