What will the 2011 Huskers look like on defense and special teams?

Everybody's trying to get the taste of the 2010 season out of their mouths, and the easiest way to do that (since not thinking about football at all is obviously out of the question) is to start looking ahead to 2011. I thought I'd take a stab at breaking down what Nebraska's two-deep might look like next year, so we have a starting point when we talk about how Nebraska might stack up in their first season in the Big Televenelve.

So here's the defense and special teams, and I'll put together the offense sometime later, when I get my lazy butt around to it. The years are next year's classes, but the stats are this year's, and the awards are cumulative.

Defensive line:
Left DE: Cameron Meredith, Jr., 14 Games, 14 Games Started, 64 tackles, 8 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass defended, 2nd Team All-Big 12
Jason Ankrah, So., 10 G, 0 GS, 2 tackles

DT: Baker Steinkuhler, Jr., 13 G, 13 GS, 46 tackles, 4 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PD, Honorable Mention All-Big 12
Terrence Moore, Sr., 13 G, 1 GS, 16 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PD

DT: Jared Crick, Sr., 14 G, 14 GS, 70 tackles, 17 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 forced fumble, 2nd Team All-American, two-time 1st Team All-Big 12
Thaddeus Randle, So., 12 G, 0 GS, 7 tackles

Right DE: Josh Williams, Jr., 13 G, 0 GS, 12 tackles, 1 FF
Eric Martin, Jr., 13 G, 2 GS, 26 tackles

Also in the mix: Walker Ashburn, DE, RFr., Tobi Okuyemi, DE, RFr., Donovan Vestal, DE, RFr., Jay Guy, DT, RFr., Chase Rome, DT, RFr.

Gone: Pierre Allen

Comments: If Crick comes back, this unit should be a real strength of the defense. Martin could very well start on the right side once he learns the position. Of the redshirt freshmen, I expect Rome to have the best chance of playing, as he's the only one I've heard coaches talk about.

WILL: Lavonte David, Sr., 14 G, 14 GS, 152 tackles, 15 TFL, 6 sacks, 10 PD, 2nd Team All-American, 1st Team All-Big 12, Big 12 Newcomer of the Year
Sean Fisher, So., injured 2010

MIKE: Will Compton, Jr., 9 G, 4 GS, 15 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
Alonzo Whaley, Jr., 9 G, 1 GS, 9 tackles, 1 TFL

Also in the mix: Mathew May, Sr., Trevor Roach, RFr.

Comments: I'm not really sure what the heck to do with Fisher. (I assume 2010 was his redshirt year, so he'll still be a sophomore.) His position, SAM linebacker, kind of got eliminated this year, and his backup at WILL turned into an All-American. I assume he'll get his snaps giving David and Compton breathers. Look for Roach to see the field next year - Ekeler loved the guy. (Also: Weren't David's stats insane this year?)

NickelP.J. Smith, Jr., 14 G, 3 GS, 38 tackles, 3 INT, 1 PD
Andrew Green, So.

Left CB: Ciante Evans, So., 8 G, 1 GS, 9 tackles, 2 PD
Dijon Washington, So.

Right CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Sr., 13 G, 13 GS, 30 tackles, 4 INT, 7 PD, 1 FF, 2nd Team All-Big 12
Antonio Bell, Jr.

Strong Safety: Courtney Osborne, Jr., 14 G, 4 GS, 41 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT
Corey Cooper, RFr.

Free Safety: Austin Cassidy, Sr., 14 G, 7 GS, 48 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF
Lance Thorell, Sr.

Also in the mix: Anthony Blue, CB, Sr., Lazarri Middleton, CB, So., Josh Mitchell, CB, RFr., Charles Jackson, CB, Fr., Harvey Jackson, S, RFr.

Gone: Eric Hagg, Dejon Gomes, Rickey Thenarse, Anthony West

Comments: I'm really just throwing crap up against the wall in slotting the backups for all these positions - there's so many young guys who we've heard might be really talented but have never actually seen on the field. I'm not exactly sure who will fill Gomes and Hagg's strong safety and nickel/peso spots, but I threw Osborne and Smith up there because they seem to round out the five best DBs we have right now. I'm almost positive Cooper will get on the field - he was a highly touted recruit, the coaches have raved about him as a scout-teamer, and we seem a bit thin at safety.

This unit will be losing a lot - Hagg and Gomes really were a big part of what made the defense so good this year. I suspect next year for the secondary will go a lot like 2010 did for the D-line: They'll be solid, but after being so otherworldly the year before, it'll still seem like a disappointment.

Special teams:
Kicker: Jason Dann, RFr.

Punter: Brett Maher, Jr.
Jon Damkroger, Sr.

Kickoff Returner: Tim Marlowe, Jr., 13 KR, 285 yds.
Brandon Kinnie, Sr., 6 KR, 142 yds.

Punt Returner: Rex Burkhead, Jr., 5 PR, 26 yds.
Tim Marlowe, Jr., 3 PR, 16 yds.

Gone: Alex Henery, Adi Kunalic, Niles Paul

Comments: Um, crap. With Niklas Sade decommitting, Nebraska is left with a walk-on redshirt freshman at kicker. Well, good luck, Jason. Punter seems a bit less shaky, as Maher averaged 41.2 yards per kick his senior year at Kearney High, and has 2 years' experience as Henery's holder, so I guess that counts for something. The return game will miss Paul's explosiveness, but gain a bit more surehandedness with him gone.

So what do you make of this? Encouraged? Discouraged? Where do you see holes and strengths? Who do you expect to break through with a big year?

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