And the starter is........(Defense)

With the offense out of the way, we now take a look at the defensive side of the ball. The new staff should have a major affect on this line-up as it's going to be just like starting over, even for the veterans on the team. Same look, new system and a whole new attitude. Some are going to fall off into oblivion and some will rise to the occasion. Question is, which ones will they be. This is my take.

The Position: Nose Tackle

The Candidates: Ryon Bingham, Titus Adams, LeKevin Smith, Jason Lohr, Jared Helming

Question marks: Jason Lohr, Jared Helming - The question behind Jason Lohr is obvious. Can he or will he get his medical for the year? Jason has a load of experience, but it's experience that exists as a one-time advantage, that being long gone, the one-time youngsters now bolstering their own good deal of experience. What Jason does have is some serious intensity for the game, but is that enough to overtake some of the serious talent in front of him. Jared is a question mark simply because this depth chart is so foreboding. With his lack of experience and the depth coming back, it's going to be very difficult for him to get into the top two. His one advantage would be if NU uses a similar system as they did last year, literally platooning at the position, the concept being keeping the interior line always fresh. He's a stud in the making. I'm just not sure when he's going to get a real shot to get in there.

50/50: - Titus Adams - With the experiments at RE for Adams last year, it was obvious that NU was doing two things, getting a great player on the field and addressing some serious depth problems at the RE position. Though depth at RE won't be abyss-like by any stretch, I wouldn't expect Adams to see a lot of time there, so his battle moves back to the inside. Titus is a solid player, but between the two players he has to beat out for some real time, it's going to be a major mountain to climb.

Biggest Battle: Ryon Bingham vs. LeKevin Smith - I don't know that this battle will mean anything in the end. As I pointed out and as you know from last year, the "back-ups" saw just as much time on the line as the starters did, so whoever was named the starter, that was nice for bragging rights, but that's about it. If it does come down to a battle for the top spot though, this is one battle nobody would want to miss. You have the sheer brute power of Bingham vs. someone who is pretty darn strong in his own right, but has some remarkable side-to-side speed. Since he came back from his knee problems, LeKevin has steadily proven why he was so touted coming out of high school. He's the full package, top to bottom. LeKevin is possibly the best all-around interior defensive lineman NU has and that's why he gets my early nod.

Starting Line-Up: LeKevin Smith

The Position: Defensive Tackle

The Candidates: Patrick Kabongo, LeKevin Smith, Brandon Teamer, Brandon Greeson, Matt O'Shea, Seppo Evwaraye

Question Marks: Matt O'Shea, Seppo Evwaraye, Brandon Teamer - O'Shea has a mountain to climb and some serious mountains to beat. Matt is a stout kid going into his redshirt sophomore year, but man, he's got some serious guys in front of him to beat out for even the third spot on the chart. He's way undersized compared to most of his position-mates at 6'0", but sometimes that works in their advantage, being able to get underneath the pads of the offensive linemen they are facing. I think though that Matt is going to have a very tough time making a dent here. Seppo's question is his shoulder and how the rehab is progressing. He's a player and will compete for time, but let's check his progress physically before we tab him in the top two or three. Brandon Teamer is a guy that there is some speculation as to him coming in right away, but not at DT, rather at RE. Considering the experience lost, that's not a real stretch, but as a true freshman, trying to beat out at the very least a couple guys with a year or more on the team and a JUCO guy to boot, I wouldn't see that happening. Brandon is a potential stud, but I see him redshirting this season.

50/50: LeKevin Smith - Where LeKevin ends up on the depth chart at the NT position could determine how much time he gets at this postion. He's listed as both on the depth chart, but I wouldn't expect him to be moving around a lot this season, especially with the depth coming in. I do expect NU's defense to platoon as they did last year, only not to the degree they did in this prior season. You literally couldn't tell who was going to be in from one play to the next and I think that will change this season and considering the fact that I have Smith starting at NT, I don't expect to see him here a great deal.

Biggest Battle: Patrick Kabongo vs. Brandon Greeson - If Seppo was 100%, the battle here would be between him and Patrick, but as it stands, I will lean here, because I don't want anyone to get any ideas about Greeson's potential. His "up-side" is huge. He's stout, big, strong and has pretty good lateral movement and his confidence isn't lacking one bit. He's going to be in there competing and if Seppo can't go, he's my choice to back up the returning starter, Kabongo who I think is in store for one heck of a season this up-coming year.

Starting Line-Up: Patrick Kabongo

The Position: Free Safety

The Candidates: Andrew Shanle, Josh Bullocks, Philip Bland, Jerrell Pippens, Kade Pittman, Brett Lindstrom, Dan Burrow, Derek Matteo, Titus Brothers

Question Marks: Kade Pittman, Brett Lindstrom, Dan Burrow, Derek Matteo, Titus Brothers - Lindstrom is going to be a senior as simply put, because he hasn't made a serious impact in the time he has had here, I'm not sure that he will this year. The depth chart got considerably less friendly as people stepped up during last season to put themselves into positions, so Brett could be a contributor, but it will be in a spelling role. Derek Matteo is going into his junior year, but I perceive this much in the same way and I just don't see him breaking the top three this year. Dan Burrow is just going into his sophomore year and is a very good athlete. He's going to have a tough time breaking into being one of the top three on the depth chart, but I do expect Burrow to get some time this year. I see him as a definite contributor in the future, but probably not the immediate future. Kade Pittman (to me) is just an inch from the "50/50" list. He's a great athlete, has good size, can hit, tackle and is fundamentally pretty sound. I can't completely throw him out for this year, but don't expect to see him crack the top three. Titus Brothers is as you would expect, kind of an unknown. He's probably going to get some serious looks at CB, behind Fabian Washington, but I actually see that CB spots playing out pretty firmly, not in Brothers' favor. That could prompt a move to get some time on the field and he might just see that based on what those ahead of him do. I don't see that happening though and expect him to redshirt his first year with the Big Red.

50/50: Andrew Shanle, Philip Bland - I really like Shanle's potential going into this sophomore year. He's got great size, good speed and is a great all-around athlete. He can close on the ball real well, seems to be a pretty sound tackler and I think he makes the most noise out of the guys with little to no experience in live action. He should crack the top three in my estimation, but the top two is going to be tough. Philip is on here simply because he has so much experience at both FS and Rover, but I don't expect to see him here much if at all.

Biggest Battle: Josh Bullocks vs. Jerrell Pippens - Jerrell has the edge in age, but that's where it stops. Josh really got into his role last year and made starter before it was all said and done. I fully expect him to really put a space between himself and everyone else. I think he could be just that good. Jerrell is a quality player, but I think Josh could end up being pretty darn special in his own right.

Starting Line-Up: Josh Bullocks

The Position: Rover

The Candidates: Philip Bland, Daniel Bullocks, James Roark, Jamie Otto, Steve Craver, Kade Pittman

Question Marks: Kade Pittman, Jamie Otto - Will Kade move or be moved over to this position if he doesn't crack the top three at FS? That's a possibility and again, Pittman is the kind of athlete that can make that transition without missing a beat. With the expected move of Lannie Hopkins to LB, this opens the door for someone to get into the top three, if not the top two, that wasn't there previously. Jamie Otto could figure into that mix, but he's going to be in for some serious competition, competition that I think will simply be too much to find himself as one of the top trio at Rover.

50/50: James Roark, Steve Craver - In my opinion, Roark could end up being someone in the mold of a Troy Watchorn. Smart, pretty athletic and though Troy was certainly amazing in being in the right place at the right time in 2000, that saw him intercept 5 balls, I think James could find himself in a somewhat similar mold, doing most of his damage spelling, rather than as a consistent presence on the field. Craver is 50/50 simply because he's such a good athlete and a noted hitter. He's bigger than his brother was, faster than his brother was and when you just look at that, potential finds itself being almost overused in reference to Steve. I think he's got a serious shot to get some time this year.

Biggest Battle: Philip Bland vs. Daniel Bullocks - On paper, Philip has the advantage going into this season. Though some chided his efforts in some games, they lauded him in others, like the well-timed interception against Texas A&M that all but sealed up the game for the Huskers. Philip is also well-known for his quotes or rather, the volume of them as he is literally the most common interview you will see from the Husker team. While the idea of a Bullock starting line-up at both safety positions is intriguing and would make some great press, I think Philip finds that consistency he was lacking last season and much of that having to do with Sanders. Sanders will pull out all the good of Bland and turn him into the kind of player I think a lot of people assumed he could be. Daniel Bullocks is an eventual starter in my eyes, just not this season, but he will be a seriously solid number 2.

Starting Line-Up: Philip Bland

The Position: Sam Linebacker

The Candidates: Ira Cooper, Lannie Hopkins, Corey McKeon, Bo Ruud, T.J. Hollowell, Shane Siegel

Question Marks: Bo Ruud, Shane Siegel - I know what you are saying. No way can he play SLB. He doesn't have the speed. Well, let me clue you in on something. Scott Shanle wasn't a burner either and before you say anything about that being a reason for his ineffectiveness, here's my reasoning behind Ruud. Here at NU, at least over the last couple of years, the SLB position has been shoulder most of the responsibility in covering the tight end. Shanle (whether by design from the opponent or not) was consistently in pass coverage. With tight ends getting bigger every single year, there is a chance that defenses could start to adjust their philosophies, at least physically. Ruud would fit that kind of transition as he does have the size and compared to most tight ends out there, he has more than enough speed to stay with them. Bo is a good athlete and though he is considered a shot at MLB, I don't think it's out of the question to see him at this position and with the lack of serious depth, you never know what NU might do. As for Shane, I remember his recruiting process and looking at his measurables and how well they stacked up against a linebacker being recruited much more than he was, Jeb Huckeba. Shane is a solid athlete and I don't think his future is at CB and this is speculation, but I would wager he doesn't see that either. He's a LB for the future, just where though, that's the question.

50/50: Corey McKeon, Ira Cooper - Playing MLB in the Army All-American game, Corey was playing a position he had never played before. I consider that important, because he adjusted very well, especially considering the fact that the rules basically took the MLB out of the game almost entirely. Corey is an exceptional athlete, very physical and he plays with a hint of a mean streak. I don't think he is prone to talking to a guy after smacking him particularly good, but I don't think he goes out of his way to avoid it either. He's my darkhorse in this race and could make a stab not just at the top three, but at number two. Ira is going into his junior year and should compete for the top spot, but with the expected changes to come at this position, I think he might find himself on the outside looking in. I don't think there's a great deal separating him and what I think will be the eventual battle for the top spot, but based on what we saw last year from the other candidates, Ira will contribute, just not as much as he would like.

Biggest Battle: Lannie Hopkins vs T.J. Hollowell - If it's T.J. that moves (if he moves) or Demorrio Williams, this is going to be an insane battle for the top spot. I consider both Demorrio and T.J. interchangeable, but for the sake of argument, we'll put T.J. as the guy who moves over to this position. Let me tell you something, this is going to be a classic face-off because both are just flat out aggressive. Lannie seems to look for someone to kill every time he gets on the field and T.J., well, he simply is al over the field. Both have speed, both are physical and each has a definite nose for the ball. I would just simply flip a coin here, but I'm going to give T.J. the edge here because he's been at the position more, though on the other side and I think overall, he's fundamentally a little better, at least right now.

Starting Line-Up: T.J. Hollowell

The Position: Will Linebacker

The Candidates: Demorrio Williams, Chad Buller, Corey Mckeon, Tim Miller, Jared Franzluebbers

Question Marks: Corey McKeon, Tim Miller, Jared Franzluebbers - For Tim and Jared, this depth chart (though shallow) is not pretty when it comes to them getting some serious time on the field. Jared is going into his redshirt sophomore year, so it shouldn't hurt him that much, but this is Tim's swan song season as he is a senior to be. While you root for guys that are the aged veterans, some simply don't make the cut and I just don't see Tim making a dent in what should be a formidable if not condensed depth chart. If Corey does make it on the field this season, he could line up on either side and bolster the depth chart with his all-around potential. In his first year, he's going to be perceived as guy that would just see a lot of time filling in to keep guys fresh, but that's quality time if you are a true freshman. I think Corey fits on either side and could work to ensure that depth isn't the issue it was last year. You might even see him listed as both if he does indeed hit the field as a true frosh.

50/50: Chad Buller - Chad's a solid player with some good experience under his belt. I don't think there should be a doubt in anyone's mind as to what he brings to the table. Do I think he can supplant Demorrio Williams? No. Thus, Chad making the "50/50", rather than the "biggest battle" category, but with that being said, I think Chad is going to be a very good back-up this season.

Biggest Battle: None - Based on who moves, this is their spot for the keeping. If Demorrio moved to the other side, this would be T.J.'s spot to lose, but seeing as how I expect Demorrio to stick here, it's his and I just don't see anyone that can take it from him. Not this year.

The Position: Middle Linebacker

The Candidates: Barrett Ruud, Steve Safranek, Curt Tomasevicz, Chad Sievers, Wali Muhammad, Bo Ruud

Question Marks: Curt Tomasevicz, Wali Muhammad, Bo Ruud -Going into his last year, Curt has yet to fully realize his potential, at least from where I am sitting. He is consistently one of the best athletes on the team, at least if you go by the performance index tests. I mean, what an athlete. He puts up some numbers that just blow you away, yet he's not managed to see the field with any consistency whatsoever. Because of that, I'm hedging on him, because if he hasn't done it yet, especially considering the expected depth chart, I'm not sure that his final year will be his year to shine. Wali is here because he played MLB in junior college and Wali is a defensive machine. I think he's going to be better from the down position, but it's very feasible to list him here, because I think he's just that versatile. Bo is here, because that's where everyone expects him to be and honestly, I don't think anyone expects him to see the field his first year. Based on the other scenarios at the other linebacker positions, if this position is his destiny, I think a redshirt for him his first year is imminent. MLB takes a little more physical presence than the outside positions and for that, I think the younger Ruud needs a year to get where he's ideally going to want to be.

50/50: Steve Safranek - While Sievers was injured, Steve was the back-up to Bo Ruud. In a limited role of 7 games, Steve proved solid, but didn't do any one thing that really set him apart. I expect him to improve this year, but for me, the battle for the top spot won't include him.

Biggest Battle: Chad Sievers vs. Barrett Ruud - Another classic in the making. When Sievers was out there on the field, he was fiery, aggressive and looked very fast. Barrett Ruud looked that as well, but in my estimation, we still haven't seen the best of what Ruud has to offer. I think this is just one helluva one-two punch in Ruud and Sievers and NU will do well with either as the starter, but I think under the new coaches, Barrett is going to find another level to his game this season. I know he has the aggressiveness and you don't rank as the number two tackler on the team by sitting on your hands, plus Barrett was second behind only Chris Kelsay in tackles for losses. With all that being said though, I still think we haven't see the best Ruud has to offer, but I think we will this year. Sievers is going to give Barrett a heck of a run, that's for certain, but I think the overall experience and new coaching puts Ruud over the top.

Starting Line-Up: Barrett Ruud

The Position: Right Cornerback

The Candidates: Lornell McPherson, Donald DeFrand, Kellen Huston, Willie Amos, Seth White, Kevin Guse, Adam Ickes, Joey Robinson

Question Marks: Willie Amos, Adam Ickes, Seth White, Kevin Guse, Joey Robinson - Can Willie ever get healthy enough to play? You have to feel for the guy, even though he's not what you would call fanatical about the game or the position, he's an incredible athlete that has never really had the chance to show just what all that raw athleticism can do. His health affects the depth chart at either right or left cornerback. I'm just waiting to see where he is to put him..........somewhere. Both Seth and Kevin are going into their final years as Huskers and out of the two, I would expect Kevin to make the biggest push, at least for some time on the field. Both are good players, but with all the question marks at this position, especially with replacing DeJuan Groce, the competition is going to be fierce. Adam Ickes is a solid athlete and man, you have to love his size. Anyone that is over six foot, playing the CB position, for some reason, that just makes a guy feel better with the ever-growing receivers across the country. He's young though and again, his competition is going to be tough to beat. As for Joey Robinson, he's got the time to develop and will need it and before it's all said and done (not this year), he's got a chance to make his presence felt on the depth chart.

50/50: Kellen Huston - Kellen is solid. Nothing much more needs to be said about him. I think he's good when he gets out there, just not that playmaker on a consistent basis like you want to see. Replacing DeJuan Groce is a tall task, even finding someone to back that eventual starter up, that's not easy either. Kellen could make a push for number two, but I think the top spot is reserved for someone else.

Biggest Battle: Donald DeFrand vs. Lornell McPherson - Just when it looks like it's your time in the sun, whamo, NU brings in a ringer. By the very fact that Donald DeFrand is a JUCO player coming in, the expectations behind him getting on the field RIGHT NOW, well, they are there. With the loss of NU's best cover guy, that just makes it that much more of a need that someone get in there that can play at the highest level from the moment they step on the field. That's DeFrand. His size, that blazing speed and his experience coming from the junior college ranks, that puts him square on the bullseye to be Groce's replacement. I don't expect Lornell to go down without a fight, but I do expect him to go down, but only to number two. McPherson is only going to be a Junior, so he's still got a lot of ball left to play.

Starting Line-Up: Donald DeFrand

The Position: Left Cornerback

The Candidates: Fabian Washington, Adrain Turner, Pat Ricketts, Terrell Butler, Cole Biodrowski, Willie Amos, Lornell McPherson

Question Marks: Willie Amos, Lornell McPherson, Terrell Butler, Cole Biodrowski - Willie is obvious, Lornell a question here only having to do with how it plays out on the other side, but I believe that in the end, he's number two over there. Terrell, simply because I don't know what to expect from a guy that I have to say I expected a ton from when he came in and as for Cole, youth and some of the competition is going to be tough to beat, at least for a top two spot to be sure.

50/50: Adrain Turner - Listening to Adrain, there is no shortage of confidence and there's no doubt that this kid can play. I have to say that I am looking for someone to push Fabian Washington for his spot, but right now, I just don't see anyone on the list. Adrain probably isn't as stacked with as much pure talent as Washington, but he makes up for it in a lot of ways, though size not being one of them. I think though that if anyone just coming in can at least keep Washington honest, it's probably someone like Turner. I would guess though that if he doesn't make the top two, he'll opt for the redshirt season.

Biggest Battle: None - The multi-talented-oft-timed over aggressive Washington will have a year of getting his butt burned to look back upon as his baptism by fire. I have nothing but the ultimate confidence in what Washington brings to the table, let's just say that I am looking for some of that experience to find itself turning into a little more maturity about how he plays the game. It's about that quiet medium between his very aggressive style of play and someone that can think themselves through a situation. Washington is a stud, but what is he truly capable, I think we haven't even sniffed that quite yet.

Starting Line-Up: Fabian Washington

The Position: Right Rush End

The Candidates: Jeff McBride, Nathan Krug, Neil Anderson, Trevor Johnson, Tyler Toline, Jay Moore, Chris Patrick, Wali Muhammad, Trevor Neeman, Adam Carriker, Khristopher Lewin

Question Marks: Jeff McBride, Nathan Krug, Chris Patrick, Trevor Neeman, Neil Anderson, Adam Carriker, Kristopher Lewin - I''ll put this as simple and as candidly as I can - Anderson, Lewin, Krug and McBride, each is on the team because they are potentially solid contributors, but Anderson doesn''t have the size and the rest, their experience just isn''t going to help them crack a line-up that will be small in number, but big in who they have to beat to find some real playing time. Chris Patrick really isn''t a question mark as I see him redshirting and heading straight to the weight room for a full season of getting physically ready to come in like a banshee next year. Neeman, well, his being a rush end at all is the question, but he''s a solid athlete, has decent size and speed, so therein lies the potential. Adam Carriker is actually someone I almost put in the category immediately following this one, because physically, he''s a specimen, someone who could bat balls from knees. Size, speed, he''s basically a very solid athlete. Can he beat out Jay Moore to crack the top two? I don't think so, at least not this year, but he could do his damage at the other rush end position.

50/50: Jay Moore, Tyler Toline - Ok, I know what you are saying. I just put Adam Carriker in the question marks as a true sophomore, so what makes Jay so special. Well, call it a hunch. Nope, he's about an inch short of Carriker's size, but what a great overall athlete this kid is. If there wasn't one particular player coming in, I would be seriously considering him for one of the candidates for a "biggest battle". I think he's going to be that good, but he's going to have some serious experience and one particular defensive machine to beat out and this season, that's probably not going to happen. As for Tyler, he also has experience, but is missing simply the raw athleticism of someone like Moore. Tyler is a good athlete, but he just isn't quite the level of a Moore, in my opinion.

Biggest Battle: Wali Muhammad vs. Trevor Johnson - A true gamer like Trevor isn't going to back down from anyone, not even a junior college player who tallied 22 sacks last year. It should turn out to be a great battle, but Wali wasn't brought in because he was cuddly and loveable. He was brought in for a reason and though it's never out of the question for JC transfers to redshirt, I think it's not happening this year though as with the loss of Kelsay and Adams, an impact is needed and an impact is what Wali brings to the table.

Starting Line-Up: Wali Muhammad

The Position: Left Rush End

The Candidates: Benard Thomas, Tyler Toline, Jay Moore, Adam Carriker, Peter Alta, Anthony Fisher, Matt Shrader, Trevor Neeman

Question Marks: Peter Alta, Anthony Fisher, Trevor Neeman - The questions behind Carriker and Neeman are already noted and as to Fisher and Alta, this is not going to be their year to stand out.

50/50: Matt Shrader, Tyler Toline, Jay Moore -

Ok, again, Moore is already noted, but on this side, I could throw a biggest battle in for the number two spot, between him and Toline. I do think that Shrader is going to make some noise this year for getting in there though and could push Toline very hard. Moore''s raw everything though, well, it makes you think that this is where he could end up, cementing the depth behind the "lock" at starter. This is a correction that I am making and if you are RE-reading this, you will see what affect it has, but Adam Carriker could find his niche over here giving Toline a run if Moore stays over on the right side. Apologies for the mistake, because it actually does have some serious bearing on the number two spot here, but the number one spot is still a lock.

Biggest Battle: None - Can you say CRUNKJUICE? You better get used to it, because this kid out of a private school in California is going to turn some serious heads this year, because it's his time to shine. Redshirting wasn't a popular move, because people wanted him to put some depth at a depleted RE position, but in hindsight, it was probably the best move for him and for the team, everyone now having at least one year (if he leaves early) to see just what this stud can do. I don't expect good things from Thomas. I expect great things. He's a potential star in the making and if he knocks down some of that extra girth he picked up during his redshirt year, we are going to see some serious sparks from this one.

Ok, that's it for the defensive side of the ball and I want to briefly summarize both sides that we have looked at for this up-coming season.

Offense: The theme would seem to be youth, but that's been the theme it would seem for the last couple of years. When does NU get experienced? I don't think that happens this year as the coaches say the best players will play and I believe that a lot of them are going to turn out to be youngsters, but with phenomenal potential. Sure, youth does lend itself to time to gel, but when you take a look at the offensive line especially last season, having some experience didn't keep that unit from having to gel, almost the entire year.

In this instance, I think youth serves this unit overall a little better and to tell you the truth, I didn't even look at the youth I was putting out there, simply my thoughts on who would be best at those positions. It just worked out (in my estimation) that some of these youngins were just going to be too good to be denied.

Defense: At some very key positions, starters will return and some new comers like Muhammad and DeFrand will find themselves doing just what most people expect from JC players coming in, that's getting on the field right away.

With this new set of coaches, I think the face of Nebraska defense changes somewhat, but the expression all but changes entirely. Aggressive, mean, in-shape and fast and people running to the ball. Sometimes, youth helps bolster that, because they have all this fire coming in. Granted that's a factor, but on the defensive side, experience should win out at more positions than not and I think this new NU defense will be it's best in awhile. There's going to be some bumps along the way, but I don't see the kind of serious de-railings NU experienced last year. Nobody is setting any offensive records against NU this up-coming year.

That's it for the defense and my summary of either or both, depending on how you look at it. Thanks for taking the time to read all this stuff and once again, I am sure that some of you completely disagree with just about everything I have said. But, I'm not wrong, well, not yet anyway.

Thanks for your e-mail replies to the offensive piece and I look forward to your comments on my review of the new-look Blackshirts for Nebraska.

Steve Ryan can be reached at huskerconnection@neb.rr.com


Big Red Report Top Stories