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1. Mike Riley has had a devil of a time catching breaks at Nebraska: In August 2015, standout return man and receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El suffered a foot injury during preseason drills that sidelined him for the first month of the season, and he later ravaged his knee with three games remaining. Last summer, Riley's program was rocked by starting punter Sam Foltz's tragic death. Then, throughout last season, the Husker offense was slowed by a slew of injuries. Now, Riley loses arguably his top defender for at least four months, if not the entire 2017 season, with news of cornerback Chris Jones' surgery coming on the heels of safeties coach Bob Elliott's death.

2. One could make a strong case for Jones being the player Nebraska could least afford to lose for 2017. Who else is high on that list? 1. Junior transfer quarterback Tanner Lee, who evidently has a comfortable edge over top backup Patrick O'Brien; 2. Junior left tackle Nick Gates, who protects Lee's blind side — say no more; 3. Junior wide receiver Stanley Morgan, who ranked second on the team in receptions last season and was easily the team's best receiver in spring drills; 4. Senior place-kicker Drew Brown, whose importance is heightened because you have to figure the Huskers are going to be in a lot of close games; 5. Sophomore defensive lineman Carlos Davis, who is the best player on a unit that sorely lacks depth; 6. Any other top cornerback. 

3. The importance of Lamar Jackson's development just increased considerably: A heralded four-star recruit from California in the class of 2016, Jackson played as a true freshman as the third corner behind Jones and Joshua Kalu. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Jackson had some bright moments, but struggled at times as teams went after him hard. He admits the college game was more challenging than he anticipated. He has a lot to prove. After Husker coaches moved Kalu to safety this past spring, they looked for Jackson to lock down the corner spot opposite Jones. He did that. Now, it would help matters considerably for NU if Jackson turns out to be as good as recruiting analysts claimed.

4. Focus intensifies on Donte' Williams' role as a developer of talent: The first-year Husker cornerbacks coach is highly regarded for his recruiting prowess. He's killing it on the recruiting trail. But he faces a critical August as an on-field coach as he prepares not only Jackson to be a reliable defender, but also young corners in sophomore Eric Lee and redshirt freshman Dicaprio Bootle. Something else to consider: Might redshirt freshman Marquel Dismuke be a candidate to move from safety to corner? After all, former NU secondary coach Brian Stewart said in February 2016 he liked Dismuke and Bootle as wide-side corners because of their quickness.

5. Elijah Blades gaining academic eligibility becomes perhaps even more important: He was the only scholarship cornerback recruit in Nebraska's class of 2017. A heralded four-star player, his verbal commitment on national signing day was celebrated as a major score for the program. "This guy will be involved with that (cornerback) group as far as pushing in there to play," Riley said on signing day. "This gives us one more real competitive guy to look at for winning the games this fall." Alas, there are questions about Blades' eligibility; he's yet to arrive on campus.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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