Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Nebraska Preview
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What you need to know: The Nebraska Cornhuskers, the
Nebraska Cornhuskers, allowed 477 yards per game, 232
rushing yards, and 38 points per game. Bo Pelini, and his
brother, defensive coordinator, Carl, are going to change things
up not tomorrow, not after breakfast, now. Everything starts
with the line that did absolutely nothing last year to get into
the backfield and was a marshmallow against the run. Now it's
leaner, it's meaner, and it's full of good veterans and lots of
depth. If the line isn't fantastic, it's uh-oh time with a
potentially awful back seven that needs everything the Pelini
brothers can put together. There's no depth whatsoever, marginal
talent in the linebacking corps, and decent, but not great
defensive backs. If nothing else, the defense will be far more
aggressive and unlike last year, it should be able to tackle.
Tackles: Larry Asante,
Barry Turner, 3
Interceptions: Kevin Dixon, Zach Potter, 1
Star of the defense: Senior DE Barry Turner
Player who has to step up and become a star: The entire
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DB Prince Amukamara
Best pro prospect: Senior NT Ndamukong Suh
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Turner, 2) Suh, 3) CB
Strength of the defense: Line experience, the coaches
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker, depth in the back seven
Projected Starters: The line that has to be considered among the
least productive in the history of Nebraska football gets back all four
starters including a star in senior Zach Potter at one end. At
6-7 and 280 pounds, he's built like tall tackle and last year, despite
the overall problems up front, he finally played up to his size and
potential making 45 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss. While
he wasn't Adam Carriker, he was an honorable mention All-Big 12
performer who went full-tilt all the time and became the one guy who
showed up every week.
Back on the other side is 6-3, 260-pound senior Barry Turner, a
one-time top recruit with size, safety-like speed, and next-level
upside, and while he made 20 tackles and three sacks, he wasn't a
consistent pass rusher and hasn't lived up to his potential after a
great freshman year. He needs to be more consistent, and after adding 10
pounds, he needs to be stronger against the run.
6-3, 300-pound junior Ndamukong Suh has had all-star potential
and was supposed to be a rock against the run last year, and while he
made 34 tackles, a sack and six tackles for loss, he hasn't quite played
up to his talent. While he hardly dogs it, the coaching staff is trying
to light a fire under him to become the player he's supposed to be. With
his size and quickness, he's an All-Big 12 star waiting to happen if he
gets past an off-season knee injury.
There will be a good rotation at the other tackle spot where 6-3,
285-pound senior Kevin Dixon came in from the JUCO ranks and was
a relative disappointment making 19 tackles and three tackles for loss.
If he plays like he's supposed to, he's a big-time interior pass rusher
who can blow past the mediocre interior linemen.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 280-pound senior
Ty Steinkuhler, son of legendary Nebraska offensive lineman, Dean,
is quick, strong, and extremely active with the athleticism to play end
and the toughness to play tackle. He'll rotate with Dixon on the inside
after making 13 tackles and four tackles for loss, and now he has to do
more. He started in eight games, but now he's in better overall shape
and should be even quicker.
6-4, 255-pound senior Clayton Sievers started out his career as a
tight end, was moved to linebacker, and ended up on the line where he
made seven tackles. While he's still figuring out what he's doing, he's
expected to be decent behind Turner.
Working behind Potter at the other end will be 6-5, 265-pound sophomore
Pierre Allen, a tremendous athlete who made 16 and three tackles
for loss last year. After a year in the weight room, he needs to be more
of a factor against the run and he has to show that he can be a top
starter in 2009.
Former JUCO transfer Shurkee Barfield is 6-4,
300-pound size and next-level talent, but he doesn't really know how to
use it. The senior tackle made 15 stops last year and will see plenty of
action behind Suh to beef up the interior of the line even more.
Watch Out For ... far, far more from the tackles.
It's wrong to say the line gave up last year, but once the floodgates
started to open up, the tackles did nothing to close them. Suh, Dixon,
Steinkuhler and Barfield should form one of the most improved units in
the Big 12.
Strength: Veterans. Not only do all four starters
return, but all four backups are back as well. There should be a good
rotation, there's excellent size, and there's a coaching staff that
knows how to handle linemen.
Weakness: Looking like Tarzan, playing like Jane.
This is a very big, very strong, very quick, very experienced line that
did absolutely nothing last year. There was little pressure into the
backfield, the run defense was the worst in the Big 12, and no one,
outside of Potter, played up to his talent level.
Outlook: Expect a night-and-day improvement. All
new coaching staffs say they need to get their players in better shape,
but this one actually did it with the front four that will be far more
aggressive and far better. There's no way, no how the line does that
under this coaching staff.
Projected Starters: All three starters need to be replaced, but
there's a good prospect in the making on the weakside, in place of
leading tackler, Steve Octavien, in Cody Glenn, the former I-Back
who got lost in the shuffle, and was hurt, running for just 78 yards and
two touchdowns last year. The 6-0, 230-ponder looked like a natural in
spring ball using his athleticism to get all over the field.
Taking over for Corey McKeon in the middle will be 6-1, 238-pound junior
Phillip Dillard, one of the most interesting prospects after
transforming himself from around 270 pounds to a lighter, quicker
defender. He made 37 tackles as a key reserve and spot starter last year
in the middle, after missing almost all of 2006 with a knee injury, but
now he's much faster and should be far more effective.
All of a sudden, 6-3, 235-pound senior Tyler Wortman has become a
factor. One of the stars of spring ball, he has benefitted as much as
anyone on defense with the new coaching change as he went from being a
little used backup who made nine tackles and three tackles for los, to
the likely starter on the strongside. He's a smart player who'll make
his mark as a pass rusher in the more aggressive scheme.
Projected Top Reserves: Trying to push Tyler
Wortman for the starting strongside job, or Buck position, is 6-2,
225-pound sophomore Blake Lawrence, an undersized defender who
spent most of last year on special teams. In his limited role he ended
up making just two tackles.
Sophomore Latravis Washington is more like a beefed up safety
playing linebacker, but the 6-3, 225-pounder is tough and has tremendous
speed behind Glenn on the weakside. The cousin of former Nebraska star
CB, Fabian Washington, one of the NFL's fastest players, Latravis will
be used in a variety of way to get his athleticism on the field.
6-1, 230-pound junior Colton Koehler hasn't gotten on the field
yet, and started out as a fullback, but the depth is such an issue at
linebacker that he's likely going to be the No. 2 man in the middle to
start the season. He got a crash course this spring as he was always on
the field, and now he has to prove he deserves meaningful minutes.
A few untested players like walk-ons Thomas Grove, a 6-2,
220-pound sophomore who made an impact on special teams, and 6-1,
230-pound redshirt freshman Mike Hays, a possible factor in the
middle, will need to be a part of the overall equation, the real hope is
for true freshman Will Compton to be a factor from day one. The
6-2, 230-pound top recruit was a good running back and a killer defender
making 107 tackles, four sacks, and 16 tackles for loss in his senior
season. Missouri wanted him, and Nebraska got him.
Watch Out For ... Glenn. While it might seem like a
panic move to take a solid backup running back and stick him in a key
starting defensive spot, Glenn is the real deal and is a linebacker, not
a running back playing linebacker. He should be fantastic.
Strength: The coaching. Pelini and his staff will
make up for the lack of experience and proven production with a scheme
that'll get everyone moving and make everyone swarm around the ball.
There won't be a whole bunch of reading and reacting to do.
Weakness: The linebacking corps. There are good
athletes and decent prospects, but replacing the trio of Steve Octavien,
Bo Ruud, and Corey McKeon won't be easy. Basically, Nebraska's starting
three will be made up of a former running back, a backup who lost about
40 pounds, and an afterthought of a reserve who has come from out of
Outlook: Uh oh. While the coaching staff should be
able to put the players in places to succeed, if there's any one area on
the team that could meltdown and become an absolute disaster, it should
be the linebacking corps. Then again, last year's corps appeared poised
and ready to be one of the best in the Big 12, and it stunk.
Projected Starters: Any improvement in the secondary will
revolve around senior Armando Murillo, the team's No. 1
cover-corner who's coming off a strong season finishing fourth on the
team with 71 tackles with seven broken up passes and five tackles for
loss. The 6-0, 190-pound former JUCO transfer, and cousin of Washington
Wizard star Gilbert Arenas, was one of the team's only ironmen starting
every game at left corner, and he showed this spring that he should be
Stepping in on the other side for Courtney Grixby will be 6-1, 195-pound
sophomore Prince Amukamara, and while he'll go into the fall with
a slight edge for the right corner job, he'll likely make his biggest
impact as a nickel back. Mostly a special teamer so far, he made four
tackles, but he has phenomenal speed and good size for a corner.
Returning to his strong safety job will be 6-1, 210-pound junior
Larry Asante, the former JUCO transfer who earned honorable mention
All-Big 12 recognition after finishing second on the team with 78
tackles. While he was a great last line of defense to help out a front
seven that couldn't stop the run, the former linebacker didn't do enough
when the ball was in the air. He's a big hitter who has the potential to
blossom into a star all-around playmaker.
Moving in at free safety for Tierre Green will be junior Rickey
Thenarse after making 29 tackles. A great hitter who forced two
fumbles, the 6-0, 195-pounder team's two-time special teams MVP, and
former superstar recruit out of L.A., will play like an extra linebacker
in the secondary. He has the range, but he has to prove he can cover
Projected Top Reserves: 5-10, 180-pound sophomore
Anthony Blue is the team's most promising young corner with
phenomenal track-star speed, he's part of the Husker track team, and
good tackling ability with 18 tackles, but he suffered a knee injury
this off-season and is trying to get back for the fall. List him as
questionable, at best. If he's back, it'll likely be after the season
starts, but if he's healthy, he's the starting corner on the other side
With major depth question marks across the board, 6-0, 205-pound junior
Major Culbert will be an invaluable reserve who'll start out at
strong safety behind Asante, but will likely spend most of his time
moving around where needed. He made nine tackles last season, but he
didn't do anything against the pass. Used a big as a linebacker at
times, he has good size and toughness.
Also among the team's most versatile defensive backs is 6-1, 200-pound
sophomore Eric Hagg. Likely needed more at safety, he ended up
playing mostly at corner this spring and will start out behind Murillo.
He made two tackles last year on special teams, but new he's needed to
fill a big hole in a backup role in several spots.
Watch Out For ... a lot of moving around. The
secondary will be counted on to lock down even more now that the defense
will bring more pressure and be more aggressive. It might take a little
while to find the right combination, especially if Blue isn't back from
his knee injury.
Strength: Versatility. Amukamara can play
anywhere, Culbert and Hagg can play either safety spot, with Hagg able
to move in at corner, and Thenarse able to play free or strong safety if
Weakness: Depth. The secondary desperately needs
Blue in the mix to put Amukamara in a safety or nickel spot. There are
decent reserves, but there isn't anyone special waiting in the wings.
This group only picked off four passes last year, with the linebackers
getting the rest.
Outlook: This was supposed to be a strong,
productive defensive backfield last year, but it didn't happen as
injuries and problems with the pass rush hurt the overall numbers. It
didn't help that the Husker secondary had to spend so much time cleaning
up the messes against the run. Now this could be a trouble spot with a
decent starting foursome, but little proven depth and no real standouts
other than, possibly, Murillo. A lot of pressure will be put on this
secondary to produce.
Projected Starters: The placekickers didn't get too many
opportunities, but they came through when they got a shot with sophomore
Alex Henery hitting all eight of his field goal attempts, with all
coming inside the 40, while sophomore Adi Kunalic nailed the one
46-yard attempt he had. These two will get far more work this year,
especially Kunalic who has range from just inside of the stadium.
Senior punter Dan Titchener is an experienced veteran who
averaged 41.3 yards per kick and put 14 inside the 20. He has a decent
leg, but not a big one, but he's good at placing the ball. He might not
be special, but he's not going to get the team beat.
Watch Out For ... more from the placekickers. Henery
and Kunalic weren't used nearly enough last year, but that's going to
change. The field goal attempts, just nine last year, will likely
Strength: Veteran kickers. Titchener is solid
while Henery and Kunalic are a great tandem. The coaching staff will
have confidence in the kicking game.
Weakness: The return game. It was fine last year
with Courtney Grixby a great kickoff returner and mediocre punt return
man. Now the return game will up in the air until this fall.
Outlook: The special teams weren't all that bad
across the board, and they should be decent. The punting game, with a
great coverage team, needs to shine again, while the kickers need to
build on a strong 2007. The key will be to get a bit more pop out of the