Nebraska Preview 2006 - Defense

Check out Pete Fiutak's breakdown of the 2006 Nebraska Defense. Pete Fiutak is a writer for College Football News, where this story was originally published.

Nebraska Cornhuskers Preview 2006 - Husker Defense

What you need to know ... All the press seems to be about the offense, but it's the defense that'll carry the Huskers to a big season. The front seven is loaded with talent, depth, and NFL prospects led by ends Adam Carriker and Jay Moore. Nebraska led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss, and should be among the best in the nation with all the great players up front and so many fantastic linebackers that the D might use a little 3-4. The question is the secondary that has speed, but needs to be more productive after starting to come on over the second half of last year.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Corey McKeon, 98
Sacks: Adam Carriker, 9.5
Interceptions: Corey McKeon, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Adam Carriker
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior FS Andrew Shanle
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Steve Octavien
Best pro prospect: Carriker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carriker, 2) DE Jay Moore, 3) LB Corey McKeon
Strength of the defense: Front seven, depth up front
Weakness of the defense:
Secondary depth

Defensive Line
Not only does the Husker D line have six All-Big 12 candidates, it has six solid pro prospects led by ends Adam Carriker and Jay Moore. Speed rusher Barry Turner isn't as big as the two starting ends, but he'll be every bit as dangerous when he gets on the field. Ola Dagunduro, Ndamukong Suh and Barry Cryer are soon to be Big 12 household names; the NFL scouts certainly know all about them. There won't be a better front four in America at getting into the backfield from all positions.
The key to the unit: Develop young talent. With the four starting seniors gone next year, there needs to be a little more of a rotation.

Defensive Line Rating: 10

Projected Starters
- DE Jay Moore, Sr. - 37 tackles, 3 sacks, 14 TFL, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes, 9 quarterback hurries
Moore is a huge, quick pass rusher who grew into more of an all-around force last year. He's not the player Adam Carriker is on the other side, but he'll make more than his share of big plays and should be camped out in opposing backfields all season long. He'll thrive with offenses needing to double-team Carriker on every play.

- DT Ola Dagunduro, Sr. - 22 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 broken up passes, 8 quarterback hurries
The 300-pound former JUCO transfer spent last year backing up LeKevin Smith on the nose turning into a reliable run defender. He'll get the starting nod this season where he should be a good anchor and a dangerous interior pass rusher after a year of coaching. He should be more polished.

- DT Barry Cryer, Sr. - 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 TFL
A backup at both tackle spots last season, the 280-pound Cryer saw time in every game but didn't produce too much. He's a pure inside pass rusher who got in the backfield for four of his six tackles highlighted by a sack in the Alamo Bowl win over Michigan.

- DE Adam Carriker, Sr. - 43 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 17 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 19 quarterback hurries
After an average 2004 thanks to an ankle injury, the 6-6, 294-pound Carriker blossomed into an unstoppable pass rushing force. He wasn't just great at getting to the quarterback, he was rock-solid against the run and made play after player when he wasn't double teamed. He's looking stronger and quicker this season and should be in the mix for All-America honors.

Top Backups
- DE Barry Turner, Soph. - 14 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 TFL, 6 quarterback hurries
A pure pass rushing specialist, the 6-3, 250-pound sophomore is coming off an impressive first season where he showed off his 4.5 speed setting the school's single season record for sacks. Not just a good defender, he's also a dangerous special teamer with two blocked field goals. He'll start out behind Jay Moore but will see more than his share of action.
- DT Ndamukong Suh, Soph. - 1 tackle
At 6-4 and 320 pounds, he's the biggest tackle in the mix getting a long look behind Ola Dagunduro. He's not just a big rock, he's quick enough to be a regular in the backfield. He'll also push for time behind Barry Cryer.

This is one of the Big 12's deepest and more productive corps with six players all able to start without a problem. Bo Ruud is an All-Big 12 performer who'll have a hard time getting a starting spot with the return of Steve Octavien from a broken leg. Phillip Dillard is a rising star in the middle, but he'll have to battle leading tackler Corey McKeon for time. With Stewart Bradley back after suffering a season-ending knee injury, the coaching staff has envious problem of trying to find time for all the talent.
The key to the unit: Staying healthy. If Octavien and Bradley are really back at the level they were at before getting hurt, this might be the Big 12's best linebacking corps.
Linebacker Rating: 9

Projected Starters
- Steve Octavien, Jr. - 4 tackles, 2 TFL
How good is Octavien? He's expected to knock third-leading tackler and All-Big 12 performer Bo Ruud out of a starting spot on the weakside. The star JUCO transfer of last season is the best combination of size, speed, and talent in the linebacking corps, and now he's ready to blow up after missing almost all of last year with a broken leg.

- Corey McKeon, Jr. - 98 tackles, 7 sacks, 22 TFL, 3 interceptions, 7 broken up passes, 11 quarterback hurries
McKeon turned into one of the shockers of the defense working his way past several great prospects start every game in the middle finishing as the team's leading tackler. He seemingly never missed a stop with 61 unassisted tackles to go along with his good pass rushing skills. While he's not all that huge at 6-1 and 225 pounds, he's as tough as they come.

- Stewart Bradley, Sr. - 26 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 interception, 7 quarterback hurries
Stewart was on the way to an all-star season when he was lost for the year with a knee injury. While he wasn't able to do much in spring ball, the 6-4, 245-pound senior will be ready to roll for the start of the season on the strongside. Versatile enough to play in the middle as well as on the outside, he'll move around where needed.

Top Backups
- Bo Ruud, Jr. - 80 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 14 TFL, 1 interception, 6 broken up passes, 10 TFL
Ruud stepped in when Steve Octavien went down and finished as the team's third leading tackler from the weakside. He's a smart, talented veteran who missed the Alamo Bowl against Michigan thanks to a broken arm, but he'll be more than fine to start the season. The coaching staff will find a spot for him to play even though projected starter Steve Octavien is too good to keep off the field.
- Lance Brandenburgh, Jr. - 23 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 broken up passes
The Academic All-Big 12 performer is a great backup on the strongside. He overcame a banged up leg to become a steady performer over the second half of the year as both a defender and a special teamer.
- Phillip Dillard, Soph. - 11 tackles, 1 TFL
Dillard got enough work as a true freshman to step in as a starter in the middle if needed. At 250 pounds, he's the biggest linebacker in the rotation and should be fantastic now that he knows what he's doing. He'll also see time on special teams.

Defensive Backs
There's speed to burn with talent on the corners to improve after an average start to last year, but more big plays need to be made. Lightning fast Cortney Grixby and Zachary Bowman have to make teams pay for throwing their way, while safeties Tierre Green and Andrew Shanle, who are even faster than the corners, have to prove they can hit a little bit. The depth isn't there quite yet; there will be huge problems if injuries hit early on.
The key to the unit: Play like the end of last year. This was a strong secondary over the second half of last season, but the production will only be duplicated if the safeties come through with consistent campaigns.
Secondary Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- CB Cortney Grixby, Jr. - 46 tackles, 1 interception, 10 TFL, 1 quarterback hurry
The 5-9, 170-pound junior isn't all that big, but he's smart, tough, and has next level speed and athleticism earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year. He was terrific over the second half of last year as a lockdown corner as well as a top punt returner averaging 10.4 yards per try.

- FS Andrew Shanle, Sr. - 10 tackles, 1 broken up pass
A good special teamer with tremendous speed, Shanle will take over for Blake Tiedtke where he'll fly to the ball; no one will outrun him. He has 32 games of starting experience, but he has to prove he can provide a little bit of pop and has to show he can consistently make plays when the ball is in the air. 

- SS Tierre Green, Jr. - 29 tackles, 4 broken up passes
Green made the switch from running back to corner to safety where he should become a force if he can be consistent. He has all the NFL measurables with elite speed in a 6-1, 200-pound frame. While he'll make some mistakes until he learns the job, he'll have unlimited range against both the pass and run.

- CB Zachary Bowman, Sr. - 27 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 broken up passes
Bowman had few problems handling himself after moving over from the JUCO ranks turning into a force as last year went on. The Alaska native is 6-2, 195 pounds, and extremely fast. Along with being an all-star caliber defender, he'll be a major player on special teams.

Top Backups
FS Brandon Rigoni, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 forced fumbles
The team's top special teamer will also see time behind Andrew Shanle at free safety. He's a smart defender who has 22 games of experience, but he's limited at only 5-6 and 185 pounds.
- CB Andre Jones, Jr.
The JUCO transfer went to Fresno City College after spending a year at Kentucky where he broke his leg in his true freshman season. At 6-0 and 192 pounds, he has great size, good ball skills, and tremendous speed.

Special Teams
As long as Dan Titchener or Tyler Kester can come close to replacing punter Sam Koch, the special teams should be excellent. Jordan Congdon should be in the hunt for All-Big 12 honors if he can start blasting from deep. Lightning fast Tierre Green will handle most of the kickoff returns after averaging 24.8 yards per try, and Cortney Grixby will be the punt returner after averaging 10.4 yards per try.
The key to the unit: Replace Koch. He wasn't just a fantastic punter, he was also terrific on kickoffs.
Special Teams Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- PK Jordan Congdon, Soph. - 19-23 FGs, 31-32 extra points
Congdon came through with a fantastic season proving to be clutch and consistent despite missing three short kicks. While he doesn't have the biggest leg around, he's rock-solid from 40 yards and in.

- P
Dan Titchener, Soph.
Titchener has to take over for the tremendous Sam Koch who cranked out 46.5 yards per kick. Can Nebraska still finish second in the nation in net punting with Titchener? No, but he should have decent numbers

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