Nebraska fall camp is still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the season.
In this segment, we look at reasons to be excited (and concerned) about the Nebraska defense.
The Blackshirts struggled last season to stay healthy and had very little time as a cohesive unit to build chemistry. Injuries are part of the game of football, but luck wasn’t on Nebraska’s side in 2015.
Projected 2016 starters Josh Banderas, Dedrick Young, Freedom Akinmoladun, Kevin Maurice and Michael Rose-Ivey all missed time last year. In addition, projected starters Aaron Williams and Chris Jones missed time during the spring.
Nebraska fans hope those players have put the injury bug behind them.
Replacing three starters up front
The combination of Greg McMullen, Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins had 76 starts between the three of them. All three could have been back in 2016, but chose different paths. Even the departure of self-made starter Kevin Williams will make replacing the defensive line two-deep tough this fall.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackles Carlos and Khalil Davis appear ready to make the jump, but neither has been thrown into the fire. Talks about the two maybe not being here for their full career are to say the least premature.
While McMullen was never much of a pass rushing threat, he was an average Big Ten defensive end. A position that lacks solids depth, the Huskers hope Freedom Akinmoladun continues his progress and they can get a solid contribution from someone other than just Ross Dzuris.
THE RETURN OF JOHN PARRELLA
After frankly not getting enough out of his talent last year and doing very little on the recruiting trail, defensive line coach Hank Hughes is gone. His replacement - a former Blackshirt himself.
After a long NFL career as a defensive tackle and a coaching stop at Northern Michigan, JohnParrella returns home to take over a position in need of more consistent play.
"I think any former player, who had success at his college, would like to go back and coach there. It's sort of a no-brainer,” said the coach when he was hired.
Parrella, who has to replace three starters up front, has a young crop of talent.
"We are just trying to get them game ready," said Parrella. "Every kid. We are trying to get them ready to play in the game and where they can help you. We are a long ways from that as a group, but we are getting there."
Kalu and Jones
Nebraska was No. 121 in passing yards allowed in 2015, but the combination of starters Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones really came on late in the season after somewhat of a revolving door at the position.
“I’m pretty excited about Chris,” Nebraska defensive backs coach Brian Stewart told reporters, including the Omaha World Herald. “I think those starting two (also Joshua Kalu), they’re doing a good job. They’re giving us everything every practice, and their intensity has been what we wanted.”
The linebacker depth
A group that was better than expected in 2015, the Nebraska linebacker position looks promising next season with every starter back and a group of young hungry second-year players looking to make a contribution.
Linebacker coach Trent Bray’s efforts were well praised by Huskers fans throughout the fall. Continuity was a luxury the first-year position coach didn’t experience. Five different linebackers started in the fall and the same three starting week to week was limited.
“Whoever was up, those guys in the room were really positive and helped each other a great deal,” said Bray. “It helped a lot, because a lot of guys had to play.”
Did we mention everyone returns from 2015?