The biggest question going into the fall, and considering the defensive style of Bo Pelini, is do any of the players on the current roster look like the defensive ends that Bo Pelini wants and needs? There has been an obvious change of some of the players' body compositions getting to the speed that Bo Pelini might be looking for off of the edge.
Here is the post-spring report card for the defensive ends:
STRONG DEFENSIVE END
1. Zach Potter - Leading up to his junior year, Potter had only made three tackles in his sophomore year, but had a lot to do with special teams. To put it lightly, Potter was a huge question mark for a defense that needed to find a suitable replacement for the departed Adam Carriker. As a junior, Potter played in all 12 games, starting 11 of them, and went on to honorable mention all-Big 12 honors from the coaches.
Potter was a bright spot on a defense that just didn't have a lot to brag about. Potter, whose motor and attitude were doubted up to last year, crept out from the doubt and negativity to be a top producer on defense. If there is a knock on Potter, it might be that he is simply not vocal enough on the field. Nebraska is looking for vocal leaders on both sides of the football and Potter is one that could potentially step up into that role. There is another question about the body-type of Potter and if that is what this defense is looking for? You see a move of a similar bodied player, Jared Crick, has already happened. Big knock is leadership, but expect Potter to have a good year.
2. Pierre Allen - Allen emerged as a red shirt freshman to see time as the number 2 at the "base end" position. Out of high school, Allen was known to be a two-sport standout for Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver in both football and basketball. It was obvious to me, last season, that Allen had put on a lot between his senior year of high school to his red shirt freshman year.
While his weight appears to be even, according to last year's and this year's roster, it's easy to see and say that Allen's body has changed. If there was one thing about the defensive line under Bill Callahan and Dave Kennedy, it's that they got big and mobility and agility was given up in large part to massive frames and a lot of weight. Now the weight may not have changed with Allen, but it's a better looking 265 that should allow him to fit better into how and what Pelini and the rest of the defensive staff will expect out of the play of the defensive ends. Now, Allen needs to take a step forward as a player. This could be a make or break year for him. Does he fit or doesn't he?
3. William Yancy - Yancy got a chance to get a needed red shirt year last year, but still ended up getting hurt (shoulder). Yancy is 100% recovered from that injury and could be in a position to make the changes that will be needed to see the field better than Allen because of body type. Yancy is still listed at 245, but looks light for that size and could be that "lighter" style of defensive end that Nebraska is looking for off of the edge to maximize speed.
Too bad for Yancy that he didn't get a lot of time last year due to injury. This year will be a little force-fed to Yancy if he has any hopes of getting on the field this year. Knock against Yancy, coming out of high school, was his motor. Simply put, players without intensity and without a motor need not apply for a Bo Pelini led defense. Pelini's defense is based upon 100% effort from all players, even if you are doing something wrong on the field. Yancy will need to play at a high level regardless to get on the field after Turner and Allen. Another year, or a year considering Yancy's injury last year, could do him some good in the system.
WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END
1. Barry Turner - Barry Turner has been a household name for Nebraska fans since his freshman year when he tallied six sacks, setting a Nebraska record, and made freshman All-American honors. As a sophomore his production numbers dipped considerably to just 1.5 sacks, but then doubled that total for his junior year. The knock on Turner hasn't been that he can rush the passer. The knock on Turner has pertained to his ability or inability to be a down to down defensive end who can defend the pass as well as the run.
In an effort to better his chances against the run, Turner went from a listed 250 his sophomore year to 265 and was probably over 270 coming into the season after the summer. The extra weight may have aided his ability to stop the run a little, but it was obvious that at that weight Turner was just a little bit too big. Now listed at 260, Turner should be a better body composition under Coach Dobson that will allow him to still stay athletic, but upwards of 20 pounds heavier than when he came to Lincoln. Turner, along with Potter, should be two of the key cogs of this defensive line because of their previous production at Nebraska. Turner could be in for a big year if Nebraska plans to bring pressure from a lot of different positions, but people will always remember how Bo Pelini used DeMorrio Williams as a walked up LB to the line of scrimmage. Turner may be the best pass rusher on the team, currently.
2. Clayton Sievers - It seems that a Sievers has basically been around in Lincoln since Frank Solich was once the head coach. Wait, there has been (Chad Sievers a SR in 04-05 and Clayton a FR in 04-05). Regardless, it seems like Clayton has been in Lincoln for a long time, partly because of that, but due in another part because he has been moved around a lot on the field. As a red shirt freshman, Clayton was a tight end, to the SAM linebacker position as a sophomore and last year was a backup defensive end. This year marks the first time that Sievers will be at the same in consecutive years.
Regardless of that fact, Sievers will have an opportunity to see some good playing time and lead a young and learning defense this fall. Sievers' ability to change positions, including different sides of the football, has paid dividends for Nebraska so far. Getting Sievers now up to speed as far as just a change in the defense and terminology should be a fairly simple process in comparison to what he has been asked to do before. Sievers will be one of the most experienced and seasoned players on the defensive side of the ball, but just not all at the same position. He is serviceable, but can't unseat Turner as a starter.
3. David Harvey - Harvey, much like Clayton Sievers, has been moved around a little bit in his career at Nebraska. As a red shirt freshman, Harvey worked out as a tight end in Lincoln. In the fall of his red shirt freshman year, he made the move to the defensive end position and that is where he is at now. Not a lot has been said about Harvey this spring, or about him in general up to this point in his career, but there is a chance for him to have some opportunities this fall to play.
What Harvey might be really known for is being a failed attempt to lure A.J. Wallace to Lincoln the year after Harvey signed with Nebraska. Harvey does have adequate height and size. There are some things that pop out at you when you watch him go through drills about his physical and athletic ability. Don't throw in the towel just yet as Harvey is only in his red shirt sophomore year, but his lack of snaps last year on defense makes this not only a learning spring and year for Harvey, but there is going to be some getting up to speed that needs to happen as well.
Overall, this is a group of players that half have experience and the other half doesn't. There is some talent here, but I would expect the seniors to take the majority of the reps here at these two positions, along with Pierre Allen, but also see some nickel fronts that allows Bo Pelini to get more speed on the field with that fourth "linebacker". The reason why I put linebacker in quotations is because that speed guy or "linebacker" might actually be a player like Cody Glenn, LaTravis Washington or incoming freshman Josh Williams or Cameron Meredith. I would look for Pelini to do something similar to his usage of DeMorrio Williams when Pelini was the DC of the Cornhuskers. This is still a talented and deep group of players. I think that there is still time for players like Allen, Yancy and even Harvey to change their body types to more of the Pelini-DE staying more athletic and quicker as opposed to big.