1 – Ndamukong Suh
2 – Shukree Barfield
3 – Terrence Moore
The question isn't about Suh and how he'll do. I expect that Suh, given ample help on either side, has all-conference potential. It's how much he's asked to do during the course of a play and how much he's asked to do in regard to the amount of plays in a game.
Shukree offers solid depth on paper, but hasn't produced on the field to the point you could say he's a reliable back up. Barfield has the size, but can he be a two-gap player when needed, and can he cause at least some disruption in the backfield when called upon?
Moore is bigger than he was last year, which is good, because his ability to be physical at the point of attack is obviously important. But there was a little layoff over the Fall with a slight problem with his leg. That seems to be behind him, but Moore might still be a year away from being really viable for the field.
There's no doubt that Suh can be a dominant performer, but he'll only be able to do that with help along the rest of the face of the interior and with quality reps from a capable back up. Right now the assumption is that he'll get some of the former, but the latter is still up in the air.
1 – Ty Steinkuhler
2 – Jared Crick
If he's healthy Steinkuhler is the obvious starter here, especially with Kevin Dixon no longer with the team. But that's the issue: can he stay healthy? Steinkuhler already missed at least some time during the Fall as they gave a little rest to a chronic back issue. But if he is having issues with that now, however healthy he is at this moment, the worry of durability has to be there.
Crick has proven a lot over the Fall as he moved from end to the interior, but he's still obviously inexperienced, not having taken a snap in Division 1-A, and as much as the coaches say all these wonderful things about him, here is a position where there won't be any lack of tests.
During the course of a play many positions might be asked to do one thing or the other, but from a physical duress-standpoint, they might not be tested every single play of the game. Crick won't have that luxury as the trenches aren't forgiving to anyone with a lack of experience or intensity.
You have to think that Crick is not only going to play, but play often, because I have to think that as much as the coaches know they need Steinkuhler, they will govern his reps so that they can feel better about him hanging in there for the long haul.
That leaves a big question mark here, because teams will be testing the waters this year as they did last year, to see if they can have the same kind of success. Crick will get his tests early and often. How he responds could have a huge impact on how the defense as a whole does.
1 – Zach Potter
2 – Clayton Sievers
Potter has physically and mentally developed into a role he took over from former Husker Adam Carriker last year. Potter proved to be different than Carriker, of course, but with his size and athleticism Potter has a lot of potential for this season.
If he's physical at the point of attack, with his wing-span he's not the easiest guy to run around. Also, with his height, quarterbacks would probably be more inclined to tuck and go rather than try to take their chances on throwing over Pottter should he be in the position to make a play. Much like it goes for the rest of the defensive line, his success will be greatly dependent on the rest of the guys in the trenches. But Zach should be in store for a decent year.
While Sievers can't do physically a lot of what Potter can do or simply be the kind of obstacle Potter can be, Sievers has enough athleticism to make himself a viable edge rusher, and he's experienced enough on the line to be able to handle many of the one-on-one situations he'll see.
He'll get plenty of reps this year, especially if Potter will be asked to apply a lot of pressure, which we think that even from this side he will. But they simply won't be able to play him the same way they play Zach. It will be a little more finesse, but there are a lot of ways to make that work in what we can expect will be a defense built to be disruptive rather than glorified road blocks.
1 – Barry Turner
2 – Pierre Allen
With his weight down about 15 pounds, Turner is a lot closer to his sack-happy self of his freshman season. It's doubtful he will have the same kind of blistering quickness off the line he did his first year with the program, but he'll certainly be more of a pass rushing threat than he's been in the last couple of years. The added weight Turner has been sporting the last year or so made him more viable to stop the run, but I think now he becomes a truly versatile player who can work both in short yardage and obvious passing situations.
Allen is a physical specimen to look at, but we have to see just what he can do on the field. On paper he's got athleticism, size and by all accounts over the Fall, he's improved on his hands and footwork in being able to be effective slipping the tackle to get up field or getting of a block which allow him to pursue laterally.
There's a lot we simply don't know about him though. How will he do in just bending around the tackle? Can he meet and then get off chips from backs, receivers or tight ends? Can he be quick enough in backside pursuit, or how does he read the play in the backfield so that he knows where to be?
Game reps are the only answer to that question, but physically I think Allen hits the mark. He now just has to hit the field to get all the kinks and rust worked out of his game.
1 – Phillip Dillard
2 – Will Compton
This is Dillard's time now, and with the weight loss and renewed enthusiasm for the game and his coaches, this is setting up to be a big year for him. Also, many might have started labeling what Dillard's role is by how he played last year, and at the weight he played.
I would prefer to go back to just before he got to Nebraska, looking at him at what he can do athletically, side-to-side and how he does in pass coverage. Those are aspects of his game which nobody really got a chance to see, therefore not appreciate.
They are strengths for him, and his athleticism is very deceptive as is his ability to work in pass coverage. Dillard may not be long on height, but he's got great quickness, moves well to the ball and when it comes to impact, forget about it. As long as he stays healthy and the defensive line is more dependable than it was last year, this is going to be a solid year for the Oklahoma native.
For Compton, this is a precarious position to be put into, listed second string without having played a snap. Well, it's not like the coaches really have any choice, and Compton is one injury away for Dillard from being a potential contributor to being THE guy.
Physically he looks the part, think in the right areas, but athletic for the most part. But I would be lying if I said I thought that he was absolutely ready for what he was about to see. What I worry about with him isn't just the mistakes a freshman is prone to make, but the kind of athleticism he has when moving toward the ball.
It's not just speed that makes you look fast on the field, but your ability to read a play quickly and explode toward the ball. This is one key area where I think Compton still needs to develop. You can't possibly expect him to know this defense to the point it's instinctive. That means he'll have to use athleticism and common sense to know what to do in situations which simply aren't engrained. That's going to be tough, and it won't all be roses for the Missouri native. But as long as Dillard stays up right the entire year, he should have solid reps to get better, but just as solid time on the sideline watching and learning along the way.
Strong side Linebacker (BUCK)
1 – Tyler Wortman
2 – Sean Fisher
The sad truth about the situation here is that while Wortman is going to be a solid player for Nebraska, and will more than likely won't hurt his team with stupid mistakes, he's not going to be athletic core of the group, nor will he be the most physically imposing. He's dependable, which is almost as bad as saying someone is "nice", the idea being that you are good, but maybe not quite a star.
I actually think Wortman could be good enough to be seen as a Lance Brandenburgh type, and as any Husker fan knows, that's a hell of a compliment. Gritty at the point of impact, a sure tackler and someone who knows where to be and when.
If this were last year's system I think Wortman would be perfect, as he would more instinctive about things than trying to read and react. But he's solid. Not spectacular, but sometimes it's not a bad thing being a quarterback who might not win you games, but doesn't do the things which could cost you a game. I think he'll be that type of guy.
As for Fisher, while he's a tough player, an athletic player and he's very lean and in shape, I really question just how durable he can be his first year, and being almost 6-6 and weighing under 240. If you are a part-time guy, that is one thing, but should he get extended time I wonder just how he's going to hold up. It's one thing to last an entire year being the guy in Class A football in Nebraska. It's another to be asked to play consistent reps in Division 1-A. We're no doubt going to find the answer to some of those concerns. Let's just hope for him that spelling and not starting, is all he will be asked to do this year.
Weak side Linebacker
1 – Cody Glenn
2 – Blake Lawrence
It's finally here – the chance to see what all the buzz was about as Glenn, a converted running back, takes to the defensive side as a starter. There's little doubt that he has the athleticism, and he's more than tough enough for the position. But how about having a nose for the ball? How about pass coverage? How about just the instincts to read plays from a defensive player's point of view? It would be hard to think that he has those, because much of his playing days have been on the offensive side. But his athleticism can make up for a lot. Also, everything indicates that he's a gamer, which means he may not be fluid and perfect in his technique, but will make up for a lot of that with pure effort. I'd agree with him being number one, but it's for two reasons:
One – he's easily the most able the stand up to a pounding for an entire game, between him and Lawrence who sits at number two
Two – He has the most ability from an athletic standpoint to make plays side-to-side and the athleticism to chase down most any player on the other side of the ball.
Lawrence makes the move over here from the strong side due to Latravis Washington going down this Fall to an injury. From a physical standpoint I don't know that this position suits Lawrence, but he's a lot farther along physically than he was just a year ago.
I have seen the guy practice and play some, so I don't have any doubts that he can do the job from the aspect of understanding what he's supposed to do. It's speed, explosion and just flowing to the ball where I will be paying close attention. Lawrence is a good finisher. There's no doubt about that. It's just being able to track down the plays fast enough so that he can lay some of those licks on ball carriers, which he was so renowned for from the prep level.
1 – Larry Asante
2 – Major Culbert
I think you will start to see a little of what we only really glimpsed last year in Asante. That's saying something, because he was amongst the leaders on the team in tackles. But between the team as a whole not tackling all that well and Asante having to do a lot to make up for what others weren't doing, I don't think you really got to see him in an element where he could do what safeties usually do in Pelini's system, and that is make plays.
Asante is a natural leader amongst this group, always vocal, and there's no doubt about his athleticism. As with everyone, as long as he stays healthy he should have a fine year.
Culbert has been making his move as he is back to the position where he wanted to be all along. He doesn't have Asante's size, but you could argue that he has just as much athleticism, and I think that he's football smart.
It's not that he understands the playbook or schemes any better than anyone else, but I think Culbert, when put in situations where he has to think quickly, usually makes the right decision. He and Asante are going to be a nice one-two punch at the position.
1 – Rickey Thenarse
2 – Matt O'Hanlon
It's not about if he can play, but if he knows where he's going. That's the only knock on Thenarse. He's got the size, speed, athleticism and most definitely aggressive. But can he consistently play within the system? There honestly isn't anything else holding him back, but it's been enough for Head Coach Bo Pelini to say as recently as today that Matt O'Hanlon could start in front of Rickey if they thought it was going to be the best option for the team.
That means Rickey still isn't getting it or isn't getting it to the point that coaches think they can trust him to be both playmaker and smart player at the same time.
O'Hanlon is a decent player, but his play is characterized by its physical nature and by his motor, which doesn't have an off-switch. O'Hanlon isn't the fastest guy on the field, but his translation from field-turn 40s to football speed is better than many you'll see.
He's a football player, and he understands role within the system, and much like was indicated before, he may not win you games, but he will most definitely not lose you games with a lot of mental breakdowns.
That's the one area where Thenarse seems to simply have issues as of right now, getting it to the point the coaches trust him to be smart along with being ferocious and fast. One without the other isn't going to do Nebraska a lot of good.
1 – Anthony West
2 – Prince Amukamara
I know some have been shopping West out of this position since he took it over, many believing that West is bound for safety, a position which suits him a little better. If Nebraska played nothing but press coverage, I might be inclined to agree. But they don't, and while I don't see West as a true cover corner, I think he's solid and athletic enough to be dependable in a lot of situations, especially if he isn't put on an island for more than three seconds.
I have to admit to being surprised at just how physical Amukamara was over the Spring, the finesse-like ball carrier in high school now becoming a bit of a ferocious tackler on defense. Furthermore, you only have to ask wide receiver Niles Paul at how good of a cover corner he can be as Paul has said on a number of occasions that you just can't shake the guy.
I'd expect Amukamara to get the starting nod in nickel situations, but I do also expect that he'll win this starting job before it's all said and done. I like West, but I think what West gives you Amukamara gives you and just a little more. It's not often you can get his size with his kind of athleticism, especially working out of a backpedal. But Prince has it, and I think you will see him mature and flourish throughout the year.
1 – Armando Murillo
2 – Eric Hagg
Murillo, having started every game last year, is the obvious choice for the top spot here. It also doesn't hurt that he's a pretty darn good corner. He may not completely fit the physical mold of the apparent trend on the Nebraska back end, but he's easily Nebraska's best cornerback right now.
The fact that Hagg is listed second at all when you consider his size, is a testament to the kind of athleticism he has. Think for a moment, or even look it up, there aren't many even marginal cornerbacks anywhere who are 6-3.
There's just so much that goes into being a cornerback from explosion to hips, which aren't found very often in players much over 6-1 much less at Hagg's listed height. He'll get reps. You don't have to worry about that as he is listed number two here and number two in nickel packages as well.
I'm very eager to see just what he can do, because from his size alone I figured for certain that he was a safety waiting to happen. But if he can work out at corner, what a catch Nebraska got, and yes, you have to give the old staff credit for reeling this one in.
On a side note, and going out of my norm not to even consider players who aren't on this particular depth chart, don't be surprised to see true freshman Alfonzo Dennard to get reps either here or at the other corner spot. He's physically very capable now, but he still needs to grasp the system.
1 - T.J. O'Leary
2 – Justin Baumgartner
1 – Dan Titchener
2 - Jake Wesch
1 – Alex Henery
2 - Adi Kunalic
Titchener is such a no-brainer, there really isn't any need to go into what we expect from him outside of him being one of the better punters in the conference. O'Leary is also equally obvious and we don't really need to elaborate on that anymore.
But it would seem that the shared duties between Henery being the guy on field goals and Kunalic doing kickoffs, isn't going to change any time soon.
We all know that Kunalic has a cannon for a leg, putting it into the end zone with nation-leading efficiency last year, and Henery just makes field goals.
It's a nice combination, one which you don't see very often. That's for a couple reasons, the biggest being that most teams don't have two kickers of this quality and two, most kickers don't like sharing this kind of duty. Usually one will just opt out and go someplace else, but it's all good for Nebraska with both staying, because they get a cannon on kickoffs in Kunalic and consistency in field goals and extra points from Henery. Not a bad problem to have if you are Nebraska.