2008 Nebraska Preview - Defense
Nebraska DE Zach Potter
Nebraska DE Zach Potter
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Defense

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Nebraska Preview | 2008 Nebraska Offense
- 2008 Nebraska Defense | 2008 Nebraska Depth Chart
2007 CFN Nebraska Preview | 2006 CFN Nebraska Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Larry Asante, 78
Sacks: 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 linebacking corps
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 Armando Murillo
Strength of the defense: Line experience, the coaches
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker, depth in the back seven

Defensive Line

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.
Rating: 7.5


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 nowhere.
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.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

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 even better.

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 someone.

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 of Murillo.

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 needed.
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.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

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 double.
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 returners.
Rating: 7