Depth Chart Madness in review - II

I took a look at the offensive depth chart projection from prior to Fall practice beginning. Now let's look at the defense, and this time we'll take a look at how things have changed for the so-called "base" defense and how it might look in some of the other popular Pelini schemes.

OK, we have done the offense, so let's now take a look at the defense. And I had a request to include depth charts with more formations, because as we all know, Nebraska seems to be very liberal with multiple formations from the new base 4-2-5, to the PESO to DIME. Much of this is necessary, because of the variety of offenses in the country.

That will make things a bit more problematic in trying to get everything nailed down. I mean, a two-deep when there are six defensive backs in the game? Yeah, good luck with that one. But I went over the roster and what not, and let's see where that takes.

First, let's start with the good old 4-2-5. This is the depth chart I had prior to Fall practice beginning.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART - DEFENSE
Pos Player Yr
DT    
1 Jared Crick Jr
2 Terrence Moore Jr
NT    
1 Baker Steinkuhler So
2 Justin Jackson So
RDE    
1 Pierre Allen Sr. Sr.
2 Josh Williams So
LDE    
1 Cameron Meredith So
2 Jason Ankrah RFr
MLB    
1 Will Compton So
2 Alonzo Whaley So
WLB    
1 Sean Fisher So
2 Lavonte David Jr
S/LB    
1 Eric Hagg Sr
2 Austin Cassidy Jr
SS    
1 Dejon Gomes Sr
2 Anthony West Sr
FS    
1 P.J. Smith So
2 Courtney Osborne So
LCB    
1 Prince Amukamara Sr
2 Jase Dean So
RCB    
1 Alfonzo Dennard Jr
2 Anthony Blue Jr

Let's go over the most obvious changes, due to injury:

Sean Fisher being out for the season is obviously big. Not just because he's a starter at the WLB spot, but due to the fact that I would have put him as my lone starter when there is only one linebacker in the game, ala Phillip Dillard much of the second half of the season last year.

With him being out, if you go just by the depth chart last season, that would move fellow sophomore Micah Kreikemeir up to the top spot. Kreikemeier hasn't been on the 105-man roster for all of the Spring. That will probably change with Fisher now gone, but here's my first leap as far as who is going to replace him.

I don't think junior Lavonte David is anywhere close to being prepared enough to assume a starting role. But I also don't think that Kreikemeir is ready for that role either. But I do believe this could give sophomore Alonzo Whaley his opportunity to show what he can do.

There was little doubt you were going to see a bit of a log jam at middle, and I honestly couldn't see supplanting sophomore Will Compton, because he knows the defense, he's made the calls and it just seemed a good fit. The progression of Eric Martin has been kind of key to this, and from everything I have heard he's managing it pretty well. Not to say you want him making the calls right now, but I think he's a very safe bet as the number two behind Compton. As for Whaley, I wouldn't see any problem moving him over to that other linebacker spot to take over starting duties while Kreikemeier and David fight over who will be number two.

Fisher's athleticism will be impossible to replace, at least early on. I think this could have been a breakout year for the Nebraska native. I guess we'll just have to wait until next year, but I think with this particular set up on the depth chart, the Huskers should be just fine.

The other injury was to junior Anthony Blue, who is also out for the season. I had Blue in a back up role behind junior Alfonzo Dennard. To be honest, I was giving Blue credit from what he did for what was ultimately very few snaps, all the way back to the end of his freshman season. But he was a heck of an athlete, and this long in the system you had to figure he was a very realistic second-string guy.

With him out I had a host of names I could throw into that slot, perhaps thinking that they wouldn't play that much if at all, so I could throw anyone in there. But I am at least for trying for a sense of reality here, and that means you won't see me jotting in a true freshman as a corner on the two-deep. But a redshirt I can do. So, I picked Andrew Green, because he has decent size and his athleticism is supposed to be very good. You might remember he missed all of Spring rehabbing from an injury. At the other corner spot, it's unchanged with senior Prince Amukamara in the first slot and sophomore Jase Dean holding down number two.

At the safety spots, which for the sake of not differentiating, we'll just refer to as defensive backs, there are obviously going to be three groups in this 4-2-5 scheme.

Senior Eric Hagg and junior Austin Cassidy make up the hybrid role, working as safeties in this scheme, but able to switch to SLB-role when the PESO defense is called.

The second group I have seniors Dejon Gomes and Anthony West. I do think West gives Nebraska a better cover guy than the starter in the third group, sophomore, P.J. Smith. But in this scheme, which I would say is Nebraska's base scheme now, I think it's about 50/50 in what you want in regard to ability to cover and ability to stop the run. That gives Smith the edge for the top spot in the third group of defensive backs. Backing up Smith, though, is senior Rickey Thenarse this time around, whereas I had sophomore Courtney Osborne there before.

The reason for that is simple in that we know Rickey is a destroyer, but if that was all that was needed, he would have been a starter long ago. Over this Fall, at least thus far, I have heard much better things about how he understands the system, reads plays as they are happening and the angles he takes. He'll still decapitate people as he almost did senior wide receiver Will Henry this last week. But it seems he's working better within the system now, which makes him an easy choice at number two.

Along the defensive front I have changed the interior up a bit, mostly stemming from some comments made my coaches during this Fall practice and from other observations by players. The battle to take over for Ndamukong Suh seems to be a pretty good one at this point, the two candidates junior Terrence Moore and sophomore Baker Steinkuhler. Moore's size (6-3, 290 lbs.) has made him pretty difficult to move off the ball, and he's deceptively quick for having that kind of build. I still think Steinkuhler holds down that top spot, but this is going to be a nice duo for the Huskers. No, they aren't Suh, but with the supporting cast around them, they won't have to be in order for this defense to work. Backing up Crick I now have Thaddeus Randkle, who has gotten raves which continue a trend which started all the way back into Spring.

The ends are the same on both sides.

OK, now let's get into the nuts and bolts of these other coverages, and I will just tell you that in my mind when you are running so many defensive backs, the first priority when figuring out who your first stringers should be, it's who gives you the best ability to cover. Often that ability is defined simply by experience. It's hard to know how someone who hasn't been asked to do it down-to-down is going to react or do.

As you saw in the scheme with five defensive backs, I have the following:

CB

Prince Amukamara
Jase Dean

Sr
So

CB

Alfonzo Dennard
Andrew Green

Jr
RFr

DB

Eric Hagg
Austin Cassidy

Sr
Jr

DB

Dejon Gomes
Anthony West

Sr
Sr

DB

P.J. Smith
Rickey Thenarse

So
Sr

 

The only difference between this line up and the PESO is obviously that Hagg and Cassidy move to LB. That's it. The rest stay the same. But here's how I have it for the DIME package:

CB

Prince Amukamara
Jase Dean

Sr
So

CB

Alfonzo Dennard
Andrew Green

Jr
RFr

DB

Eric Hagg
Austin Cassidy

Sr
Jr

DB

Dejon Gomes
Lazarri Middleton

Sr
RFr

DB

Anthony West
Courtney Osborne

Sr
So

DB

P.J. Smith
Rickey Thenarse 

So
Sr

 

This is where I think Anthony West fits in as a cover corner, as I think that among those listed as second stringers, he's easily the most experienced cover guy of that group and he has pretty darn good instincts when it comes to closing on the ball.

The addition of Lazarri Middleton is simply trying to figure out who of those who have been on the team at least a year, might be able to work best in a true coverage situation. And let's remember, you don't go DIME on 1st and 10 unless the team you are playing comes of the bus throwing it 50 times a game. This is a situation where you are almost certain they are going to be passing the ball. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, I like Middleton, because of his size and the fact that he was added to the 105-man roster before the season has begun, probably nudges him onto the list ahead of some others.

As the lone linebacker in a DIME package, I have Compton backed up by Whaley.

On the defensive front, you will notice there is no change between the DIME, PESO and 4-2-5.

I could actually go that way, or I probably wouldn't have much of a problem keeping Crick at number one DT, but putting redshirt freshman Thaddeus Randle on his right side. Moore isn't going to be a third-down pass rush guy from the interior. I think that if the staff wants to get a pass rush from everyone on the line, Steinkuhler would be the choice before him. But Randle just keeps coming up over and over again, and the common comment about him is how quick he is off the ball, the great motor he has and his tenacity on a play. That could easily move him as the other down lineman with Crick in a pure passing situation or in DIME. At the ends, I could see them swapping out Meredith and Allen for Ankrah and Williams, especially early on. If you remember not so long ago, it was Barry Turner, who was in his first year with the Huskers, who came in on passing situations with linebacker/defensive end Wali Muhammad. I am not sure they will do that, but it wouldn't be out of the realm of possible to see them try early on in the year.

There will be a lot of shifting, and as we have all become acutely aware of when it comes to the Pelinis, they just love to scheme. A formation for this, a formation for that, stunts, blitzes and everything in between. I think that proves to be an effective strategy this year, even when they are running these mega-DB looks.

And the big reason is this number: 8

That is how many more starts Nebraska has coming back on defense this year versus last year. Yeah, that's right. Despite the fact that they lost Suh and Asante, two of the most regular starters over the last two years, as well as Matt O'Hanlon, this defense brings back more total experience than they did a year before.

It's perhaps the biggest reason why the Pelinis believe that this defense might actually be better than last year. And I think that's what will make all these schemes work like a charm.

Here's how I think the defense looks now, in the three covered schemes:

PESO

DE Cameron Meredith
Jason Ankrah
So
RFr
DT Jared Crick
Thaddeus Randle
Jr
RFr
DT Baker Steinkuhler
Terrence Moore
So
Jr
DE Pierre Allen Sr.
Josh Williams
Sr
So
WLB Alonzo Whaley
Lavonte David
RFr
Jr
MLB Will Compton
Eric Martin
So
So
SLB Eric Hagg
Austin Cassidy
Sr
Jr
CB Prince Amukamara
Jase Dean
Sr
So
CB

Alfonzo Dennard
Andrew Green

Jr
RFr
DB Dejon Gomes
Anthony West
Sr
Sr
DB P.J. Smith
Rickey Thenarse
So
Sr

4-2-5

DE Cameron Meredith
Jason Ankrah
So
RFr
DT Jared Crick
Thaddeus Randle
Jr
RFr
DT Baker Steinkuhler
Terrence Moore
So
Jr
DE Pierre Allen Sr.
Josh Williams
Sr
So
WLB Alonzo Whaley
Lavonte David
RFr
Jr
MLB Will Compton
Eric Martin
So
So
CB Prince Amukamara
Jase Dean
Sr
So
CB

Alfonzo Dennard
Andrew Green

Jr
RFr
DB Eric Hagg
Austin Cassidy
Sr
Jr
DB Dejon Gomes
Anthony West
Sr
Sr
DB P.J. Smith
Rickey Thenarse
So
Sr

DIME

DE Cameron Meredith
Jason Ankrah
So
RFr
DT Jared Crick
Thaddeus Randle
Jr
RFr
DT Baker Steinkuhler
Terrence Moore
So
Jr
DE Pierre Allen Sr.
Josh Williams
Sr
So
LB Will Compton
Alonzo Whaley
So
So
CB Prince Amukamara
Jase Dean
Sr
So
CB

Alfonzo Dennard
Andrew Green

Jr
RFr
DB Eric Hagg
Austin Cassidy
Sr
Jr
DB Dejon Gomes
Lazarri Middleton
Sr
RFr
DB Anthony West
Courtney Osborne
Sr
So
DB P.J. Smith
Rickey Thenarse 
So
Sr

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