On the Big Ten conference call earlier this week, Nebraska coach Mike Riley addressed quite a few of his team’s injuries. In doing so, he provided context and updates on where key players are in their recoveries.
Who could return in time for the second half of the season? What is their overall impact? Let’s take a quick look at the list:
Joshua Kalu (hamstring)
Safety Joshua Kalu’s hamstring became an issue against Oregon, when the senior was injured and did not return for the game. He ended up missing games against Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois before returning just in time for Wisconsin and Ohio State.
However, Riley said postgame Saturday that Kalu had re-injured his hamstring against the Buckeyes. Riley also said at the time that he hoped it is “not that bad where he can be back.”
The good news is that the bye week came at the perfect time for Kalu. He is expected to return to practice by Monday. Had the Huskers had a game this Saturday, Kalu likely would not have played. However, the possibilities look good for Purdue.
Having Kalu on the field is a big deal for Nebraska. His absence — along with a few other key members of the secondary — has put pressure on a very young group to learn as they go.
Kalu’s presence will be vital for Nebraska as the Huskers look to finish the season strong. A look at his season statistics highlight his importance, especially when looking at his success against Wisconsin:
JD Spielman (shoulder)
In a period of time so kindly deemed as “garbage time,” Nebraska wide receiver JD Spielman was injured when Ohio State defensive back Marcus Williamson picked him up and tackled him on his right shoulder. It was enough to make quite a few people question the decision to still have him in the game.
JD Spielman, the only player who has done anything well tonight, just got hurt in garbage time. Has 11 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown
— Robin Washut (@RobinWashut) October 15, 2017
Injury to insult: JD Spielman got dumped after a catch and is hurting. Why is he still in the game?
— Parker Gabriel (@HuskerExtraPG) October 15, 2017
The good news is that Spielman is expected to be back on the practice field Monday. Similar to Kalu, though, Riley didn’t feel confident Spielman would have played if the Huskers had a game this weekend.
Spielman has become a vital part of Nebraska’s offense. He currently boasts 31 receptions for 475 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is an impact player who will be needed in Nebraska’s second stretch of the season.
Antonio Reed (knee)
Junior safety Antonio Reed is also expected to return prior to the Purdue matchup. He injured his knee early against Wisconsin, and didn’t recover in time for Ohio State.
Reed recorded a career-high 6 tackles and intercepted the first pass of his career against Rutgers. He also tied his career-high with 6 tackles against Illinois.
With Reed and fellow junior Aaron Williams out, young players were asked to step up. Dicaprio Bootle, for instance, was moved from corner to safety to start in their absence. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco spoke about the youthfulness and adjustment following Nebraska’s loss to Ohio State.
“These players, in a lot of instances, are learning how to play on the job as young players,” Diaco said. “They’re doing a good job. They’re definitely trying as hard as they possibly can. They’re wonderful young men and it means a great deal to them and they’re working very hard. In game, there are some moments of very youthful, inexperienced play.
“When you play against great teams, that typically looks like it’s always at the point of attack because they’re going to find the vulnerability there.”
Aaron Williams (neck)
Williams is the third of Nebraska’s safeties who could return just in time to face Purdue. He battled a muscle-soft tissue neck issue the week prior to Ohio State and wasn’t good to go by game time.
His performance against Oregon produced a career-high 12 tackles and his first fumble recovery. Williams also had a stellar performance against Wisconsin, despite the Huskers’ loss.
If Williams, Reed and Kalu are all healthy and cleared to play at Purdue, Nebraska’s secondary will be in much better shape. And the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time as the Huskers aim to get back on track in the latter half of the season.
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