2010 Nebraska Preview – Defense
Nebraska S Eric Hagg
Nebraska S Eric Hagg
Posted Jun 11, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Nebraska Cornhusker Defense

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense went from soft in Bo Pelini's first year to a killer in Year Two. The Pelini brothers, Bo and defensive coordinator, Carl, will have everyone flying around and being disruptive. While there's no Ndamukong Suh to be the star of the show, and losing four of the top five tacklers is a problem for any defense, there's no reason to expect much of a drop-off after finishing seventh in the nation and No. 1 overall in scoring D. Jared Crick and Pierre Allen are back to star up front, but they have to show the can handle life without Suh. The defensive back seven will be the story as it'll often go into a five defensive back set called the Peso. The corners could end up being the best in the Big 12, and while there might not be a lot of star power at safety, there will be plenty of stats. The linebacking corps should be excellent with Sean Fisher about to blow up.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jared Crick, 73
Sacks: Jared Crick, 9.5
Interceptions: Prince Anukamara, 5

Star of the defense: Junior DT Jared Crick
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Cameron Meridith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Sean Fisher
Best pro prospect: Crick
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Crick, 2) CB Prince Anukamara, 3) DE Pierre Allen
Strength of the defense: Bo and Carl Pelini, Defensive Tackle
Weakness of the defense: Proven Safeties, Veteran End Depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: There's simply no replacing Ndamukong Suh, one of the most productive and decorated defensive tackles in college football history. However, it's not like his running mate, Jared Crick, was along for the ride. A superstar who'd have the spotlight to himself just about anywhere else, the 6-6, 285-pound junior finished fourth on the team with 69 tackles with two sacks and 17 quarterback hurries in a First Team All-Big 12 season. Incredibly quick off the ball, he gets into the backfield in a hurry and is tremendously active as a tough run stopper. A perfect 3-4 end at the next level, he'll put up his share of stats again this season on the inside. However, he has to prove he can hold up and be the main focus of blocking schemes without No. 93 next to him.

While there will be a fight to take over Suh's old spot, 6-6, 290-pound sophomore Baker Steinkuhler appears ready. The son of former Nebraska superstar offensive tackle, Dean, Steinkuhler is a top talent (he was the star of the 2008 recruiting class) with the toughness and strength to be an anchor on the nose and the quickness to work as a big end. He came up with a good year as a top reserve making 17 tackles with a tackle for loss, and now the spotlight will be on to see if he can be Nebraska's next great defensive tackle.

Known for mostly being a pass rushing specialist early in his career, Pierre Allen has turned into one of the Big 12's best all-around defensive ends. After making 51 tackles with five sacks and 12 tackles for loss, he's ready for a monster senior season with two years of starting experience to go along with the talent and size to dominate on the outside. Not only will he be camped out in opposing backfields, he'll be the leader of the line.

Looking to step in and take over for Barry Turner at the Base End is Cameron Meredith , a 6-4, 265-pound sophomore who showed flashes of future greatness last year making 21 tackles with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Quickness was never a problem as he's a natural pass rusher, and now he's rounding out as a better all-around lineman with the strength to become a rock against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: While junior Terrence Moore might not be as good as Jared Crick or Baker Steinkuhler, he's good enough to start and be a major factor when needed. The 6-3, 285-pounder can rotate in at either tackle spot and be an active pass rusher as well as a tough, stubborn run stopper. He wasn't able to play a big role last year with so many great players in the rotation, but he made eight tackles as a freshman and has shown the quickness and upside to push for far more playing time.

With plenty of hype, redshirt freshman Jason Ankrah signed on from Maryland as one of the Big 12's top end recruits. At 6-4 and 260 pounds he's a tall, rangy end with linebacker quickness and the potential to be a terror at getting to the quarterback. The idea from the start was to bring him along slowly, considering he would've played right away at most other schools, and now he's ready. He'll work in a rotation with Cameron Meridith on the left side.

A strong recruit in 2008, Josh Williams should be ready to become a bigger factor after getting a little bit of time on the field last year. He only made three tackles in three games of action, but the 6-4, 255-pound athlete has excellent athleticism and the potential to be a killer pass rusher. He'll be the understudy on the left side behind Pierre Allen with the hope of taking over next year.

Watch Out For … Steinkuhler. He's not going to be Suh, but he was a superstar recruit with the talent to be a high-level producer now that he has the full-time job. How good is he? No one appears worried about the overall defense suffering a major drop-off despite losing one of the greatest tackles of all-time.
Strength: The coaching staff. Considering the track record of the Pelinis, if you're a top defensive tackle prospect, why wouldn't you want to play for them? No one gets more production of the line than Bo and Carl Pelini, and they have yet another great one in place.
Weakness: Ndamukong Suh. Yeah, Nebraska is a factory for great linemen under Bo Pelini, but Suh really was that good. You don't just replace 215 career tackles, 24 sacks, and 57 tackles for loss from one defensive tackle. The starting tackles will be strong, but the backups need to prove they can play.
Outlook: Losing Suh is hardly a plus, but the line has excellent end prospects to pick up the pass rushing slack and a future star in Steinkuhler to man the middle. Crick and Allen are destined for all-star status, and there will be a rush into the backfield from all four spots. This will be a hard working, high motor line that will occasionally stuff running games cold. Consider it a shock if this isn't the best line in the North by a wide margin.
Unit Rating: 9


Projected Starters: The linebacking corps will undergo a bit of a change as the defense plays around with the alignment, but the one constant should be sophomore Sean Fisher , a 6-6, 230-pound playmaker on the strongside with the potential to be an all-star stat-sheet filler. The coaching staff raved about the way he played this offseason as he took his game to another level, and it wasn't like he was a problem last year making 35 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. Very smart and very quick, he can play anywhere in the linebacking corps and he should be one of the team's top five tacklers.

Working the middle after starting for most of last year, depending on the alignment, will once again by Will Compton, a 6-2, 225-pound sophomore who made 40 tackles in his first year. So good at his young age, there was a thought to stick him into the lineup as a true freshman and give him a shot at the starting job, but he has been able to work on improving and should be ready to handle more of the workload coming his way. He's smart enough to grow into the quarterback for the back seven.

Taking over for second-leading tackler Phillip Dillard on the weakside is Matthew May, a 6-1, 215-pound junior who's most like a safety than a linebacker. He saw time in every game making ten tackles, and he has the athleticism and the versatility to be a great fit for all the new changes in the defense. He could act like another defensive back when needed.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Matt Holt came up with a great true freshman season as a special teams star and a decent backup linebacker making 14 tackles, but he missed all of last year recovering from a shoulder problem. While he's only 6-0 and 210 pounds, he's a tough, active defender who'll see time on the weakside now that he's healthy again.

6-2, 240-pound sophomore Eric Martin is the biggest linebacker in the mix and one of the toughest. He beefed up 25 pounds over the last year after making 15 tackles as a true freshman while also shining on special teams. A natural inside defender, he could work in the middle but will start out on the strongside. He's strong, fast, and he has the potential to be a top tackler whenever he's on the field.

Watch Out For … Fisher. He was good before, but after dominating all offseason he appears ready to become a special playmaker. He's athletic, smart, and has the ability to be an all-star playmaker. He'll be all over the field.
Strength: Blossoming stars. Fisher and Compton are still young and they're still figuring out what they're doing, but they're a talented duo that should come up with a great season as the team's newest defensive stars. Throw in a sophomore in Martin and there's plenty of promise for the next few years.
Weakness: Sure-thing reserves. There are always a slew of try-hard types able to step in and make tackles, but this is one of the weakest areas of the team talent-wise. If injuries strike the front line guys, there will be major problems.
Outlook: The linebacking corps got a great year from Phillip Dillard and a bunch of fill ins, and now the talent level is rising. There will be some shifts in the alignment using five defensive backs more often than not, but there's a chance the linebackers could be too good to not have three on the field. However, the reserves have to emerge with the depth needing developing.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Eric Hagg is going to be a starter, but where? In the new Peso alignment, there will often be a fifth defensive back to act like a third linebacker. Hagg was a major part of the defense in both nickel and dime packages making 49 tackles with two sacks and seven tackles for loss with an interception with four broken up passes. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he's a tall, thin linebacker and a great-sized safety with 20 starts over the last two seasons. The senior is experienced, a great hitter, and potentially a statistical superstar if the hybrid position works out on a regular basis like it's supposed to.

Senior Prince Amukamara emerged as a top cover corner worthy of First Team All-Big 12 mention after making 64 tackles with two sacks and five interceptions with 11 broken up passes. At 6-1 and 205 pounds he has great size and phenomenal speed with great recovery skills and excellent ball hawking ability. The former high school running back has progressed by leaps and bounds, and now it's salary drive time with the potential to be a strong mid-range NFL draft pick with another great year. Now that he's just starting to be known on a national scale, the spotlight is on.

Junior Alfonzo Dennard took over the starting job on the left side of the field and ended up making 31 tackles with four tackles for loss and eight broken up passes. The 5-10, 195-pound veteran had problems with a shoulder injury suffered in the middle of the year and wasn't quite the same, but now he's healthy and he needs to be ready to be picked on with no one wanting to throw at Prince Amukamara. He has the quickness and the ability to make quarterbacks play.

Taking over for Matt O'Hanlon, who made a team-leading six interceptions at free safety, is junior Austin Cassidy a 6-1, 210-pound former walk-on who'll work as a bit of a hybrid. A star on special teams and a backup defender, he made nine tackles and is ready to take on a bigger role. Extremely smart, he knows where he's supposed to be and what he's supposed to be doing, but he has to prove he can be consistent and a playmaker when the ball is in the air.

After making 15 tackles as a reserve, sophomore P.J. Smith will get a long look at the starting strong safety job. The 6-2, 210-pound rising star was great for the special teams last year with the big hitting ability to be a great producer in a variety of ways. He has the size to be used in the new hybrid role and play closer to the line, but he'll have to prove he can be a steady playmaker against the pass. If all goes according to plan, he'll be one of the team's top tacklers.

Projected Top Reserves: Smart, experienced, and quick, the 6-0, 205-pound Anthony West is a good veteran corner who started five games with 11 tackles and four broken up passes. He started the first four games last season and stepped in against Kansas State, and while he came up with a decent year, he didn't make enough big plays. That has been the problem over his career, and now the senior has to do more when the ball is in the air.

6-0, 190-pound senior Dejon Gomes turned into a strong spot starter as last season went on making 46 tackles with four interceptions playing in dime packages. The backup corner is one of the team's most versatile defensive backs with the toughness to play safety or work as a nickel defender. Great in pass protection, he needs to be on the field somewhere.

The hope is for veteran safety Rickey Thenarse to be back soon at after being sidelined for the last nine games of last year with a knee injury. The 6-0, 210-pound senior got an extra year of eligibility, and with his range and hitting ability he has the ability, when healthy, to be a key part of the safety puzzle. He made 24 tackles in 2008 as a spot starter and came up with 11 stops last year before getting hurt.

There's a chance Anthony Blue becomes a breakout performer now that he's healthy. After a terrific freshman season making 18 tackles and turning into a strong cover corner, he suffered a knee injury and missed all of 2008 before coming back in a limited role last year. While the 5-10, 185-pound junior only made four tackles, he's now back healthy and is one of the team's fastest players. He'll play when needed.

Watch Out For … the Peso. This isn't a new defense for the Huskers as they worked with five defensive backs off and on throughout last year. Considering the linebacking corps is decent and the secondary could be loaded, getting an extra defensive back on the field is a good thing.
Strength: Cornerback. It makes the corners look strong when the front seven is consistently sitting on the quarterbacks' head, but the corners also played a big part in the strong pass defense. Anukamara is a next-level defender who'll erase one side of the field, while Dennard, West, and Gomes can all play
Weakness: Proven safeties. The situation isn't all that bad, but considering Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon started every game at safety and combined for eight interceptions and 148 tackles, there's work to be done. Cassidy isn't an elite talent and Smith has to show he can do something against the pass.
Outlook: The secondary was a weak link in 2008 giving up 233 yard per game, but it improved by leaps and bounds leading the nation in pass efficiency defense and finishing first in the Big 12 in yards allowed. It helped to have a great pass rush up front that finished second in the nation in sacks, but the defensive backs were good, too. The corners should be among the best in the Big 12, and while the safeties will be serviceable, they need to be great against the better passing attacks.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Alex Henery is one of the nation's best all-around kickers averaging 41.4 yards per punt with 30 put inside the 20, and nailing 24-of-28 field goals and 41-of-46 shots over the last two seasons. He has a big leg, connecting on a 52-yard bomb against Texas, along with a clutch 42-yarder to keep the Big 12 title dream alive, and he hit all 15 attempts inside the 40. His four misses came from 54, 51, 43, and 50 yards away.

WR Niles Paul is an elite all-around return man averaging 27.9 yards per kickoff return last season and 10.7 yards per punt return. A game breaker, he's decisive, always gets up field, and is a weapon who forces opposing kicking teams to adjust their plans.

Watch Out For … Tim Marlowe. He's not Paul on kickoff returns, but he's a good option when teams stay away from the star. Marlowe, a sophomore, averaged 23.7 yards per try and could get even more work as Paul will be used even more as a No. 1 target for the offense.
Strength: Henery and Paul. Both are experienced and both are among the best in America at what they do.
Weakness: Punt coverage. The net punting rankings are a bit skewed (80th in the nation) because Henery put so many inside the 20, but he didn't get a ton of help from his punt coverage team. The Huskers gave up close to 12 yards per return.
Outlook: Special teams were a point of emphasis last offseason, and the work paid off. The coverage teams could stand to be a bit tighter, but that's nitpicking. Henery, Paul, and Marlowe are terrific and should once again give the Huskers a major advantage in most games.
Unit Rating: 9

- 2010 Nebraska Preview | 2010 Nebraska Offense
- 2010 Nebraska Defense | 2010 Nebraska Depth Chart
- Nebraska Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006