Countdown to Spring: Defensive Tackle

You lose your two starters on the defensive interior. Some would say it's panic-time. It's not quite that for Nebraska. With some experience coming back, this spring will be a showcase for returning talent and one name in particular everyone wants to watch. It is one of the few positions where we should actually learn a lot about what's going to happen in the future. Once spring is done, we should know a lot about what this group will look like even after fall is said and done.

Le Kevin Smith said one of the big reasons he came back to Nebraska for his senior year was none other than senior-to-be Ola Dagunduro. Between him and fellow senior Barry Cryer, they gave Smith and Titus Adams the much-needed rest they got almost none of the previous year.

Well, now Ola and Barry can figure out who they are going to have to thank, because they are going to need some rest as well, but that's only under the assumption that it's those two that actually start on the defensive interior. Do they? Well, this spring you could actually learn a lot about that position and who has the upper hand. We have our own belief as to who we think will come out on top, which we'll give to you now, top to bottom, how the defensive interior shakes out.

Ola Dagunduro (6-2, 290) – To look at his stats from last year, it's not going to impress anyone all that much. That is, of course, if you aren't aware of what his job was. It was pretty simple:

Give Le Kevin Smith a rest

Le Kevin was the man last year, both he and Titus Adams making up a solid defensive interior for the Huskers and Dagunduro's job was to give his guy a rest and for the team not to drop off that much (if at all) while he was in.

Dagunduro did a fine job of that and you got to see what the coaches liked so much about him as they recruited fim from Compton Community College.

He's got a good first step and works well in the mold of a three-technique player, but he's also good in plugging up the run. Plus, he plays with that same tenacity that Smith played with, which is another thing that gives him an edge this season.

I don't necessarily look for Ola to be another Le Kevin, but I think he'll do a good job. Now instead of spelling the man, he's THE man – a role which I think he'll take to very well.

Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 300) – Only by his senior year will we find out if the coaches wasted Suh in the first two games of the season or not. If Suh doesn't end up getting a medical, it will be one of the bigger wastes in recent memory.

This kid is going to be good

From his size and quickness, just the physical potential of Suh is daunting. But you put his attitude and work ethic into this, you got yourself a monster. Le Kevin Smith said of Suh once that he didn't know any better, because this kid was full out, all day, non-stop.

I fully expect that to transfer and while I like Cryer, I love this kid. This is his breakout year, where everyone gets to see just what he can do and I think it's going to drop some jaws. And the dropping should start this spring.

Barry Cryer (6-2, 275) – You don't mean to say thanks, but no thanks to Cryer for a year where he did everything he was supposed to do. That's not the case at all. But when you look at the scope of the competition he's going to have in front of him in the form of the guy we just named, you can be good and it might not be good enough.

Cryer is going to get his reps as all defensive tackles on the two-deep do. So, there's no shame in saying that he'll be going in second versus first. But Cryer should be officially in the role of backing up Suh or perhaps even Dagunduro, depending on how other things shake out. As it is, you'll still be seeing a lot of him, maybe even more than you did last year.

While there will be some added names into this mix and there could be some players moving from the outside to the inside, that's the gist of the principles for now. What will be interesting is how the principles coming in the fall will fit in.

Brandon Johnson – "The Beast", said to be a twin to Ola Dagunduro is already going to have some pressure on him to come to camp in shape and ready to contribute in the fall. With so many guys that could at least serve as some sort of back up, gone, it's up to Brandon to come in immediately and contribute. He's obviously got the size and like Ola, he's good in both getting up field or serving the role as a run-stopper. The question is, can he adjust as quickly as Ola did?

Well, that's kind of a trick question, but Dagunduro arrived in the spring, while Johnson arrives in the fall, so no matter what Johnson does, he won't be where Ola was last year at that time.

You can bet that defensive line coach John Blake and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove won't make it really difficult for someone to get in the mix. They can't, because it's absolutely vital that Johnson is ready to go the instant the season begins.

Like Dagunduro was to Smith and Cryer was to Adams, Johnson is going to have to be that to one of the linemen, who will be starting ahead of him. His biggest challenge is staying in shape until he's slated to arrive.

Seth Jensen – Just from a numbers standpoint, it would seem that Jensen could have an opportunity to play his first year. I don't necessarily expect it, but in order for him not to get that look, everything has to work perfectly on the two-deep and nobody can get hurt.

We know how that goes and one day you are standing on the sidelines cheering the guys on, thinking of the next year when you'll get a chance to play. The next moment, you are playing and that's just it goes.

So, I would expect there to be a rush to get Jensen ready as well and he certainly has the physical ability to play his freshman year. He's got a very good first step, he's pretty good at the point of attack and as you have seen from his video, he doesn't like people when he gets on the field.

I don't have any doubt that Seth will practice as if he will play. And I don't doubt that the coaches will prepare him for anything less than to be able to play. That said, if you don't have to waste a redshirt on a great potential talent, you don't. plain and simple.

Case in point: Ndamukong Suh

Now, the biggest question is, will Seth even be ready to go? With rehab following him for a couple of more months at least, he'll have his own issues with not staying in shape, but getting back in shape after all this rehab is set and done. He could end up being a redshirt before he ever steps on campus.

When it comes to recruiting, during the Recruiting Dinner in Lincoln, John Blake said it was his turn next year, referring to Dennis Wagner getting so offensive linemen this time around. Blake is going to want a few of his own when the next L.O.I.-day arrives.

And while some have slated for him to play offense, he could have one of his best nearby prospects in Cozad's own Luke Pinkelman. Here's a kid that almost had a state record in the shot put.

As a sophomore.

His upper body strength is sick and he'll only get bigger, stronger and faster, as he gets closer to college. There's no doubt the Nebraska track team wants him, but either Wagner or Blake will probably want a crack at this kid as well. He could be raw, but his physical upside is considerable, especially when you look at where he is at right now.

In over a year, this kid is going to be a monster.

That's the short and sweet of the defensive tackle position and tomorrow we take a hard look at the guys holding down the ends. I know you say defensive end isn't going to have much drama, but there could be more than you think. With this staff everyone starts over, back to square one, and then you see who wants it more.

We'll tell you who we think does and will get it after spring is all said and done.

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