If Nebraska was going into another season with the Big 12, I doubt there would be much of a stir over the current situation at linebacker. After all, it was one linebacker which saw the most on most days in conference play. But that's all changed and now a casual mind-set has turned to real concern.
Senior linebacker Lavonte David is jacked.
Last year he was featured as the primary linebacker in the many defensive sets designed to stop the potent passing games of the Big 12. Sure, it allowed him the opportunity to make tackles and a lot of them.
152 to be exact, a new single-season record at Nebraska.
But there he was, literally on an island, and having to not just worry about one or two players, but an entire field. Even for someone in as great of shape as he is, that's going to wear on a person over a season.
This year he'll have company.
With the move to the Big Ten, the expectation is that you will see the Huskers get back to that good old fashioned 4-3 defense, meaning David now finds himself joined by two other linebackers in the starting rotation.
|After missing all of last year, Fisher finally returns to the field as a starter|
Compton missed a chunk of the season last year as he was suffering from a broken foot. Fisher missed the entire season rehabbing from a broken leg.
Had both been healthy, however, their reps probably wouldn't have seen an appreciable increase. That was simply the nature of the defense Nebraska had to run in the pass-happy Big 12.
So, why is David jacked? Because he has someone to talk to on the field now. More specifically, he has other backers to communicate with and it would stand to reason that he'll have to cover far less of the field on any given play as he will be the weak side linebacker instead of lining up in the middle like he did most of last year.
When David arrived very late in the process before last season, he was learning on the fly, literally. He said himself that it wasn't until the Kansas State game where actually felt comfortable with what he was doing within this system.
It was due to his unbelievable athleticism that he was still able to make plays and tackles in bunches, his high coming against South Dakota State when he totaled 19.
Compton returned to action two games into conference play. But it wasn't until the regular-season finale' against Colorado where he produced his best game statistically, notching seven against the Buffs.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Colorado's 59 rushing attempts in that game was the most Nebraska had seen from any opponent in conference play.
Now you can see why Compton was in there, and now you enter into a conference where four teams averaged over 200 yards per game rushing, whereas the Huskers were the only team in the Big 12 to average more than that throughout the entire year.
Going into Spring there was probably more concern that this trio of linebackers would simply stay healthy. They were all very experienced by this point, and Compton was the man in the middle calling the defense when he was one of the primary starters during the 2009 campaign. Fisher, a med student and holder of a GPA around 3.8, obviously didn't have a lot of problems grasping the system either. And like Compton, he saw his most significant time two years ago when the Huskers were still toiling with the 4-3, before the introduction of the "PESO" defense.
|Behind Will Compton (pictured) is Alonzo Whaley, the only back up going into the 2011 season with even one game of starting experience.|
Yeah, that's right. The team that had one of the most explosive rushing offenses in the country, featuring Heisman candidate Dennard Robinson at quarterback, also averaged over 250 yards per game through the air. Of course, 250 yards per game passing wouldn't have even gotten you ranked in the top half of the Big 12.
So, it's not a working theory that Nebraska will be gearing up to stop the run almost the entire time during conference play. It's a fact.
That brings us to a big, big problem for the Huskers.
Outside of David, who started all 14 games last year, the Huskers have five games of starting experience coming back from the 2010 campaign. Four for Compton and one for junior Alonzo Whaley, who played back up to Compton last season.
If you go back two years, Compton had eight starts in 2009 while Fisher had six.
And the depth?
There isn't any.
Outside of Whaley, the only other scholarship linebacker is Micah Kreikemeier, who is going to into his junior year with close to no game action, because he hasn't been able to stay healthy long enough to get into a game.
You have a host of special teams standouts who will be asked to step up and make plays. The early list of favorites to be backups at these positions right now are junior Graham Stoddard, who has been a special teams standout and is expected to back up Fisher at the BUCK. Then you have Jim Ebke, another junior, who will probably behind David and is another who made his mark on special teams. Competing with Whaley at middle is Trevor Roach, a redshirt freshman who had a solid Spring Game, but has no other FBS game experience on his resume'.
That's it. That's what you have.
I know it's going to seem like I am taking away from what these players have to offer. But come on, even in the face of the great walk-on tradition and what players throughout the history of the program who have made big impacts – the odds of getting scholarship play out of non-scholarship guys aren't exactly good.
But they don't have any choice. They have to produce, and with this absolute sense of urgency, you can expect that Max Pirman and David Santos, both true freshmen who have yet to even step foot on campus as a student – they are going to get more than an opportunity to play right now. They will probably be given no other choice.
And I wouldn't rule out the notion that other players not even listed as linebackers right now, could find themselves listed as that before the end of this upcoming season or perhaps even before. If you have someone like Harvey Jackson, a redshirt freshman with outstanding athleticism and size – if he doesn't make starter, could you move him to BUCK, even if it's just situational duty? Corey Cooper, another redshirt freshman safety, certainly has the size. Maybe give him some snaps at WILL?
I'm just throwing this stuff out there, but let's be honest about this, if Nebraska somehow finds itself bitten by the injury bug at this position, one which seems to have been severely bitten by it over the last five years – what are the coaches going to do? In any conference it's going to start with the defensive line, but in the Big Ten more than in the Big 12, those linebackers aren't a stop gap against the running game – they are a necessity.
Oh, and then you can throw in the fact that they have a new position coach in Ross Els.
Do you know what to expect? Can anyone possibly sit back and be just super comfortable with the situation at this position right now?
And that's not even taking into account just how effective Compton and Fisher will be. I think Compton is a safe bet, but Fisher has long had the reputation of playing a bit high as well as taking some bad angles on tackles and burying himself in blockers at the line a lot more than he should.
I wouldn't paint this as doom n' gloom, but there's no doubt that the Huskers are walking on egg shells at this position, like no other, including quarterback. The schedule is brutal, the running games they face are outstanding and their depth in regard to experience is non-existent.
I'm not a superstitious guy, but if I was and I was Coach Els, I'd find a wishbone, a horseshoe, a rabbit's foot and just about anything else to use in trying to keep his starting trio upright for an entire year. The prospects for the Huskers if they don't, are very grim indeed.