2011 Nebraska Football Spring Preview: Defensive Secondary

Nebraska's offense will undergo a massive change under new offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

In moving to the Big Ten, the defense will change as well.

While it's not the "three yards and a cloud of dust" conference that it used to be, fact is, the Huskers won't face near the explosive air attacks that they faced in the Big 12. A quick look at last year's teams proves it.

Five Big 12 teams were ranked in the top 25 nationally in passing offense, and three in the top ten (Oklahoma State - 2nd, Oklahoma, 3rd, and Texas Tech, 7th). 

Compare that to the Big Ten, where Indiana was the top-ranked passing offense, ranked 14th nationally. After that? Michigan, 36th, followed by Michigan State, 46th. The same was true the year before, as in 2009, Northwestern was the only Big Ten team ranked nationally in the top 25 in passing.

Lost

Prince Amukamara, Eric Hagg, Dejon Gomes, Anthony West, Rickey Thenarse

Returning

A cast of thousands, including Alfonzo Dennard, P.J. Smith, Courtney Osborne, Ciante Evans, and Austin Cassidy

National pundits may point to the loss of Amukamara, Hagg, and Gomes as a sign that the Blackshirts may be down in 2011, but their position could be moot considering the fact that Nebraska simply won't face the same level of pass happiness that it did in the Big 12. 

Those pundits might also be ignorant of a pretty important fact - the Blackshirts are stacked with talent in the defensive secondary.

Corners

It starts with senior Alfonzo Dennard, who comes in as one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Dennard will reprise Prince Amukamara's role as the defensive back who won't generate a lot of stats as opponents aren't likely to throw many passes his way.

Sophomore Ciante Evans played in eight games and got his first start as a true freshman last season when Dennard missed the Iowa State game due to a concussion suffered a week earlier against Missouri. Evans should be a favorite to claim a starting corner spot next to Dennard. 

Evans will be pushed by junior Antonio Bell and sophomores D ijon Washington and Lazarri Middleton. Bell played in nine games in 2010 as a backup to Dennard and on punt coverage, while neither Washington nor Middleton saw the field last season. Sophomore Andrew Green is another wildcard as is junior Jase Dean. Dean played in 12 games as a member of the special teams coverage units.

Let's face it - playing behind Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard doesn't leave a lot of room for anyone else but the best in the nation.

Senior Anthony Blue is the odd man out here. Blue showed promise early in his career, but has since suffered two knee injuries, the last of which kept him out of the 2010 season.

Safeties

Junior Courtney Osborne and Senior Austin Cassidy return after taking over the starting safety roles midway through last season. Osborne played in 14 games, starting four when the Huskers opened in a dime package. He recorded his first career interception against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Cassidy played in 14 games, starting seven - replacing Rickey Thenarse midway through the season.   

Junior P.J Smith is another prime candidate to gain a starting safety position. Smith played in all 14 games, starting three when Nebraska opened in the dime package. He had an interception in three of the first four games of 2010. 

Redshirt freshman Corey Cooper has great potential after being one the nation's top safety prospects in 2010. Fellow redshirt freshman Harvey Jackson is another to keep your eye on.

2010 vs 2011

The biggest change between this year and last will be in personnel groupings. Nebraska played about 90% of the time in the "peso" formation, featuring an extra defensive back that played as a linebacker. Expect that number to drop significantly as the Huskers go with three linebackers more frequently next season. 

Other than that, there isn't that much difference between 2010 and 2011. The secondary still features one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, and the rest of the secondary is deep, deep, deep.

Corey Raymond replaced Marvin Sanders as the defensive secondary coach. Whether Raymond can coach as well as Sanders (the Huskers finished third in pass defense efficiency in 2010 and first in 2009) remains to be seen. 

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