Baker Steinkuhler

Nebraska defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler (55) is one of the more indispensable players on the roster this fall.

FRANCIS GARDLER/Lincoln Journal Star

Oh, offseason fluff, you can kindly leave.

Just in time for everyone’s sanity, another football season is banging on the door.

Stuff gets serious Saturday. That’s when the Huskers open a fall camp during which they’ll face four two-a-days and August heat that figures to bring little sympathy.

While somewhat of a tease to the real drama that begins Sept. 1 with the season opener against Southern Miss, it must be said that a camp tease is better than no football at all.

And besides, there are plenty of things to ponder this month before the games begin.

Like:

Who are five redshirt freshmen to watch?

1. Daniel Davie: The true freshmen always get the love, don’t they? But what about those redshirt freshmen who are champing at the bit to get on the field after sitting out last year? Let’s start with Davie. He'll have to battle to play this fall, but he did have an impressive spring and Bo Pelini mentioned him at Big Ten Media Days as someone battling at cornerback. Coaches like Davie’s potential. And the race in the defensive backfield remains open.

2. Taariq Allen: Allen received rave reviews last year as a true freshman, impressing on the scout team. Pelini even said coaches thought about throwing him into the mix at wide receiver. Like Davie, he’s at a position with considerable depth, which makes it tough to find a spot on the field. But don’t count out the 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver who played for Nebraska wide receivers coach Rich Fisher in high school.

3. David Santos: Pelini says Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher are the top three linebackers entering fall camp. But fall camp is the time for young players to make their move. And you know Santos has to be eager to try to make his.

4. Kevin Williams: A knee injury took Williams out of contention for playing time as a true freshman. But he’s been in the program since January of last year. So he surely knows a few things about the system by now. D-tackle is a position that can get battered during the season, so depth is needed, and Williams will need to be ready.

5. Todd Peat: In a similar situation as Williams, a back injury kept Peat out this spring. But Pelini said both players are healthy heading into fall camp and have been working out throughout the summer.

Who are five under-the-radar players to keep tabs on?

1. Antonio Bell: He shouldn’t be under the radar, but it seems like he often is, especially with newcomer Mohammed Seisay getting a lot of attention this spring. But the 6-2, 200-pound Bell has a very real chance at a starting cornerback spot. In fact, Pelini said Bell would have been the guy there at the beginning of this spring. If Bell were to win the job, it’d be quite a story for someone who battled for a year to become academically eligible and then started his career at wide receiver. He certainly has shown perseverance.

2. Trevor Roach: Remember, Roach was the guy who stepped in for an injured Compton in last year’s opener and played like he was a three-year starter, compiling seven tackles. He’s a very versatile athlete who can play all three of the backer spots. The sophomore from Elkhorn may get lost in a lot of camp talk about juco newcomer Zaire Anderson and some of the other young linebackers. But don’t be surprised if Roach shows up on the scene at some point this season.

3. Justin Jackson: Cole Pensick may be the favorite in the battle at center, but you can be sure Jackson will make him work for it. Jackson has an intensity that had assistant offensive line coach John Garrison comparing him to Ricky Henry. That type of fire can do nothing but help as Nebraska looks to find the right guy to fill the shoes of Mike Caputo.

4. C.J. Zimmerer: A lot was written and said this spring about Mike Marrow, the big fullback (and son of graduate assistant Vince Marrow) who is eligible to play this year after sitting out 2011 following a transfer. But there is another scholarship guy who is battling to be the man at fullback. Omaha Gross graduate Zimmerer has played on special teams but would no doubt like to be the guy to replace Tyler Legate on offense. It’s a good battle to monitor.

5. Tyler Wullenwaber: The sophomore from Utica is one of the fastest players on the team, if not the fastest. And he got Rich Fisher’s full attention this spring. “He’s really shown (the ability) to get lined up, understand what’s going on. And he’s making plays this spring,” Fisher said in April. “I told him the other day, ‘You know, you’re starting to make a name for yourself, and the reason you’re making a name for yourself is because you’re showing up on tape.’”

Who are the five Huskers the team can least afford to lose to injury?

1. Rex Burkhead: Just think about what kind of devastating blow to morale it would be if there were no Burkhead? And we’re not just talking about the fact you’d be without a guy who carried the ball 284 times last year, or that he’s versatile enough you could line him up at quarterback if need be. There’s the intangibles. Teammates feed off him. Linemen love blocking for him. There's been talk about lessening Burkhead’s load to keep him fresh, but will that come true when games are on the line? We'll see. “As a competitor, you always want the ball on your hands," Burkhead said.

2. Taylor Martinez: He’s started 25 games and is already third on Nebraska’s career total offensive list heading into his junior season. Martinez may have his critics, but he knows the pressure of the position by now. And if Pelini is right, the quarterback’s best days are still ahead. Also, let’s be real: We don’t really know what Nebraska has beyond Martinez at quarterback right now.

3. Baker Steinkuhler: Nebraska was ravaged by injuries at defensive tackle during the spring, with four young players all sidelined. All those players are back now, but they’re unproven. One player who is proven is senior Baker Steinkuhler, whose game took a step forward last fall. Injuries took their toll on the D-line last fall, particularly in the Northwestern game, when the Huskers were particularly thin inside. The Huskers can't afford for that to happen again.

4. Will Compton: He’s the quarterback of the defense, full of experience and emotion. You could make a strong argument Compton is the most important player on the defensive side of the ball. He also just happened to play the best football of his career at the end of last year. Can’t lose a guy like that. Not this year as life goes on without Lavonte David.

5. Brett Maher: A question mark last year, now he’s one of the surest things you could find both as a kicker and a punter. That is not to be taken for granted. So don’t.

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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