Depth chart mania continues as we take a look at the official Husker depth chart and break it down for ourselves.
1 – Armanod Murillo
2 – Eric Hagg
An easy choice this time around, Murillo starting every game last year. He's got athleticism and I think where most players seem to struggle in former cornerbacks' coach Phil Elmassian's system, these guys should thrive, where there is expected to be a lot more zone allowing cornerbacks to make more plays on the ball.
Can you say interceptions? It would be nice to see the secondary actually outnumber the linebackers in interceptions, something they didn't do two years ago.
Hagg is an interesting prospect as he showed pretty well over the Spring, but would still have to be considered a raw athlete, impressive though he may be. I had always projected him to safety simply because of his size. But at around 6-2, if Hagg finds a home here, Nebraska is going to get a heck of a weapon.
Player to watch: Alfonzo Dennard's name came up late on the Husker radar, the young man signing to play for Nebraska without ever being even 300 miles close to the state. It was a grade issue which kept him out of his original school, North Carolina. He got qualified to play at Nebraska, though, and the common theme with him throughout his recruiting was just how much of a physical freak he was. Considered to be an incredibly instinctive player, if secondary coach Marvin Sanders can get him up to speed with the system, Dennard could find an early opportunity to play, especially with sophomore cornerback Anthony Blue still very questionable for the season.
1 – Anthony West
2 – Prince Amukamara
West didn't waste anytime sealing up this spot for himself once Blue was out of the Spring with the injury. He's always had the athleticism, West a highly touted running back coming out of high school. The questions he had to answer this Spring had to do with his flexibility, being able to explode off the backpedal and just having the instincts to play one of the most demanding positions on the field. To that end he satisfied Sanders enough to keep him in this spot, but watch out for his back up.
Amukamara's prowess from the prep level was always what he did with the ball and not necessarily what he did stopping other teams from pushing it down the field. But he showed a ton of athleticism over the Spring and some surprising tenaciousness at the point of attack. He's physical, even when his size and style on offense wouldn't say that much. But he is, and he's smart enough to get this system down and athletic enough that even if he's not the starter, you should expect to see him on the field, perhaps as the starting corner in nickel situations.
1 – Tyler Wortman
2 – Blake Lawrence
Once again the BUCK, the strongside linebacker position, has been characterized over recent years with players who had longer frames and able to work effectively both from the up and down position. The current staff isn't going away from that, but perhaps it's simply a matter of dealing with losing almost 70 games in starting experience across the face of the entire unit.
Tyler Wortman had already cemented himself as the starter here along with being the back up at the middle spot during the course of the Spring. He's 6-3 and around 225 pounds, but where he thrives is from his pure instincts for the position. He's got a nose for the ball, as they say, and his workmanlike attitude made him perhaps the defensive MVP for the entire game.
Lawrence doesn't have the experience, but he definitely has good instincts, because even though he's still not really where you'd like him to be physically, this young man can still lay a hit on ya which you could still feel after the game was done. He'll need even more size to add to the some-15 to 20 pounds he's already added, but he should be an all around solid contributor at the position.
1 – Phillip Dillard
2 – Colton Koehler
It's his time and as easy a decision as it was to put Joe Ganz in as the top QB, Dillard was a lock in the middle. Like many of the offensive linemen, he's gone Weight Watchers and dropped an eye-popping 30+ pounds to get close to the weight he was at Jenks high school in his home state of Oklahoma. You combine that leaner frame with his already off-the-hook intensity and pure passion for the game, Nebraska should see the overall play of his position elevated considerably from last year.
Koehler is a capable back up, and while he doesn't get you the raw athleticism or ability to work in coverage that Dillard does, this young man knows his assignments, where he's supposed to be and how to read situations on the fly. Half the battle sometimes is simply being in the position to make plays and Koehler is more than capable of finishing those plays off when he has the chance.
1 – Cody Glenn
2 – Latravis Washington
This story will probably be told for years, how a career running back switched to linebacker and was a starter basically after day one. That's what Glenn brings to the table though, which along with his already impressive resume' of athleticism and physical play, adds to the perhaps unsuspected nose he has for the ball. He gets in there, runs to the ball and isn't just willing to get in there and get dirty, but seems to like it a lot for someone who has played offense most of their life. You could say he's right where he belongs, and don't think that this move is a panic move by any stretch. We'll go out on what we think isn't a huge limb and say, because of the way Pelini used this position when he had Demorrio Williams in 2003, Glenn could lead the entire team in tackles when it's all said and done.
Washington has great upside physically and just to look at him you'd be impressed. But can he convert a dual-threat offensive mentality into the tenaciousness it takes to play defense? On paper it looks like he has everything and he has a definite passion for the game. But while we have had clear indications that Glenn warmed to the defense like it's been his home for years, Washington still has to show that he's got this nose for the ball and the willingness to get in there regardless of the situation.
Player to Watch: Austin Stafford was sidelined the entire Spring due to disciplinary issues, so it's not clear just how physically ready he's going to be for the fall. That doesn't take away from the upside he had coming in, Stafford possessing great explosion to the ball and the ability to run down most offensive players from behind. If he's up to weight, which was another issue he had, I could easily see him get a lot of meaningful reps this year.
1 – Larry Asante
2 – Major Culbert
I have to be honest in saying that I wouldn't have been surprised and almost expected Asante to get moved to the WILL linebacker position before the Spring session was concluded. Whether or not Glenn's emergence kept that from happening or it was never an option for the coaches in the first place, I can't say, but Sanders is no doubt smiling from the non-move. Asante is a ferocious hitter at times, but despite the fact that he was one of Nebraska's most prolific tacklers last year, it's one aspect that he could improve upon for this season. The guy can hit, and if the Spring was any indication, he's become another quarterback, hence leader, for the team.
The fact that Culbert is a safety at all is no doubt a nice thing for Major as this one-time west coast wonder was moved from safety, looked at briefly at corner then to running back only to wind up at linebacker last season. He's finally back where he really wants to play. That is good for the team, too, as Culbert is also very physical at the point of attack and I don't know many former prep running backs who put up over 2,000 yards in a season who didn't know how to run with the ball. Only this time around he's going to it instead. Culbert is just a very good athlete and he along with Asante will make a solid one-two punch for the hopefully reinvigorated "blackshirts."
1 – Rickey Thenarse
2 – Matt O'Hanlon
It's not a question of IF Rickey can play or IF he has the athleticism to compete or IF he has the mentality to be effective on defense. He's got all that. Boy oh boy, does he. It's been about direction, and for Sanders to take this missile run amok and turn him into a guided weapon. You want to know what the bad news about this is? Well, nothing really outside of Thenarse not being able to make that adjustment in the end, if that happened to be the case.
The bad news is if you remember 2003 and how many opportunities the Bullocks twins had on not just intercepting the ball, but absolutely hammering players with the ball in the open-field, you do have to have a certain amount of sympathy for those offensive players this particular year.
Imagine Thenarse with focus. Imagine Thenarse knowing exactly where he is supposed to be and when. If that happens, then imagine what it's going to be like to be the ball carrier on the other end of one of his "typical" hits.
I feel sorry for them already
O'Hanlon could serve the Ben Eisenhart role this year, meaning we know O'Hanlon to be a game competitor, already pretty up on the system and just like all good Nebraska walk-ons, he's willing to do whatever, go wherever and for however long, if he knows it will help the team. He doesn't have the devastating ability of the guy right in front of him, but don't kid yourself, this young man can hit.
1 – Zach Potter
2 – Clayton Sievers
It's kind of sad when you think about the year the defensive line as a whole had, because Potter actually did pretty darn well. It's not easy....well, let's restate that in saying that it's darn near impossible to take over for Adam Carriker and really meet all the expectations. But this former Creighton Prep standout did a heck of a job in his own right. It's just sad that he's going into his senior year, because one thing about Potter which are just now starting to see is if he could be physical and if so, how much.
It seems kind of ridiculous to say about someone that size that they can't be physical. Believe me, it can be done. But it would seem as Potter's responsibilities have increased dramatically, his intensity seems to be picking up along the way. That's good, because while this entire unit returns from last year, it's one which is going to have to be some seriously stable forces both inside and outside, and I think Potter most definitely fits the bill.
As for Sievers, I think I lost track of how many positions he's played, but it speaks to the kind of versatility he has. He's definitely a good enough athlete, and you never know how his added quickness at that spot could throw in some more wrinkles into a defense which has been completely revamped.
1 – Barry Turner
2 – Pierre Allen
It's about damn time
That's all I have to say. I have personally grown weary of watching one of Nebraska's best pass rushing threats thrown into the abyss of a "tweener" by adding all that ridiculous weight. Let's make Barry Sanders a fullback. Let's make Deion Sanders the nose tackle in goal line situations. Yes, I think it was just that ridiculous that you took the lethality right out of one of the most lethal quarterback rushers Nebraska COULD have had, and turned him into a kid built to stop the run.
Well, he's back, and getting down, down, down in weight and a lot closer to where he was when he arrived as one of the best prep pass rushers in the country. It may have taken a coaching change to finally get it right, but they did, and this kid should be something to watch this year.
Allen was physically going into the Spring a lot closer to where Turner was when he arrived as a freshmen. But perhaps a little thicker. This kid is lean, and no, he doesn't have the kind of quickness off the ball that an ideally-sized Turner has, but outside of skill position players, I don't think anyone on the team can say that. Allen is a strong force, a potential star in the future for the Huskers, and he's got the right attitude about this year and those beyond. It's about doing your job, accepting your role and finding someone to mangle.
But in a nice way, of course.
1 – Ndamukong Suh
2 – Kevin Dixon
3 – Shukree Barfield
To say Suh didn't take a step forward in just coming to even with the expectations is a slight understatement. Now, some of that couldn't be helped as offenses weren't stupid and did their best to cut, double-team or whatever they had to do to minimize his effectiveness. That being said, this is going to be a year where he'll have to make as many steps forward as he potentially took backward last year. Last year doesn't take away from his potential, though, which is staggering when you think about it. He's still quite capable of being one of the most dominating interior presences in the conference if not the country. He needs help on either side, but with the added pressure from the outside via a quicker-leaner defensive end group, Suh's opportunities could explode toward the positive side this time around.
Dixon being listed at number two here is a bit of a mystery, but that's only if you look at the nose tackle position as one where it's occupied by someone meant to take up space and at times, get pressure in the backfield. Getting into the backfield is Dixon's specialty as he actually should put on some weight so that he can hold up better in the middle. However, it's his quickness which is going to make him a solid weapon, which is why he is listed here as well as the number two spot at the DT position.
Barfield fits the stereotype of nose tackles, the 300+ pounder taking up a lot of room and usually proving to be very hard to move off the ball. Can he get up field though? Can he be effective in using leverage to hold his ground or to be able to work through a center/guard double-team? We honestly don't know at this point, and it's something we will have to see as the year progresses.
1 – Ty Steinkuhler
2 – Kevin Dixon
With experience both inside and outside along with the quickness to play either one effectively, Steinkuhler has cemented his spot here and might be one of the most well-rounded defensive linemen Nebraska has. He is one of those who may not be great at any one thing, but he's going to give you solid play in pretty much every facet of the game. Now he just needs to avoid injuries to be that impact player we think he can be.
Player to watch: You were probably wondering why I didn't put him on offense, but the defense could use someone like this, and where better to play than the position where the starter is his older brother? To be honest, Baker Steinkuhler could play here, defensive end or go to his original position in regard to recruiting, playing tackle or even at guard on offense.
But the defense could need him. I don't know that I would pull his redshirt to see if he could do something. I would have to be pretty sure before I would even think of potentially wasting a year of eligibility of a young man who has so much potential it's sick. But if you need him you need him and with his quickness, straight line speed, ferocity and the fact that he already played this position against some of the best in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he'd be hard to keep off the field.
I know everyone expects incredible things from this young man. I do, too. I am just not entirely certain from which position we will see that happen and when.