1) Will someone emerge to control the open defensive end spot?
With three of the positions pretty locked down, there is one starting spot open on the line. The problem is the open spot is there because All Big Ten defensive end, Randy Gregory, is off to the NFL. The spot has big shoes to fill and Nebraska needs a good consistent pass rush.
Spring ball, especially with a new coaching staff, offers a great opportunity for a player to emerge and make a strong push for the starting defensive end job. Jack Gangwish got some starts last year and was consistently in the rotation. The problem is, Nebraska could really use someone with a bit higher ceiling to be the guy. Gangwish was never able to show the ability to consistently get pressure on the quarterback.
Mick Stoltenberg got some high praise during his redshirt year, Joe Keels is a senior who was able to enroll early a year ago, A.J. Natter was a four star prospect out of high school and a Scout top 300 player, and Freedom Akinmoladun has the athleticism to make an impact. But the questions remains, can one of them emerge to control the open defensive end spot?
2) Will they be able to build enough depth to have a good rotation?
Husker nation has heard for quite some time, “the defensive line is thin. There just isn’t enough depth.” To have a dominant defense this has to change. If you can’t have a good rotation you can’t control the line of scrimmage for 60 minutes. None of the 2015 recruits enrolled early so there will be 12 scholarship defensive lineman available for Spring ball.
There are three known commodities at the tackle position in Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, and Kevin Williams. It would help this defense a lot of Kevin Maurice and Peyton Newell could close the gap with those top three.
With the defensive ends, after Greg McMullen, Nebraska really has no idea what they have in the rest of their ends. There is minimal game experience in this group. The coaching staff really needs to use the open DE spot to create a lot of competitiveness to build as much depth with the ends as possible.
It simply puts the defense in a bad spot if they have to walk into the Fall with confidence in only 4-5 defensive lineman. Better depth is a must.
3) How will they adjust to and understand the new scheme and staff?
Under former head coach Bo Pelini the “two gap scheme" was discussed often. New defensive coordinator Mark Banker already said the Blackshirts will run a 4-3 with quarters coverage. He also said that he likes, “Movement with purpose.” He indicated that at times he will move defensive lineman around to shoot different gaps based upon what the offense is doing or if he can exploit a weakness.
No matter what it looks like exactly, the defensive line will be learning new language, concepts, and a new approach. The quicker the DL can adjust and understand the new way of doing things the further along they can be when spring is over. They last thing you want is a defensive unit still getting their heads around all the new processes when fall comes around.
4) Will a guy we haven’t seen yet emerge and really impress the new coaches?
Defensive line coach Hank Hughes will have a lot of green, fresh players to coach. Most of the guys in his unit have had little to no-significant playing time. Typically with coaching changes some guys who were towards the bottom with the old staff can emerge and simply fit better with the new staff.
Likely candidates could be A J Natter, Mick Stoltenberg, and Freedom Akinmoladun. But the question remains, can one of them emerge and really impress the new coaches?
*** Josh Harvey ***