Nebraska Football: What Randy Gregory's Return Means for Huskers Moving Forward

Erin Sorensen@erinsorensenContributor ISeptember 12, 2014

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 6: Defensive end Randy Gregory #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers greets teammates during their game against the McNeese State Cowboys at Memorial Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Gregory missed the game due to injury. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

After an old injury resurfaced for defensive end Randy Gregory in Nebraska's season opener, fans were worried. With so much hype around the junior, losing him so early in the season was a reason for concern.

The positive side was that Bo Pelini didn't feel it would be an injury that would sideline him long. In fact, Pelini believed Gregory could have continued to play against Florida Atlantic, per ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman.

Instead, the Huskers chose to be cautious with Gregory and give him time to properly heal. That meant he sat out against McNeese State. After an extra week to recover, Gregory was back to practice and is expected to play against Fresno State, per the Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple.

With this news, what does it mean for Nebraska moving forward?

First and foremost, it brings a significant leader back to the Husker defense. In his absence, the Huskers struggled a bit against McNeese State. Key players were expected to step up, from defensive end Jack Gangwish to defensive end Greg McMullen and linebacker Marcus Newby.

For Gangwish, the McNeese State game was not what he expected. He struggled against the Cowboys' Antoine Everett, an FCS All-American candidate. He still had some shining moments, but it was clear that something was missing.

It was true for the entire defensive line, in fact. After the McNeese State game, defensive coordinator John Papuchis was honest that the Huskers had some tackling issues in the second half.

“The thing that hurt us the most defensively is that our tackling was poor," Papuchis said, per Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald. "That’s the No. 1 thing that bothered me in the whole football game defensively was the poor tackling.”

Gregory's return will help. According to Kaipust, he's been taking the first week back at practice easy. However, once he is out on the field against Fresno State, that will change.

“If I’m going to play, I’m going to go out there and play every play,” Gregory said, per Kaipust.

The benefit of Gregory is that he is a strength for the defensive line on so many levels. BTN.com's senior writer Tom Dienhart commented on just how significant his impact is: "He is arguably the top pass rusher in the Big Ten. He also can stuff the run, knock down passes at the line and run down plays from the backside. Offenses always have to know where he is. The guy is projected by some to be a top-5 NFL draft pick. That’s all you need to know."

In 2013, Gregory boasted 10.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and one interception, per Huskers.com. His numbers on the field earned him plenty of honors, including First-Team All-Big Ten (Coaches, Media and Big Ten Network).

Going forward, Gregory's return to the field can only mean good things for the Huskers. As Kaipust, Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa reported, Papuchis is ready for his return and his potential, too:

Anytime you can add a player of his ability back into the mix it makes you better. It’s good to have him back. He didn’t do a lot of stuff today, but he was out there moving around really well. If he goes out and plays the way he’s capable of, he’s one of the better defensive players in the country.

From his talent to his leadership, having Gregory back on the field definitely benefits Nebraska. As Big Ten conference play gets closer, knowing the star defensive end will be around to lead the group has to have fans feeling better.

It likely has the coaches and team feeling better, too.