2012 Nebraska Preview – Defense
Nebraska LB Will Compton
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: New defensive coordinator John Papuchis isn't going to change much after working as Nebraska's defensive line coach. Can he bring more consistency to a promising D that finished 37th in the nation and seventh in the Big Ten in yards allowed, but did nothing to get into the backfield? The Huskers finished dead last in the league in tackles for loss and need end Cameron Meredith and tackle Baker Steinkuhler to be even more active. The linebacking corps loses tackling machine Lavonte David, but Will Compton is a strong hitter in the middle and there are just enough good prospects to get by. The strength of the defense will be a secondary that won't have any problems replacing corner Alfonzo Dennard. Daimion Stafford should be one of the Big Ten's best safeties, while JUCO transfer Mohammed Seisay has the potential to be an instant star at one corner.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Baker Steinkuhler
Tackles: Will Compton, 82
Sacks: Cameron Meredith, 5
Interceptions: Several with 1
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Jason Ankrah
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Mohammed Seisay
Best pro prospect: Steinkuhler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Steinkuhler, 2) S Daimion Stafford, 3) LB Will Compton
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Tackle
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Linebacker Depth
The line struggled last season with Ndamukong Suh long gone and with Jared Crick getting hurt, but senior Baker Steinkuhler did what he could on the inside earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors making 40 tackles with two sacks and five tackles for loss. At 6-6 and 290 pounds he's built more like a big end or a 3-4 tackle, but the son of Husker legend Dean Steinkuhler has the strength and the toughness to hold his own. The quickness and versatility are there to work in a variety of ways, and now he's going to be the anchor and the main man in his final season.
Working next to Steinkuhler on the inside will be a combination of players. 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Chase Rome got away from Missouri and a slew of other BCS schools, and now he should grow into a rock on the inside. A spot starter last season, he made 13 tackles with a sack showing good upside and the potential to become a dangerous interior pass rusher. Also in the mix will be 6-1, 300-pound junior Thaddeus Randle, a big, squatty nose tackle-like body for the interior. He was a decent part of the rotation early on with eight tackles and a sack before getting knocked out for the year with a knee injury.
The Nebraska pass rush has to be better and it has to start with veteran Cameron Meredith on the outside, The 6-4, 265-pound senior led the team with five sacks to go along with 58 tackles on the way to honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Strong and consistent, he has a nice blend of quickness and size, with the ability to play as a tough 3-4 run stopper or as a 4-3 pass rusher. Injuries have been a problem in the past, but he was able to get through last season without a problem.
6-4, 265-pound junior Jason Ankrah started most of last season on the other side of Meredith finishing with 17 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. The Maryland native was one of the team's top recruits a few years ago but has yet to break out and become a major factor. It's all there with size, quickness and skills, but the defense needs him to become a more dangerous pass rusher. Also in the rotation will be senior Eric Martin, a 6-2, 255-pound veteran with tremendous speed and burst off the ball. Mostly a special teamer throughout his career, he got a start against Northwestern last season and was a good backup the rest of the way making 23 tackles with 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. If nothing else, he could grow into a dangerous pass rushing specialist.
Watch Out For … Rome. The potential and talent are there to become the next great Nebraska defensive tackle. With Steinkuhler the main man on the inside, Rome doesn't have to be an anchor and he should be turned loose to do a little of everything for a line that desperately needs to start being more active.
Strength: Potential. After a year of dealing with a slew of injuries and a few key personnel losses, the line should be more settled. Steinkuhler and Meredith started all 13 games, but there was a revolving door at the other two spots.
Weakness: Pass rush. The Huskers were awful at getting behind the line last season coming up with just 21 sacks – with a bulk of them coming from the defensive backfield – and a paltry 61 tackles for loss. The line got beaten up on a regular basis against the run.
Outlook: The line needs some key players to step up and be fantastic. Rome needs to grow into a star at tackle and a pass rusher has to emerge on the other side of Meredith. More than anything else, the line has to stay healthy and come up with a reliable rotation, while being more disruptive and making more big plays will be a must.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The linebacking corps loses leading tackler Lavonte David, but it gets back a strong veteran in Will Compton for the middle. The 6-2, 230-pounder can play any of the three linebacking positions finishing second on the team with 82 tackles with seven tackles for loss. With the right size, good quickness and the smarts to quarterback the front seven, he's the leader of the linebackers with 100-tackle potential after cranking out a strong second half of last year.
Senior Sean Fisher stepped in when needed starting four times with 24 tackles with three tackles for loss after missing all of 2010 with a broken leg. At 6-6 and 235 pounds he has excellent size with nice size and great ranger. Built like a thin defensive end, he could become more of a pass rusher, while 6-1, 230-pound senior Alonzo Whaley should be ready to do far more after making 11 tackles with two tackles for loss. Fast, active and smart, he should find time in a starting role, or at the very least he'll be one of the team's top backups at any of the three spots.
6-2, 235-pound sophomore Trevor Roach spent last year working behind Compton in the middle, but he only made seven tackles with two tackles for loss in five games before getting hurt. A former running back, he's active and quick with good range. The walk-on will be a key part of the rotation, while star recruit Zaire Anderson could be a huge factor right away. The 6-1, 220-pound JUCO transfer is a huge hitter with the ability to fly into the backfield on a regular basis. Very fast and very talented, he came up with 187 tackles and 15.5 sacks over the last two years for Riversdale CC.
Watch Out For … Anderson. The linebacking corps has decent players, and Compton is a good one, but the defense needs gamechangers. Anderson might not be another David, but there's a chance he could be a nice copy.
Strength: Versatility. Compton will start in the middle, but he could work on the outside if needed. Anderson, at the very least, can be a dangerous backup at all three spots, while Fisher is a good veteran who can see time just about anywhere he's needed.
Weakness: Lavonte David. This is a good group that's in desperate need of a superstar to work around. David led the team with 133 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss as he cleaned up mess after mess left by the line. He won't be easily replaced.
Outlook: Compton and Fischer is a good foundation to build a linebacking corps around. They're steady veterans with the smarts and the talent to come up with a strong season. The D will often go with five defensive backs, so finding three sure-thing starting linebackers isn't necessarily a must, but it would be nice to find a slew of big hitters to work in a rotation.
Unit Rating: 7.5
A strength last season, the secondary has to come up with several new playmakers with the biggest loss Alfonzo Dennard at one corner. However, he didn't come up with any picks last season. Junior Andrew Green turned into a nice defender on the right side over the second half of last season making 48 tackles with an interception and eight broken up passes. The 6-0, 195-pounder has good size and safety-like tackling skills in the open field.
On the way is JUCO superstar Mohammed Seisay, who has all the tools and all the ability to be the team's best cornerback from Day One. The 6-2, 200-pounder has size, speed and the smarts to know what he's doing right away. He got to school early and showed he's ready to be the real deal with all-star upside after starting out his career at Memphis before getting to Nebraska through Eastern Arizona Junior College.
Junior Ciante Evans has done a little of everything working both as a corner and a nickel defender starting seven times with 33 tackles with a tackle for loss and three broken up passes. The versatile 5-11, 185-pounder is a strong all-around defensive back who has to prove he can do more when the ball is in the air. He'll work where needed, while running back Braylon Heard will start working more and more at corner. The 5-11, 185-pound sophomore is one of the team's faster players with tremendous athleticism. An Ohio state champion-level sprinter will be a key new part of the equation in nickel situations.
6-1, 205-pound senior Daimion Stafford came up with a great year at strong safety earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after finishing third on the team with 80 tackles with three tackles for loss and ten broken up passes. The former JUCO star is a big hitter with great quickness and enough talent and athleticism to have been recruited hard by Florida, USC and a slew of other big names. Consistent, he should be one of the team's defensive leaders and stars.
Senior P.J. Smith has seen plenty of time and action as a backup and spot starter at safety. At 6-2 and 210 pounds he's a strong safety who might see time at free safety after making 33 tackles with a pick. Great on special teams and talented enough to play either safety spot, he'll be a tough run stopper with more of a role.
Watch Out For … Seisay. The Nebraska secondary was going to be good even after losing a few key players, but now it should be fantastic with Seisay ready to become an instant No. 1 cover-corner. He could be the Big Ten's most important JUCO pickup.
Strength: Touchdown passes. The Huskers gave up 11 touchdown passes in the first six games including four in the shootout win over Washington. And then the defensive backs – despite not getting any help from the pass rush – shut it all down allowing just five scoring passes in the final six games. The Huskers were 7-1 when allowing fewer than two scoring passes.
Weakness: Most teams that can throw the ball. The Huskers shut down the sleeping Michigan State passing game holding it to just 86 yards, but everyone else on the slate that could throw was able to do it. Yes, the overall stats were fine but Wisconsin, Michigan and South Carolina had no problems and Washington and Northwestern put up big yards.
Outlook: The secondary should be fine with the return of Stafford as one of the Big Ten's better safeties and with the addition of Seisay likely to make a huge difference. If there's a little more help from a pass rush that wasn't existent at times last season, the pass defense should be among the best in the conference.
Unit Rating: 8
There was some concern that the Huskers might have a hard time replacing Alex Henery, arguably the nation's best all-around kickers. Senior Brett Maher wasn't necessarily supposed to step in and handle all of Henery's duties, but he was phenomenal nailing 19-of-23 field goal attempts with his three misses coming from beyond 50 yards. He also turns in a huge year replacing Henery as the team's top punter averaging 44.5 yards per kick putting 25 inside the 20.
Sophomore Mauro Bondi will eventually be the Huskers' star kicker. Last year's good recruit out of Florida has a huge leg and should be able to blast away when he gets his chances – next year.
The Huskers finished second in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation in kickoff returns thanks to Ameer Abdullah, the speedy sophomore running back who ripped off 29.3 yards per try as a true freshman highlighted by a 100-yard try for a score against Fresno State. He was also the team's top punt returner averaging 7.1 yards per try – he was much more dangerous as a kickoff returner.
Watch Out For … Abdullah as a punt returner. He showed he could be special on kickoff returns, but he was merely pedestrian on punts. With his speed and quickness he should be able to break out a few more big pops.
Strength: Maher. Nebraska knows how to get top-shelf kicking production. Henery was a special all-around kicker and Maher was even better as a punter while showing off tremendous range and skill as a placekicker. The All-Big Ten star is a weapon.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Huskers couldn't seem to come up with enough stops allowing 11.9 yards per punt return with a score. The kickoff coverage team struggled allowing 23.6 yards per try.
Outlook: No one had to replace stronger special teams performers than Nebraska did, and the results turned out to be even stronger. The kicking game will be phenomenal and Abdullah is a star. If the coverage teams can be just a wee bit better, the Huskers will have a huge advantage in the third phase.
Unit Rating: 8
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