Countdown to Spring: The D-Line

Our countdown to Spring continues with the defensive line. Many of the starters should be known, but depth is a big mystery right now. That should be settled by the time Spring is finished.

  Here's what we know:

Ndamukong Suh is back, and will be the anchor for that entire

It's been awhile, but Barry Turner
should be back with his prowess
to rush the passer
defensive line.

That's the big one

Defensive ends Barry Turner and Pierre Allen return, and will provide solid experience at both end spots. Allen served in place of Turner when he went down with a season-ending injury at the beginning of last season, and served as a solid contributor throughout the course of the year.

In Allen's first game subbing in for Turner he notched a team-high 10 tackles. From that point Allen proved to be very athletic in pursuit, and versatile enough that you didn't see him as a major contributor only in certain down-and-distance situations.

Starting 11 games Allen finished the season fourth on the team in tackles with 52, 10 of which were for loss, and half of those were quarterback sacks. Pierre also added one forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and one pass deflection.

The questions about Turner exist mainly around him coming off an extensive rehab. Should that be a non-issue, Turner is going to be a valuable addition.

Voted as a freshman  All-American by the Football Writers Association, Turner, then at a svelte 245 pounds, was a pass-rushing nightmare for quarterbacks. Since that time Turner found himself having to physically get bigger to fit the old defensive system. That put a serious crimp on his ability to get around the edge with the same kind of quickness, ultimately negating one of Turner's biggest strengths.

It's doubtful Turner will ever get back to his playing weight as a freshman, but he's close, and with his increased muscle mass, the 265 pounds he's reported to weigh now is going to put him back into the mold of a potent pass rusher.

That's what we know.

Unfortunately, that means there is a lot we don't know about how this defensive line is going to look. The most important spot which has to be figured out this Spring, though, is the spot to Suh's immediate left.

Only after last year was said and done did we really appreciate what a compliment former Husker Ty Steinkuhler was to Suh and Suh to him. You knew teams were going to have to double Suh. It was then up to Steinkuhler to pick up the slack, take advantage of single-blocking and be a disruption up-field.

Steinkuhler did that and then some, ranking sixth on the team in tackles with 48, eight for loss, 2.5 of those being sacks. Steinkuhler also added three quarterback hurries along with a forced fumble.

So, who takes his place?

The odds-on favorite this Spring is sophomore Jared Crick, who like Steinkuhler, moved from the defensive end spot to add depth and some quickness on the interior. He's ideal for this spot as Crick still; retains that quickness, but at 6-6, 280, he's still a very formidable tackle in run-stopping situations. Crick only played spare reps last year, notching two tackles and a quarterback hurry in the nine games he played. But if you want a favorite for this spot this Spring, he's probably it.

At 6-3 275 pounds, sophomore Terrence Moore physically fits the bill as well.  Like Crick Moore only got occasional reps, but in those seven games played Moore still managed to notch two sacks which made up a fourth of the total tackles he had on the season. The questions surrounding Moore, like Crick, are what he'll be able to do for an entire game. It's a lot different being the man versus subbing for him.

Terrence Moore could play either DT
or NT this year
Moore is another who you should expect to hear a lot about over Spring as the coaches try and get this rotation hammered out.

The name everyone has been wanting to hear and will definitely hear more of this Spring is the younger brother of Ty Steinkuhler, redshirt freshman Baker Steinkuhler. There's no doubt he'll athletically meet the standards as his almost freakish athleticism is well known. At 6-6 and 290 pounds, he's as put together as you are likely to see of any defensive lineman. But I think there's still a question as to just what position he'll work at the most this Spring.

It shouldn't come as a surprise if you see him work both at DT and at NT, because there will be as much emphasis in getting Suh some quality rest during games as there will be finding the top guy at the three-technique. Steinkuhler has the athleticism to play both, and the compliment to Baker is that he can be seen as a quality player at either spot. But where he goes might have more to do with what other players aren't doing as opposed to what he's doing.

That brings us to depth, and across the board this is an issue.

Starting with the defensive-end spot, you are going to see a host of names this Spring, some of whom really need to step up and be both heard and seen:

Cameron Meredith – Redshirt Freshman – A solidly built defensive end, at 6-4, 250, Meredith has the physical make up to be both an effective pass rusher and run stopper. Dating back to Meredith's high school film, what he also has which will help him as much as his athleticism, is his motor. He's simply tenacious, and with all of his physical potential there, he could and should be an impact guy this Spring.

Josh Williams – Redshirt Freshman – Williams has the motor Meredith has, but to look at them physically, Williams is cut. He's lean. He's listed at 6-4, 225, but he might be a bit closer to Meredith in weight than that. But because of how lean he is, you can't really tell. What he brings, though, outside of an impressive physique, is superb

Jared Crick should have his eye
on the starting spot at DT. It
could be there for the taking.
athleticism off the edge. It's hard to see just how Defensive Line Coach/Defensive Coordinator Carl Pelini sees this group looking as far as just what he wants, physically. But if he's looking for ideal defensive ends in pass rushing situations, Williams should fill that role nicely. But he'll have to be an all-around guy in order to be that consistent number two for right now. This Spring is a perfect time to find out just how physical he is, and he versatile he is in trying to perform everything asked of him.

William Yancy – Sophomore – You might say we have been waiting for Yancy to step up. There might have been the excuse that all anyone was going to be able to do last year was whatever they could in substitution, because the starters were definitely set. And due to the kind of stamina last year's starters had from solid conditioning, substitutions weren't as liberal as we have seen at times. Yancy had to deal with shoulder surgery his first year, but after another year of basically waiting this is going to be his time where he needs to show what he can do. At 6-4, 245 lbs., Yancy seems to have the physical versatility to serve the all-around role. But now we have to see him hit that potential this Spring. On paper he looks good. He'll have to look just as good on the field this Spring to make the two deep going into the off-season.

David Harvey – Senior – We have been wondering, perhaps waiting for Harvey's name to show up. At 6-4 and around 270 he certainly looks the part. From his early days at Nebraska of being tabbed as potentially a tight end instead of a defensive end, his athleticism has been potentially promising. But so far potential is what it has remained. At this point it's hard to know if he's going to break into the lineup. Like many he looks the part, has the numbers and could be a viable player. But as they say, until it happens, it's simply hard to know. If he's going to make a push for a spot on the two-deep this is the time where he has to do it. It's probably his last real opportunity to show what he can do.

Tyrone Fahie – Junior – His story is certain well-known, the armed forces veteran who served two tours in Iraq, now trying to find his way as a student-athlete at Nebraska. There's a lot to be said simply for the leadership he can bring, but at 6-3, 255 pounds, I think we should expect him to do something on the field as well. Like everyone the Spring is an audition. But unlike the Fall, the Spring is where the most hitting is done and where you get tested most in regard to your versatility. Everyone is rooting for Fahie for all the right reasons. But I'd bet if you asked him he'd just as soon add something a little more tangible to the team in the way of playing time versus solely as a person who should have maturity well beyond their years. As it is, people will be watching him this Spring to see if he can make some noise.

Finally healthy, Quintin Toailoa could
be a big help in giving Suh
some quality rest this season.

There are a host of other players we should expect to hear from this Spring, including senior Nick Covey, who has gone from DE to LB back to DE, and never really found a home. Injuries have plagued him most of his career, but he should have the athleticism to be a solid contributor in passing situations. Or maybe he can move back to LB. We'll see. Sophomore Luke Lingenfelter is another who has promise, and at 6-4, 250, he's got a great built and typical to Nebraska kids, a great motor as well. If we have a darkhorse for the Spring, it would be Justin Jackson, the 6-3, 230 pound lineman from Roca, Nebraska. He seems to have a solid motor, good athleticism and early reports are that he's a gamer. We'll eagerly await the Spring to see what he can do.

Moving back to the interior it's the same theme, but there won't be as many viable candidates, because recruiting at this position has suffered for a few years now. But there are some pretty solid guys who have a chance to get into the mix this year:

Quintin Toailoa – Redshirt Freshman – Coming off consecutive shoulder surgeries, one to each side, Toailoa is someone we can only go off what we see in person and what he did at the prep level. The one thing which I would focus on doesn't really have anything to do with numbers he put up, but where he's physically at right now. From all we know he's good to go for the Spring, and 6-4, 300 there's no doubt where we figure to slot him in from the outset. Suh is going to need depth. The logical assumption is that coming out of this Spring it's going to be one of the guys who came in with the most experience. What Toailoa needs to do during this valuable time is prove that he's got the athleticism to be an up field rusher, but he can also use that size to maintain his spot on the line. It's impossible to know how he will combine the two. We still don't know what he can do against a line of 300 pounders hell bent on making sure he doesn't do anything. So, for me that's the question: Can he be both physical and athletic? We'll see.

Ben Martin – Junior – Since his move over from offense, Martin hasn't really found a home, but it seemed at times that he flashed enough to give people hope that he was going to be a force. At one point he seemed the logical choice to back up Steinkuhler this year, especially after former Husker defensive end Kevin Dixon was dismissed from the team. But when Crick made the move inside, Martin kind of got lost in the shuffle, and we really didn't see much of him since. Your junior year isn't your final year to make an impression, but this Spring Martin needs to step up and make himself seen. This position might not be deep overall, but there's enough solid competition that if Martin wants to be consistent reps and be a legit part of that two deep, he's going to have to create some separation now. On paper, though, at 6-4, 275, can he? I think he has the athleticism, but versatility could be the key.

There is, of course, the possibility that some players from the outside could be moved inside to offer some potential quickness at the defensive tackle spot. And if they can find that, you might see players like Crick find a little more time playing behind Suh.

But this Spring, I'd look for the real experiment to be in finding the spot for Steinkuhler, and then working the depth around that. I'm not saying he's the deal breaker on what he does and how he does it, but he's got enough potential and versatility that where he goes should have a domino effect along that entire interior. Crick seems like the guy at DT right now, but if someone doesn't step up behind Suh he may have to move there to offer some quality reps from the bench.

But that's what Spring is for. There may be no starters named at quarterback, but I am betting that this is a position which will have a real identity by the time the Spring Game comes and goes.

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