With just one spring under Bo Pelini and his staff, there have been some changes. The defensive players are lighter and faster. The loss of some weight and size will help the defensive tackles that last year lacked the speed to get up field to cause chaos and enable them to even run sideline to sideline.
Here is the spring report card for the defensive tackles:
1. Ndamukong Suh - If there is a member of the defensive line who stands the most to gain by the change in coaching staffs then it might be Suh. Suh is a large DT, 6-4/300 pounds; however he moves so well for a big man and has that ability to move and shed blocks very well. What is even more exciting about Suh is that he is just a junior and provided that Suh doesn't have a monster year this year and decide to go pro, will have another year in this system and should only get better under the close direction of Coaches Carl Pelini and Bo Pelini.
The thing about Suh was that no matter how he tried, and he did indeed try, he wasn't going to win games on his own on defense. Especially when you are not doing what you are supposed to do in an effort to make the big play. Many times, especially against USC, the big play goes against you. Pelini and his style are about discipline. Suh could benefit a lot from that.
2. Shukree Barfield - The other part of the duo from Garden City, along with Dixon, Barfield benefited early by being able to enroll early in Lincoln at midterm. When Suh went down with an injury, Barfield was there and played well. A true shade or one-tech, Barfield could benefit a lot by a little coaching knowing where Bo Pelini was and the success that he has had with producing good defensive lineman. Barfield has what it takes to be an NFL defensive lineman.
The question is can he put it all together in a year? Like Maurice Purify, I am left to wonder how things might be if Barfield and Dixon had another year of eligibility. Potentially, Barfield could have a huge impact this year, especially since Suh has battled a lot of injuries in his time in Lincoln, and still being that #2 shade will allow you to get reps simply to keep fresh legs on the field. When that happens, there isn't a huge drop off from Suh to Barfield and the loss of 10 pounds will do Barfield some good.
3. Ben Martin - In 2006, Martin joined the recruiting class, but was listed as a tight end while having played offensive and defensive line. A little under the radar at the time, Martin was key for Lincoln Southwest's success in 2006 and leading then to an undefeated regular season record and a runner-up to the Class A title. Martin had the size and the speed out of high school, 6-4/260 with 4.6/40 speed, but it was a question of where can he fit in.
Martin found his way over to the defensive side of the ball and red-shirted. As a red shirt freshman, Martin saw limited action at the defensive tackle position. However, it's my impression that Martin, due to a lack of depth, could see more time at the nose tackle position and could really be in a good position for more playing time in the coming years. Martin impressed me in the spring, but still needs to do it on the field when it counts. Martin will not see a lot of time this fall, but could see enough to be a key player in 2009.
1. Kevin Dixon - Dixon was the player that many hoped would be in Lincoln early enough to be ready for last fall. Instead, Dixon was late joining his class and team mates in Lincoln as he finished up his academic requirements. However, Dixon was there long enough and came to Lincoln in good enough shape to start in games as early in the season as Wake Forest and USC. Dixon still appeared to not be the player that fans hoped he would be as he still only finished with 19 total tackles.
After a full year in Lincoln, Dixon looks poised to have a break out year. There are few on the team that look like the time with James Dobson, the strength and conditioning coach, was as well spent as it does with Dixon. Dixon is down 10 pounds according to Huskers.com, but I am taking a guess that he is still barely 280. Dixon was running sideline to sideline in the spring game and could be just what Carl Pelini and Bo Pelini need to get some pressure, inside-out, from the defensive tackle position.
2. Ty Steinkuhler - Steinkuhler will be one of the key veterans across the defensive line for Nebraska and is a playing that Nebraska could use from the defensive end positions to either one of the interior positions. Steinkuehler's athleticism and experience will help Nebraska when it comes to getting rest to players and allowing Nebraska the ability to gain some match ups that could help them out with the game plan when it comes to having a player like Steinkuhler.
If Dixon is one of the players that has benefited the most by a new S&C coach then Ty has been helped the second most. Talking to Mark King, Lincoln Southwest Head coach, this spring, he said that he has never seen Ty in this type of shape before. He also thought that Ty was in a position for a break out year this season. It's possible that Steinkuehler's veteran skills with some great conditioning and strength could help Ty not only challenge for playing time at the defensive tackle position, but at all of the positions across the defensive line.
3a/b. Terrence Moore/Jared Crick - I kind of thought that this year might be a year where Terrence Moore would "break out", but he is still sitting behind some talent at the DT position. Additionally, Moore is listed at 270 pounds which is light for a defensive tackle, but I would be surprised if he was actually that heavy. Then, you have the move of Jared Crick from the defensive end position to defensive tackle. This might be a sign that Moore isn't ready, Crick is too big for what Nebraska is looking for at DE or both.
Regardless, I am not sure what to expect out of either one of these players this year. Moore is still not physically ready to play from a size perspective and Crick is changing positions. It's possible, after seeing what Nebraska has done before, that Crick might not be done with position changes. Given Nebraska's new model for defensive tackles; shorter, quicker; could call for Crick to actually move to offense a lot like Chris Patrick and Mike Smith. At 6-6/270, he isn't too far away from where Smith was when he moved.
Overall, the defensive tackle positions are loaded in the top two positions, but then lack depth into the deeper reserves. This is the same song and dance that this team has across the board following the days under Bill Callahan. The one good thing that the defensive line positions have over most of the other positions is that they brought back all of their starters from last year and really didn't lose anyone. That being said, Nebraska is looking to use the defensive lineman differently and judging by the changes in body composition in Suh, Barfield, Dixon and Steinkuhler then they seem to be getting ready for what they are going to be asked to do. All of the aforementioned players happen to be the most experienced at their position which tells me that they are buying into the changes and are leading by example. There is also something that could be said about Nebraska potentially adding Baket Steinkuhler to the mix here. A lot like Ty that he could play multiple positions, the Huskers ahve a difficult question to answer with where to play him. The season the Huskers are going to need to lean heavily on the talent that they will have across their defensive front, especially from the defensive tackle positions, to have success on the defensive side of the ball.