2013 Nebraska Preview – Defense
Nebraska DT Thad Randle
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The offense that was so devastating and consistent on the ground should be even better with the return of quarterback Taylor Martinez and a strong group of backs led by the ultra-quick Ameer Abdulah and the strong Imani Cross. Not the typical Husker attack, Martinez has grown into a stronger passer, and he has the receiving corps to take advantage of his skills with Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner forming a terrific trio. Tight end is a slight concern after losing Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, but Jake Long should be good with more attention. The line has a good foundation starting with all-star candidate Spencer Long at guard, but it needs to be a bit more consistent in pass protection.
Star of the defense: Senior CB Ciante Evans
Tackles: Ciante Evans, 56
Sacks: Jason Ankrah, 2
Interceptions: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Trevor Roach
Unsung star on the rise: Senior CB Andrew Green
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Stanley Jean-Baptise
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Evans, 2) DE Jason Ankrah, 3) CB Andrew Green
Strength of the defense: Cornerback, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Linebacker
The defensive front has to be far, far stronger against the run while also rebuilding. It's all going to start with senior Thad Randle on the inside, a short, squatty tackles who started the first half of the season making 21 tackles with a tackle for loss, but he was pushed around way too easily and didn't get enough of a push into the backfield. At 6-1 and 290 pounds, he's not a massive player and he has been banged up in the past, but if he's not an anchor from Game One, the line might be in trouble.
It'll be up to Kevin Williams to become a bigger factor inside after making four tackles in a limited role. The 6-2, 275-pound sophomore isn't all that big, but he's quick, while 6-1, 280-pound sophomore Aaron Curry is looking ready to get more work after getting his feet wet with three tackles. He has the quickness and potential to be an interior pass rusher, but he has to show he can hold up on a regular basis.
The pass rush is going to be a concern after losing Eric Martin and Cameron Meredith on the outside. 6-4, 265-pound Jason Ankrah was one of the team's top recruits a few years ago, but he has yet to break out and become a major factor even with 26 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss. It's all there with size, quickness and a burst, and now it all has to come together. Redshirt freshman Avery Moss is a talent at a beefed up 6-2 and 270 pounds, but he needs to come back healthy after getting hurt and missing most of last year. When everything is right, he's expected to be the total package as a pass rusher, while fellow redshirt freshman Greg McMullen is a 6-3, 285-pound blaster with the talent and upside to be a do-it-all factor who can get into the backfield on a regular basis.
Watch Out For … JUCO transfer Randy Gregory. Originally a Purdue Boilermaker, the 6-6, 230-pound JUCO All-American ended up at Arizona Western CC where he destroyed the lesser competition in 2011 with nine sacks and 21 tackles for loss, but he missed all of last year with a broken leg. He's ready now.
Strength: Size on the ends. As always, this is a big group with ends built to be 3-4 defensive tackles, and they can all move. It should take a little bit of time, but there should be a nice rotation once the coaching staff figures out the pecking order.
Weakness: Stopping the run. The Huskers got ripped up by UCLA for 344 rushing yards in a loss. They were destroyed by 371 yards and six scores against Ohio State, and lost. Wisconsin embarrassed the defensive front with 539 yards and eight scores in the Big Ten championship, and Georgia was effective when it had to be when Aaron Murray wasn't busy bombing away. Without a slew of massive tackles, and with the departure of Chase Rome, all four spots have to be stronger against the run.
Outlook: The Husker defensive front wasn't a complete and total disaster, but it didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield and it failed miserably against the run in a few key games. The call has gone out to get tougher – the call always goes out to get tougher under Bo Pelini – and this could be the difference between getting back to the Big Ten championship or being a decent also-ran.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The linebacking corps loses almost all the key parts with Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley gone after doing most of the heavy lifting. The new star of the group should be sophomore David Santos, a 6-0, 225-pounder who saw plenty of work in his first season making 24 tackles with two tackles for loss. Able to play either in the middle or on the weakside, he'll find a role somewhere and should be one of the team's leading tacklers with sideline-to-sideline range and great hitting ability.
Junior Trevor Roach is build for the middle at 6-2 and 230 pounds, but now he needs more work after making just five tackles in his limited role. The former walk-on running back is quick with good range, while 2012 star recruit Zaire Anderson is looking to come back and become a big time producer after suffering a knee injury. The 5-11, 220-pound former JUCO transfer was brought in and shine right away, and now he needs to use his speed and big hitting ability to put up big numbers on the weakside. 6-5, 230-pound sophomore Max Pirman spent last year as a backup at the Buck but failed to see the light of day. He has the size and the toughness against the run, but now he has to show it on the field.
Watch Out For … the true freshmen. It's an open casting call for jobs, and star recruit Josh Banderas might get a long look right away on the outside and Marcus Newby isn't far behind. The 6-2, 220-pound Banderas is a local product who dominated as both a running back and a linebacker, while the 6-1, 210-pound Newby is a speedster out of Maryland who should be a nasty all-around playmaker.
Strength: Speed and quickness. The Husker linebackers aren't huge, but they can all move and they can all be used in a variety of ways. For a defense that needs to find ways to make plays in the backfield, this group should be turned loose.
Weakness: Experience. Fisher, Compton and Whaley combined for 223 tackles and handled most of the workload, even with a lot of tinkering with the lineup. It's going to take a while before the Huskers have the right combination that'll make the coaching staff feel comfortable.
Outlook: It's all about the playing time. There's talent and plenty of upside, but there aren't sure things for all three spots. Considering the defensive front needs time and work to jell, it's going to be a problem for the linebacking corps if there isn't steady production right away. The linebackers have to make up for mistakes with the occasional big play – aggressiveness has to patch up the problems.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The secondary is by far the most experienced unit on the defense helped by the return of all the top cornerbacks. Senior Ciante Evans has done a little bit of everything for the secondary, seeing time as a corner but spending most of last year as a nickel defender making 56 tackles with a pick and eight broken up passes. The 5-11, 190-pounder has good speed, great range and nice instincts, answering the call last year to start making more plays when the ball was in the air. While he's fine at corner, starting in three of the last four regular season games, he's a better fit in the nickel to help out against the run.
If Evans stays at the nickel, that means senior Andrew Green needs to be the No. 1 shutdown corner on the other side. The 6-0, 195-pounder made 50 tackles with a three broken up passes, but he didn't come up with a pick. He's built like a safety and can hit like one, but he needs to get healthy after suffering a shoulder injury. Working on the other side, at least in a rotation, will be senior Stanley Jean-Baptise and/or junior Josh Mitchell, two veterans who know what they're doing and can fill in just about anywhere. The 6-3, 220-pound Jean-Baptiste is huge for a corner, and he uses his size well making 24 tackles with two picks and nine broken up passes. At the other end of the size spectrum is the 5-11, 160-pound Mitchell, a rail-thin scrapper who started over the first half of last season and in the bowl game, finishing with 29 tackles with a pick and five broken up passes.
The big problem will be replacing strong safety Damion Stafford, who brought a ton of talent and tackles, along with plenty of attitude. 6-2, 210-pound junior Harvey Jackson will find a role at one of the safety jobs after working in dime packages and as a reserve making 13 tackles, but he has to show he can shine in passing situations. Fellow junior Corey Cooper has 6-1, 210-pound size and can hit, making 17 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, but he has mostly been a playmaker on special teams. They'll have to fight off sophomore Charles Jackson, a special teamer who made 11 tackles in a reserve role; he has tremendous upside.
Watch Out For … senior Mohammed Seisay and Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose. Seisay was the superstar JUCO transfer who was supposed to come in and be a rock at corner from Day One last season, but the 6-2, 200-pounder failed to make any sort of an impact coming up with just seven tackles. Meanwhile, the expectations are high for Rose, who showed enough on the sidelines last season to be ready for a role as a corner or a nickel and dime defender. They each could be tried out at safety.
Strength: Corner. Easily the strongest position on the defense, Green, Mitchell and Evans form a terrific trio, and there's more than enough depth to play around with the combinations. A few players need to move to see playing time, because the Huskers have a big void at …
Weakness: Safety. Stafford was a tone-setter and P.J. Smith was a good one who finished third on the team in tackles. There are options, but don't get comfortable with the starting lineup. It could take awhile before the right combination is found.
Outlook: The secondary technically had a fantastic season, finishing fourth in the nation against the pass, but it didn't face many bombers and was lit up like a Christmas tree by Aaron Murray in the bowl loss. The corners will be outstanding and the safeties will be good in time, but the production could be a mirage. Teams are going to pound away with the running game until the green front seven proves it can stop it.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Replacing Brett Maher is going to be a big, big problem. He was everything for the kicking game, averaging 41.8 yards per punt and nailing 20 of his last 25 field goal attempts. The hope is for Mauro Bondi to be the next big thing Husker kicker. With a huge leg, the Florida native doesn't have range issues and can become a good punter with a little time, too. After redshirting last season, he has three years left, but receiver Sam Foltz will also be tested out at punter to see if he can add another option.
Running back Ameer Abdullah is a special, next-level caliber kick and punt returner, averaging 21.2 yards per kickoff return and 13.1 yards per punt return. He wasn't quite able to break free on kickoffs like he did two years ago when he averaged 29.3 yards per try, but he improved on punt returns. Teams are going to avoid him at all costs.
Watch Out For … Bondi. Maher wasn't exactly the superstar many thought he could be in place of Alex Henery, but he was strong. Bondi has just as strong a leg and should grow into an all-star in the dual-threat kicking role over the next few seasons.
Strength: Abdullah. Receiver Kenny Bell will get his chances on kickoff returns, too, but it's Abdullah who's the game-changer who can take over with a big play on one big cut. He's an elite talent.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Huskers were awful in punt coverage, allowing 11.8 yards per try with a score, and were mediocre on kickoff returns giving up 20.6 yards per try.
Outlook: Bondi will be great, Abdullah is an All-American, and if the Husker coverage teams can get a wee bit stronger, they'll have a big advantage.
Unit Rating: 8
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