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2009 Nebraska Preview - Defense
Nebraska DE Pierre Allen
Nebraska DE Pierre Allen
Posted Jul 12, 2009 2009 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Defense

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Nebraska Preview | 2009 Nebraska Offense
- 2009 Nebraska Defense | 2009 Nebraska Depth Chart
2008 Nebraska Preview | 2007 Nebraska Preview | 2006 Nebraska Preview 

What you need to know:
The defense improved by leaps and bounds allowing 350 yards per game, after giving up 477 yards per game in 2007, and was far, far more physical and far better. It wasn't a brick wall of a defense thanks to playing in the Big 12, but it was good enough to finish second in the league and now should be even better. The line is the strength by far with tackle Ndamukong Suh and end Pierre Allen sure to be on All-Big 12 teams. The veteran linebackers are mediocre, but there's young talent waiting to play big roles and upgrade the corps. The secondary will get plenty of help from a line that should hit quarterbacks early and often, and now there needs to be more production. The corners have to come up with more big plays while the safeties have to do more than just tackle. The Pelini brothers, head coach Bo and defensive coordinator Carl, will have this group flying around and being disruptive again, and their D will only keep getting better.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ndamukong Suh, 76
Sacks: Ndamukong Suh, 7.5
Interceptions: Ndamukong Suh, Anthony West, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DT Ndamukong Suh
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Colton Koehler
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DT Baker Steinkuhler
Best pro prospect: Suh
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Suh, 2) DE Pierre Allen, 3) SS Larry Asante
Strength of the defense: Line, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Corner 

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
If Ndamukong Suh isn't the best defensive tackle in the country, he's probably the most productive stat-wise. The 6-4, 300-pound senior has always had all-star potential and he has always had the tools, but he was never able to put it all together. Enter Bo Pelini and the new coaching staff, and now Suh might be a top five overall draft pick next season. He has the total package with tremendous speed and quickness to go along with his size. He did everything for the defensive front with a team-leading 76 tackles with 7.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He even came up with two interceptions with one going for a 49-yard touchdown against San Jose State and one going 30 yards for a score against Colorado. The one slight concern is a former knee injury, but it wasn't an issue last year and it's not expected to be a problem this season.

While the return of Suh is huge for the line, he could've and should've turned pro early, Nebraska gets another huge bonus with the return of Barry Turner from a broken leg. The 6-3, 265-pound senior was a superstar recruit when he arrived and has next level potential if he can prove he's 100% after last year. He made three sacks, a sack, and two tackles for loss in just over one game of work. While he hasn't lived up to his immense potential, he has the size and quickness to flourish on the left end.

With the return of Turner, and the loss of Zach Potter, junior Pierre Allen will take over on the right side. He held the spot at the Open End in place of Turner after the second game of the year and finished third on the team with 52 tackles with five sacks and ten tackles for loss. A phenomenal athlete, he beefed up to get to 6-5 and 265 pounds and proved he could be more of a factor against the run and not just a pass rushing specialist.

Sophomore Jared Crick was excellent this offseason and should flourish on the inside next to Suh. The 6-6, 280-pounder will benefit from playing next to Suh and should be a constant in the backfield. He only made two tackles with a broken up pass in his limited work last season, and while he'll have to fight to be a main part of the rotation, he should be a stat-sheet filler.

Projected Top Reserves: Continuing in the tradition of Nebraska Steinkuhlers, 6-6, 290-pound Baker Steinkuhler should make a name for himself. With a tremendous array of skills and talents, the redshirt freshman can play either on the nose behind Suh or rotate in at tackle. The star of the 2008 recruiting class, originally as an offensive lineman, he has shown in practices that he's more than ready to shine on the defensive side.

6-3, 285-pound sophomore Terrence Moore might be lost in the tackle shuffle, but he was a nice reserve last year and can rotate in at either spot after making eight tackles with two sacks. He's an active interior pass rusher who can hold his own at the nose if needed, but he'll make a bigger impact as a true defensive tackle. He'd be at his best as an end in the 3-4.

After beefing up to fill out his frame, 6-3, 250-pound William Yancy appears ready to do far more on the end. He only made one tackle, but the sophomore has
the raw quickness and the high-end motor to eventually become a pass rushing specialist in the rotation with Allen on the right side.

Considered to be among the top defensive end recruits in the nation, 6-4, 250-pound Jason Ankrah has the potential to make an impact right away. While he's built like a linebacker, he has the toughness to hold up against the run and he should be a terror into the backfield. He's not going to be rushed, but he's a playmaker who'll someday be in the mix for all-star honors.
Watch Out For ... Steinkuhler. He's so good that he's pushing hard for the coveted starting tackle job next to Suh. He has tremendous pass rushing ability and the type of basic skills that NFL teams pay millions for. Now he just needs a little playing time.
Strength: Suh. This is a good line without him; it's the strength of the team with him. While he won't have to do everything for the defense like he did last year, he could if needed. Everyone works around him and everyone will flourish with all the attention he receive.
Weakness: Proven backup ends. The tackle rotation is phenomenal, but the reserve ends need a little seasoning. Allen and Turner are quality starters who should be in for a nice year, but defensive coordinator Carl Pelini likes to rotate his linemen and he needs more out of the pass rushers on the outside.
Outlook: The line looked the part going into last season with size, résumés, and athleticism, but it hadn't produced as well as it should've. It came through big-time against the mediocre teams, and now it has to be better against the elite. Thanks to Suh, there should be plenty of plays behind the line while it should lead the way for the best run defense in the North.
Rating: 9


Projected Starters
The linebacking corps is in a state of flux, but 6-1, 240-pound senior Phillip Dillard should be set with a starting spot somewhere in the equation after making 38 tackles in nine games with five starts. Able to play in the middle or on the weakside, he has tremendous quickness for a big player. He was never quite healthy last year, but he's 100% now and should be one of the team's leading tacklers. He just needs to cement himself in a position.

For the moment, 6-1, 230-pound Colton Koehler is a smart defender who got a crash course after moving over from fullback. The former walk-on got a start late last year in the middle and finished the year with 16 stops in seven games of work. While he's limited and he isn't going to fly all over the field, he'll make every tackle that comes his way and will at the very least be dependable.

Sophomore Mathew May became a factor late last year and finished with six tackles with a sack. More of a safety than a linebacker, the 6-1, 215-pound former walk-on who made a seamless transition from the defensive backfield and now will work out on the strongside to provide more athleticism. Now that he has an established role, he should be used a bit as a pass rusher.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Will Compton has the raw talent and the ability to shoehorn his way into the starting lineup in the middle. The 6-2, 230-pounder almost played as a true freshman, but was able to wait, learn, and get physically and mentally stronger. He didn't miss any plays in spring ball and he's a sure enough tackler to put up nice numbers.

Where is Alonzo Whaley going to play? The 6-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman is built for a job on the inside but he's a tremendous athlete and is good enough to play at either outside position. He might not take over a starting job, but he'll be a vital backup for all three spots and should be able to step in and produce wherever needed.

6-3, 225-pound Blake Lawrence proved he can make things happen even though he's not all that big. While he's better suited for the strongside, he's valuable enough to work on the weakside and will be a key backup after making 21 tackles with an interception. He started in the Gator Bowl against Clemson and against Kansas State, and while he won't push Dillard out of a job, he'll play.
Watch Out For ... Compton. Koehler is a decent prospect in the middle, but Compton is the one who can make the defense special and be a star who can put up huge numbers if he gets steady playing time. He should be a good cog in the system for the next four years.
Strength: The redshirt freshmen. There are serviceable veterans who partly came from the former coaching staff and partly from walking on, but the stars are quickly going to be Compton and Whaley. Having a veteran in Dillard should help ease the overall transition, but he needs to stay healthy.
Weakness: Talent level. The coaching staff got the most it could out of the linebackers last year, and even though the talent should be upgraded with some of the new faces in the mix, this still is an average group that'll have problems against the better offenses. Pass coverage will be a problem early on and big plays could be a larger overall issue.
Outlook: The defense produced well even without a good year from the linebacking corps, and while this year's group will benefit from having a strong defensive front to make things easier, it needs to be better against the teams with offensive talent. Call this a season of transition as the coaching staff tries to find the three best players from the relatively young crop to mold into a killer corps next year.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Junior Anthony West started 11 games last year on the right side and finished with 29 tackles with two interceptions and nine broken up passes. While he struggled with his consistency and didn't make enough big plays, he showed enough potential to possibly be the team's shut-down corner. Not only does he have 6-0, 200-pound size, but he's extremely quick. His biggest strength is his open field tackling ability.

Trying to take over on the other side will be Prince Amukamara, a 6-1, 195-pound junior who battled for a starting spot early last year and ended up starting three times, while serving as a key backup the rest of the way, making 34 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss and three broken up passes. Able to come up with plays as a nickel and dime back, he should use his phenomenal speed and his experience to be a decent option.

There's a battle for the free safety job with senior Rickey Thenarse the likely starter after taking over the job in the final four games of last year. The 6-0, 195-pound superstar recruit out of Los Angeles has been a fantastic special teamer and hits like a ton of bricks. He only made 24 tackles, but he came up with two sacks and six tackles for loss. He has the range and the hitting ability, but he has to do more against the pass.

Senior Larry Asante came up with an excellent season at strong safety finishing second on the team with 67 tackles with a sacks, two tackles for loss, and an interception with four broken up passes. The 6-1, 210-pound former JUCO transfer has earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and has been a nice tackler for the last two years. A big hitter, he started to do more against the pass and he should be even better with more responsibility.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for time at free safety and likely to work as a nickel and dime back will be Matt O'Hanlon, a 5-11, 195-pound senior who finished tied for third on the team with 52 tackles with an interception and five broken up passes. He started for most of the year at free safety, but he was inconsistent and didn't do enough when the ball was in the air. While he might play behind Thenarse, he'll see plenty of action.

The secondary could use as much help as it can get against the pass, and P.J. Smith appears to be a playmaker who needs to see time. The 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman was a playmaker this offseason and should start out working at strong safety to get his range and playmaking ability on the field. Extremely quick, he can be a good all-around backup who should more around.

5-10, 180-pound sophomore Anthony Blue is one of the team's faster players and is a great corner option. However, he missed all of last year trying to get healthy after suffering a knee injury. He's ready to go after getting practice time late last year, and he should push hard for a starting spot and should be a whale of a nickel defender. He has a few games of starting experience making 18 tackles in 2007.
Watch Out For ... the free safety job. Thenarse took over the job late last year, but O'Hanlon has seen enough time to push for the position all season long. Simply put, the Huskers need better safety play against the pass, so the chances will be there for someone to step up and take the job.
Strength: Safety. They might not be stars, but Thenarse, Hanlon, and Asante have been around long enough to know what they're doing. They're strong open field tacklers and are great at flying to the ball to keep ground games under wraps.
Weakness: Pass defense. Compared to the rest of the Big 12, the Huskers were loaded in the defensive backfield. They came up with just 12 interceptions as a team, with the line coming up with four picks and the linebackers taking away a few. With the pass rush to help out, the secondary needs to be better.
Outlook: Mediocre, the secondary needs to be far more productive after allowing 233 yards per game. On the plus side, Nebraska was second in the big 12 against the pass, but it was never consistent. There's speed on the outside and veterans at safety, with nice depth all across the board, but there are few playmakers.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Junior Alex Henery is a tremendously accurate kicker from inside the 50, nailing 17-of-18, while he cranked out an all-timer of a 57-yarder against Colorado. He might not have a cannon of a leg, but he can be trusted as much as any kicker in the Big 12. He'll also get the first look at the punting job in place of Dan Titchener, who averaged just 39.3 yards per try. Henery has the ability to hang the ball up high, but he'll be pushed for the job by redshirt freshman Brett Maher, who has proved in practices that he can step in and produce.

With Nate Swift, the team's top punt returner, gone, Niles Paul will likely get the first look after averaging ten yards per try on his eight attempts. Paul was great on kickoff returns averaging 23.6 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... the new punters. Maher might turn out to be the best option to allow Henery to stick at placekicker, but sophomore Jon Damkroger will get his chances. Henery has the trust of the coaching staff, but he won't get all the work.
Strength: Henery. The only knock has been his beyond-50 leg, but the 57-yarder against Colorado showed he could get a few shots. He'll nail everything from 49 yards and in.
Weakness: The coverage teams. The punt coverage squad struggled, allowing 9.5 yards per try, but the kickoff coverage team was a total disaster allowing 23.9 yards per return.
Outlook: The special teams have been fine over the last few years, and even though the punting could stand more blast with Henery taking over (maybe), there aren't too many issues. The coverage teams are a point of emphasis and need to be far tighter, but everything else should be fine.
Rating: 6.5



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2009 Nebraska Preview – Depth Chart
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2009 Nebraska Preview - Offense
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2009 CFN Nebraska Preview
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