2007 Nebraska Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 9, 2007

Preview 2007 Nebraska Defense Preview

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Nebraska Preview | 2007 Nebraska Offense Preview
- 2007 Nebraska Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Nebraska Preview

What you need to know:
Defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove is about throwing different looks at offenses over the last few years, and while he loses all four starters off a great front four, he has more talent and depth to work with. The strength is in the linebacking corps, where Bo Ruud, Corey McKeon, Steve Octavien and Lance Brandenburgh will control the defense. There's speed to burn in the secondary, but the defensive backs haven't played up to their potential or athleticism over the last few years. This will be one of the Big 12's better defenses, but it still might not be close to the killer of some of the great Husker teams of the past.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Andre Jones, 74
Sacks: Ndamukong Suh, 2.5
Interceptions: Bo Ruud, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Bo Ruud
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Zach Potter
Unsung star on the rise: Senior S Bryan Wilson
Best pro prospect: Senior NT Ndamukong Suh
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ruud, 2) Suh, 3) LB Corey McKeon
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, secondary speed
Weakness of the defense:
Shutdown corner, sure-thing defensive ends

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
With all four starters needing to be replaced on the line, 6-3, 250-pound junior Barry Turner has to become the star on the end he's expected to be. He had a hard time getting too much action with stars Jay Moore and Adam Carriker manning the ends for the last two years, but he still made 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks with six quarterback hurries. He has all the tools, including 4.5 speed, to become a superior all-around defender taking over for Moore at the Open End, but first he has to come back healthy from a shoulder problem that kept him out of spring ball.

The other end spot isn't so secure. 6-7, 280-pound junior Zach Porter hasn't played up to his size making three tackles as a special teamer. While he's a physical specimen, and an Academic All-Big 12 performer, he hasn't been able to grow into a role. Now he has the unenviable task of taking over at Base End for Carriker, the 13th pick in the draft.

6-3, 305-pound sophomore Ndamukong Suh is a rock of a run defender on the nose, making 19 tackles as a reserve, and he's also fantastic at getting into the backfield with 3.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. Quick off the ball, he's growing into an all-star to revolve the entire defense around. He should be even quicker now that he's a year removed from a knee injury that knocked hum out early in his true freshman season.

A familiar last name is at the other tackle. 6-3, 285-pound junior Ty Steinkuhler, son of legendary Nebraska offensive lineman, Dean, is an emerging defender making 22 stops and three tackles for loss in a backup role. He's not a monster on the inside, but he's quick, strong, and extremely active. He'll shine with Suh taking up at least two blockers on every play.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing help at the Open End behind Turner will be 6-4, 245-pound junior Clayton Sievers, a former tight end and linebacker who'll move to the line full-time. Athleticism isn't a problem, and he showed the strength to time in goal line situations.

A pair of big tackles will rotate in to provide some bulk. 6-3, 315-pound senior Brandon Johnson is a bigger option behind Steinkuhler. The former JUCO transfer is big and strong, but he won't get into the backfield like Steinkuhler. 6-4, 310-pound junior Shurkee Barfield is another JUCO transfer who sat out last year and should quickly grow into a force. Originally a Rutgers Scarlet Knight before transferring, he was a top prospect and a great get for the Huskers.

On the way is
Joseph Townsend, a JUCO transfer who'll have four years to play three. He's a 6-3, 285-pound tackle with the speed and quickness to be a big end, and the frame to add a few more pounds and grow into a star tackle.
Watch Out For ... the line to not miss Carriker and Moore as much as many might think. It's a bit of a stretch to call last year's Husker line a disappointment, considering the high expectations and top-shelf talent all across the front, but yeah, it was a disappointment. There might not be a top 15 draft pick up front, but it should be rock-solid.
Strength: Aggressive tackles. Suh will be an All-Big 12 performer, and Steinkuhler is non-stop plugger who'll make a ton of plays by always going full-tilt. It's never a bad thing to have two top backups, like Johnson and Barfield, checking in around 310 pounds.
Weakness: The second defensive end opposite Turner. Is Potter ready to live up to his potential? Can 6-5, 265-pound redshirt freshman Pierre Allen be the consistent speed rusher who can change games? Turner will do his job, but the other side is still shaky.
Outlook: You don't get better by losing players like Carriker and Moore, along with solid tackles Barry Cryer and Ola Dagunduro. Despite losing all four starters, there isn't going to be a huge drop-off in overall production against the run. With a great linebacking corps behind them, the front foursome will be able to take some chances from time to time.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters
After making 65 tackles and two sacks last year, with three forced fumbles, and with 145 stops in the last two years, 6-3, 235-pound senior Bo Ruud is moving from the weakside, where he was good in pass coverage, but not special, to the strongside. He's a smart veteran who's tough as nails and always in the right position to make plays. The first-team All-Big 12 selection will be an even bigger star at his new spot.

Taking over Ruud's spot on the weakside will be 6-0, 240-pound senior Steve Octavien, a phenomenal talent with all the NFL measurables to be a great all-around defender. A huge hitter, he came up with 32 tackles and a sack despite being dinged up with a leg problem and missing five games. If he can stay 100% healthy, which is a big if, he has the size, speed, and skills to be all over the field and grow into an all-star.

A bit unsung, compared to Ruud and Octavien, is 6-1, 225-pound senior Corey McKeon, who finished third on the team with 69 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Over the last two years, he has 167 stops and a whopping 30 tackles for loss with eight sacks and 13 quarterback hurries, however, he made most of his plays in the backfield as a sophomore. He was asked to sit back a bit more rather than fly to the passer, and he has the ability to go back to becoming a terror behind the line if it's in the overall scheme. While he's not huge, he's as tough as they come.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 230-pound senior Lance Brandenburgh will be the main backup both in the middle and on the weakside. Versatile enough to step on on the strongside, too, he made 41 tackles and four tackles for loss in a reserve role, with once start in the middle against Missouri. He's a smart player who doesn't make mistakes

6-2, 225-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Moore is an undersized strongside linebacker with excellent upside. With his speed, he should be able to step in early on after a big spring, but it'll be next to impossible to get Ruud off the field.

Also in the hunt somewhere, likely in the middle, will be 6-1, 250-pound sophomore Phillip Dillard after getting over a knee injury suffered in the season opener. As the biggest linebacker in the mix, he's a physical presence with the talent (he was a top recruit in 2005) to eventually be a strong starter.

Watch Out For ... Ruud's stats to blow up. It's not like he didn't put up huge numbers over the last two years, but now he should be in the hunt for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He'll be free to do more to get into the backfield and be more disruptive.
Strength: Veterans. Ruud and McKeon have been rocks of the defense over the last two years, while Octavien might be the most talented of the bunch. You can do a whole bunch worse than Brandenburgh, Moore and Dillard as backups.
Weakness: Not much. To look for a possible problem, this isn't the best all-around group against the pass, but even that's not that a glaring isSuh.
Outlook: It's more of a star-studded corps than it might get credit for on a national level. Ruud and McKeon will get all-star honors, while Octavien has top 100 draft pick potential. As good as everyone is, there has to be more forced turnovers and more big plays against the run. Those will come.
Rating: 9

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
There's experience in the corps, but there are still plenty of concerns. The first problem is 5-9, 170-pound senior Cortney Grixby, who was picked apart last year. While he has a ton of experience, some of the best wheels on the team, and is a strong tackler with 99 stops over the last two years. He broke up 11 passes, and picked off one, and now he has to make teams pay for throwing his way.

On the other side, is 6-0, 190-pound senior Andre Jones after starting every game, finishing second on the team with 74 tackles. He made an interception and broke up seven passes, and is a lock for one of the starting jobs with great speed to go along with his open-field tackling skills.

Senior Tierre Green started his career at running back, moved to corner, and last year made 65 tackles with an interception in his first year as strong safety. Doing a little of everything for the team, now he'll likely move to free safety, despite being an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer at strong safety. With his speed, he projects more as a free safety at the next level.

The strong safety job is up for grabs, but after a fantastic spring, 6-1, 205-pound senior Bryan Wilson appears to have taken over the spot. A career special teamer with only four tackles, with a little time at corner and nickel situations, and now he could come from out of nowhere and be one of the team's top tacklers. First, he'll have to prove the spring wasn't a fluke.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 200-pound senior Zackary Bowman went into last year as a top NFL prospect, and then the Alaska native tore his ACL in fall practices. He worked hard, appeared to get his speed back, and looked ready to take over one of the starting corner jobs before tearing his patellar tendon. Now, he's likely out until mid-season, at best. When healthy, he's the team's best shutdown corner.

If Wilson sees time at free safety, or falters this fall, 6-1, 210-pound sophomore Larry Asante will take over at strong safety. A huge hitter, the JUCO transfer made 76 tackles with 11 tackles for loss for Coffeyville CC. A former linebacker, he should eventually take over the starting role and be the tone-setter for the secondary.

With Bowman's status up in the air, JUCO transfer Armando Munillo will play a big role as a backup at both corner spots, if he doesn't take over a starting job. The cousin of Washington Wizard star Gilbert Arenas could've gone just about anywhere, and with his 6-0, 195-pound size, NFL ball skills, and potential he'll be a vital contributor from day one.

Watch Out For ... Tierre Green to finally get his just due. Moving around as much as he has, he hasn't been able to get settled at any one spot. He appears to be a prototype free safety and should grow into the role. Of course, he could move back to strong safety.
Strength: Speed. If it seems like everyone has NFL speed, it's because everyone in the secondary really does. There's no shortage of athleticism, and now it has to mean even more production.
Weakness: Number one cornerback. Andre Jones is a stat-sheet filler, but he's not a true shutdown defender. Bowman's injury was a huge blow to the defensive backfield, and he needs to get back at some point.
Outlook: For the first time in the Bill Callahan era, the Huskers have several options to play around with. Once Bowman gets back, they'll have even more. It all might come down to Grixby. If he uses his experience and speed to come up with some picks early, and teams start to stay away from him, it'll be a huge plus. USC's and (don't laugh) Ball State's high-octane passing games come up early on the slate.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game was solid with Jordon Congdon connecting on five of seven field goal attempts and junior Dan Titchener averaging 39.3 yards per punt with a whopping 26 put inside the 20 and 28 forced fair catches. Congdon didn't have a huge leg and ended up transferring to USC, leaving the door open for junior Jake Wesch to get a shot after handling some of the kickoff duties. He has great range, but he'll have to prove he can be consistent or true freshman Adi Kunalic, who has a 50-yard leg, could take over.
Watch Out For ... the placekicking job to be a thorn in the team's side for a while. It's going to be an ongoing battle that won't be settled until Nevada comes to Lincoln.
Strength: Titschener. Most look at average and simply assume a punter is good or bad based on it. Titschener was one of the nation's most effective punters with his ability to pin teams deep, and only allowing 4.1 yards per return.
Weakness: The return game. Nebraska averaged a mere 17.43 yards per kickoff return and 8.17 yards per punt return. Cortney Grixby will get a shot at returning punts after averaging 7.1 yards per try, while Marlon Lucky will be the main kickoff returner after averaging 19.1 yards per attempt.
Outlook: The special teams will look to several newcomers to beef things up all the way around after an average season. The kick return game wasn't bad in the past, and could be good again in a big hurry. The big question mark, and the difference between a Big 12 title type of season and being an also-ran, could depend on whether or not a steady placekicker shows up.
Rating: 7.5


Related Stories
2007 Nebraska Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 24, 2007
2007 Nebraska Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 9, 2007
2007 Nebraska Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 9, 2007

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