I know, I know. This isn't exactly a spring preview anymore, but I'm continuing through the units anyway. I have a need to understand the 2009 team as much as anybody, and that only comes through careful examination. For me that means writing about them. So, here you go - your 2009 Nebraska defensive line.
Nebraska’s defensive line has the potential to become one of the best in the Big 12 in 2009 and the primary reason for that comes down to the emergence of Ndamukong Suh. His is the one name that will represent the Huskers as they move out of spring and into the beginning of the 2009 season.
You couldn’t ask for a better position in which to have your best player. A good defense, just like offense, starts with a good line. Get yourself two big, strong athletic guys in the middle to keep teams from running up the gut and two defensive ends that can contain runs to the outside and put pressure on the quarterback when he’s throwing and everything else is easier after that.
If there is any question about the need for a good defensive line, one need only look back to 2007 when the defensive line (including Suh) was manhandled early and often. The result was a defensive breakdown on a historic level, one that Husker fans would rather forget.
Move forward one season.
The same defensive linemen under a different set of coaches obtained completely different results. The sack total increased from 13 to 27.5. The rushing defense ranking went from 116th to 21st, while passing defense faltered slightly, moving from 84th to 89th (although taking into account the “perfect storm” of quarterbacks in the Big 12 in 2009 that’s not bad), and total defense went from 112th to 55th.
Let’s go back to that guy named Ndamukong Suh. His emergence wasn’t all about the fact that he finished the season first on the team in 2008 in total tackles with 76 and had 7.5 sacks. It was the plays he made throughout the season. Suh had two interceptions on the season, the first being an interception returned for a touchdown against San Jose State. It occurred when the Husker defense was trying find it's identity.
The second one came against Colorado, a play in which Suh ran over Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins on his way to the end zone turning him into a rag doll in the process. It was a play that crushed the hopes of a hated rival as Husker football hoped to continue it’s resurgence and for that play alone Suh will be forever loved - identity found.
If those big plays weren’t enough, Suh generated offensive stats as well. If Suh wasn’t the only defensive lineman/fullback in the nation to catch a touchdown pass on a play-action fake, scoring as many touchdowns as Menelik Holt and Niles Paul, he was the only one to do it from a formation called “Ducky”.
But one great player does not a defensive line make. The Huskers must find someone to complement Suh lest he be double-teamed throughout the season and his production limited. Someone must replace Ty Steinkuhler and the first step to doing that begins this spring.
Sophomore and Cozard native Jared Crick is the most likely guy to assume that role. Crick saw action in nine games in 2008, finishing with two tackles. Terrence Moore figures in the mix, having seen time in seven games last season, garnering eight total tackles and two sacks. Along with him is junior Ben Martin, who played in only one game and finished with a tackle.
The other notable name at the defensive tackle position is redshirt freshman Baker Steinkuhler. Steinkuhler sat out his inaugural season, but was highly ranked as an inbound recruit for either an offensive or defensive line position. His high ranking and his name lead to high expectations - the biggest hope that he fulfill them early and often.
At the defensive end spot, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner return as projected starters as long as Turner is successful in recovering from a leg fracture. Turner was injured in the San Jose State game. Pierre Allen did a good job of stepping into Barry Turner's vacated position. As a sophomore last season Allen finished behind Suh and the departed Zach Potter with five sacks, not bad for a sophomore.
Turner and Allen are the expected starters, but they’ll get a fight for position from redshirt freshmen Cameron Meredith and Josh Williams. All four, Turner, Allen, Meredith and Williams should figure in the four-deep rotation. Meredith saw some playing time in 2008, but was injured. He retains a year of eligibility as he was granted a medical hardship from the Big 12 conference - good news for Husker fans as both Meredith and Williams have the ability to turn in some big plays in 2009.
Others to consider:
Justin Jackson - RFr
Josh Molek - RFr
Cole Pensick - RFr
William Yancy - So
Jonathan Santin - So
Faron Klingelhoefer - So
Luke Lingenfelter - So
Conor McDermott - RFr
Kenny Anderson - RFr
Jason Ankrah - Fr - New Recruit - Probably Redshirt
Spencer Long - Fr - New Recruit - Probably Redshirt