My previous installment, Offensively Speaking, Meet Nebraska's Studs and Duds went over so well that it would be pure foolishness not to look at the other side of the ball, the side I think we are all more confident about come fall time.
First, I want to say thanks to those of you who read and commented on my last article. It was a good discussion to have and I hope that you find this article just as informative and discussion worthy.
Ah, the defensive side of the ball. Tom Novak, Rich Glover, Trev Alberts, Grant Wistrom and Ndamukong Suh make up the upper echelon of Nebraska defensive dominants over the years. Not to mention names like Mike Minter, Jared Tomich or the Peter brothers. It has been Nebraska's Blackshirt defense that has garnered most of the attention since the 1970's, and it was also the side of the ball with the most to work on come 2008.
Pelini was brought in to fix the defense, and did he ever. Two years into his tenure at Nebraska, Pelini has brought Nebraska's defensive back from Pinkshirts (as they were called in the 2007 season) to Blackshirts in 2009 culminating with a shutout victory in the Holiday Bowl.
The swagger is back, the attitude is tough, and the precision is excellent. Nebraska has bought into Pelini's defensive system and it showed late in the season. Some people wonder though, how can this team be any better than last year, with the loss of key contributors Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon?
The answer: Fill in the gaps.
Going into the 2010 season, it's time to meet Nebraska's defensive studs and duds.
Let's start with the position most fretted about (along with safety and linebacker) into the fall of 2010. Suh is gone and the question on everybody's mind for this year is: can Crick pick up the slack?
- Jared Crick: He wants it and he'll get it. Crick made noise last year breaking records in the Baylor game and capitalizing on teams double and sometimes triple teams of Ndamukong Suh. The question is, can he handle it? The rough and tumble Nebraska native should be able to. Crick is good because he plays with great leverage despite his 6'6" frame and has a quick first step. Crick learned a lot from Suh in his first year as a starter, and he may not be as good as Suh, but he will be formidable when the time comes.
- Terrence Moore: Despite people's strong inclination to put the former five-star recruit Baker Steinkuhler here, I think Moore should be more on the field in the spring than Steinkuhler did all last season. Don't get me wrong, Baker could still be the starter come fall time, but Moore will get significant playing time. Playing on the line is all about leverage, and I think Moore has that down a bit better than Steinkuhler.
- Baker Steinkuhler: Baker has the ability and physical gifts to do well in the defensive tackle position, but he must develop better technique. He kept getting pushed off the line in the spring game because he stood up too tall and didn't extend his hands. Baker will get playing time, but he could be great if he betters his mechanics.
- Jay Guy: I must admit I was high on this kid because of his film coming out of high school, but Jay Guy is at least a year away from making in sort of significant impact on the field. Right now he just looks like a big body to fill space on the field. He constantly got pushed to his knees and the few tackles he did make were because the play came right to him. In the hands of Dobson and Carl Pelini, Guy will get much better, but he won't contribute in his first season on a meaningful level.
- Thaddeus Randle: I was never big on Randle at the defensive tackle spot, at least not in a starting role. After accumulating only one tackle in limited playing time in the spring game, I would have to say Randle is probably still a year away from contributing right now.
- Chase Rome: I hesitate to put Rome on this list because I thought if anyone could come out of high school and contribute early on the defensive line, it would be him. Judging by his spring game performance though, Rome is just too young to do any significant damage this season. However, I do expect him to get a few minutes of playing time especially if one of the top three goes down with an injury.
- Pierre Allen: He showed me that he was a starter his sophomore year when he came out of nowhere to be the best defensive end on the field for Nebraska. Nothing will change in his senior season in 2010. With the spotlight off Suh, Allen's playmaking ability in both the run and the passing game will become quickly apparent. Last season Pierre was extremely undervalued by members of the media, and he will show them why they shouldn't make that same mistake this year.
- Cameron Meredith: He was all the talk coming out of fall camp in 2010, and it ended up being more than just a smoke screen for Suh. Meredith showed superior pass rushing skills and fine tuned his run defense throughout the year. Meredith is fast, has a quick first step, and plays with the type of tenacity that Trev Alberts and Grant Wistrom had. He may not be as good, but as only a sophomore he could turn a lot of heads going into his junior season.
- Josh Williams: People have been climbing on the Jason Ankrah bandwagon, but the player that showed me the best ability of the non-starters was Josh Williams. Williams was all over the place in the spring game, accumulating three solo tackles and one sack. I think we will see Williams contribute on a major level come September.
- Tyron Fahie: Another name that was swept under the rug behind Ankrah coming into this season, but Fahie also showed an extreme ability to get to the ball and the quarterback accumulating three tackles and sack in the spring game. Ankrah might jump both in the fall, but as of right now I have even Fahie above Ankrah.
- Walker Ashburn: He is only a freshman, and he is too small to play right away. Ashburn will most likely redshirt this year anyway, but fellow freshman Donovan Vestal and Toby Okuyemi have better shots at contributing early.
- Jason Ankrah: Unfortunately, all the hype for Ankrah has been just that: hype. Ankrah took a redshirt last year and was projected as a significant contributor in 2010. He has to play a lot better if he's going to see the field his sophomore year. Ankrah has the physical ability and look of an FBS defensive end but lacks the aggression it seems.
- Lavonte David: Just watching David play at JUCO is a treat. He hits holes, has above average cover speed, and plays with speed that is a necessity in the pass happy Big 12. While David has a big task in learning the scheme coming into his Jr season with Nebraska, he's one of the only pure linebackers that Nebraska has at the moment, and hopefully he will learn quickly and adjust well to high college football.
- Alonzo Whaley: Some people had doubted Alonzo. Not I, though. Whaley stole the show defensively for Nebraska proving once and for all that he deserves to see the field. The 6'1" sophomore from Texas accrued a team-high 9 tackles in the Red/White game and was all over the field. It looks like something has clicked for mister Whaley and he should make an impact next season.
- Eric Martin: We all knew Martin could hit, but the question was, could he play? The verdict is still out on the, but one thing is for sure, even if Martin doesn't get the starting job going into 2010, he is definitely going to rattle some teeth on special teams.
- Sean Fisher: I waffled between May, Fisher, Holt and Camarata here and finally went with Fisher solely due to experience. He has the athleticism to be really good, but needs to add to it that killer instinct that the previous three contain.
- Will Compton: Compton showed promise but was too often behind plays, too often made wrong reads, and reacted more than acted on defense. My sad realization this spring was that Compton might be slipping down the depth chart, where players like Eric Martin and Alonzo Whaley take over. I hope I'm wrong, but he just doesn't look like a playmaker on defense right now.
- Micah Kreikemeier: Micah is good, but he is just not up to par with other candidates. He won't see the field much, but he will contribute on scout teams and come in every now and then during the season.
- Prince Amukamara: What can you say about Prince? He could have gone into the draft after his junior season, but instead he stayed to put himself into a better position in the 2011 draft. The former receiver turned lock-down corner might just be the best corner in the Big 12 next season and could even seek All-American status. Amukamara must become the leader for the secondary this season.
- Alfonzo Dennard: My only beef with Alfonzo is that he doesn't know how to catch a ball. Too often he goes for interceptions, tips the ball in the air and the receiver makes a lucky catch. Put some stick-em on those hands, and he might be the best cover corner Nebraska has. Yes, Amukamara included.
- Dejon Gomes: I put him on this list because he is still listed as a DB on Nebraska's web site, but he played a lot of safety in the spring game and he played it well. Gomes is all over the field for the Huskers, and it is depressing that we only get to see him for one more year.
- Eric Hagg: Even though Hagg will be playing a bit of safety this season, he has shown in the past two years that he has what it takes to make plays when it matters. Hagg has good hands and decent cover skills and is a perfect nickel back.
- Andrew Green: I'm always tempted to forget about the young stud from Texas, but with his blazing fast speed, good height (6'0"), and instincts, Green could become the next play-maker at corner back for the huskers.
- Marcus Mendoza: Mendoza is that fast guy on the team that you try desperately to get on the field but can never find a place for him. Like Major Colbert. Mendoza has switched from running back, to wide receiver back, to running back, and now to defensive back, where he played well in the spring game. But with too many years gone and not enough time to play catch up, it will be interesting to see if we ever see him on the field again.
- Anthony Blue: He was supposed to be Nebraska's next lock-down corner, but he still doesn't like to tackle. Blue has good cover skills but won't come up in run support and too often takes the easy way out. Upsetting that a career can round off so tragically.
- Anthony West: Like Blue, West came with a ton of promise and delivered on just about none of it. West will get some playing time this year, but he has shrunk back too far to make any real impact in his senior season.
- Lance Thorell: A guy to watch out for as the season progresses. He has a great work ethic and is home grown and lives to be a Husker, but his physical ability may keep him off the field unless injury comes a knocking.
- P.J. Smith: He has been waiting his turn for quite some time now and finally will get his opportunity. Smith played really well in sparing roles his freshman season and looks to take over with a fairly smooth transition going into 2010.
- Ricky Thenarse: The fifth year senior hits harder than ever, despite his injury plagued career. We all know Thenarse can hit, but like Eric Martin, can he play? It was no secret that O'Hanlon was apparently the smarter of the two in fighting for the starting job, so Thenarse must put his thinking cap on in this his final season and play smart ball not just hard ball.
- Austin Cassidy: To be honest, I wasn't sold on Cassidy until I saw him in action. He has the potential to be better than late season O'Hanlon and definitely has the athleticism to do so. Cassidy is a sleeper in the secondary.
- Jim Ebke: He plays with heart, but he's just not fast enough to be a starter at this level. Ebke made a few good plays in the spring game but will look to contribute more next season after Thenarse and Gomes are gone.
- Courtney Osborne: Osborne could be better than Cassidy we just don't know right now, as of now I think Osborne will see a limited roll in the defense in 2010.