Our position-by-position look at Nebraska football's 2012 roster switches to defense. We start up front with the defensive ends.
Returning: Jason Ankrah, Jr. (starter), Cameron Meredith, Sr. (stater) Eric Martin, Sr., Josh Williams, Sr., Joseph Carter, Sr.; Tobi Okuyemi, So.; Walker Ashburn So., Donovan Vestal, So.
Incoming: Greg McMullen, Avery Moss
Andy: Cam Meredith and Josh Williams are seniors? Where did the time go? I can't help but wonder just what the hell the Merediths think of Lincoln. From California, they sent us their flat-topped clean-cut son, and we're going to be sending them back an extra from Sons of Anarchy. Ditto Eric Martin and his red mohawk. I'm starting to wonder what the redshirts will look like. Are they going to try and line up this fall wearing only torn jorts and viking helmets?
My biggest concern at defensive end, and it works in conjunction with the tackles, is the lack of playmaking that's coming off the edges. When Suh and Crick crashed the house on the Big 12 spreads, the ends played containment and did it well. In the Big Ten, our tall power forward defensive tackles didn't have the same push until Baker made the leap after Crick's injury, and opposing QB's appeared to have loads of time.
My guess is that this was still scheme rather than a lack of ability, because Cam and Martin seemed to have success getting to the QB when turned loose. Will adjustments be made for 2012 to let them pin their ears back and attack more? I believe so. Unlike some, I don't believe that Pelini suddenly forgot how to coach defense because of one down season. See the upcoming defensive tackle review for more on this as that's where the rest of my thoughts lead.
Bill: Expectations should be high for this veteran group next season. Leading the way is the now mustache-less Cameron Meridith. Seriously, where did his mustache go? Has he given an explanation for this? I mean, once you've created a twitter account for your mustache (@camstache), I think you're obligated to keep it forever. Just my opinion. Mustache or no mustache, Cameron Meridith is a solid, experienced player and its great to have him back for one more year.
I would classify all of the veteran DEs as good or decent players, but none dominant. Whether or not it was the scheme I don't know, but there were times when the opposing quarterback could have pulled out a lawn chair and sipped on some lemonade while waiting in the pocket for an open receiver. That's a problem regardless of the scheme, and we need someone to step up and make big plays. The Huskers finished the 2011 season 81st in sacks and 103rd in tackles for loss. I know we were all spoiled by Suh's ability to turn quarterbacks into rag dolls, but I don't think it's too much to expect the defensive line to at least be in the top 50 in sacks and tackles for loss.
Overall though, we don't have too much to complain about going into next year at defensive end. We have this thing known in some circles as "depth." Hopefully one of those guys will step up and be the playmaker the team needs. There's one last factor to consider for next year, and that's new defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski and his fancy Big Ten coaching experience. Will a change in leadership and fresh ideas help push the defensive ends to new heights?
Mike: Containment? That worked out well. Remember Kain Colter? Braxton Miller? OK, it's not Cosgrove bad...but it was hardly containment.
Bo Pelini sought out Kaczenski to replace John Papuchis on the d-line because of his track record developing defensive lineman with the Squawkeyes. I do think that Eric Martin showed some pass-rush ability towards the end of the season. And maybe Bo is rethinking some of his philosophy, or perhaps more likely, opening his mind to some new tricks.
Jon: Of those 21 sacks, 8.5 of them came from defensive ends. Meredith had five, Martin had 2.5, and Ankrah, who started nine games, had only one sack for the season. Andy brings up the scheme, which in Pelini's system leaves the defensive ends playing contain much of the time rather than focusing on putting pressure on the quarterback. It works well when you have a secondary that can cover people, but that wasn't the case this past season.
If you a comparison to our peers, Nebraska finished eighth in the Big Ten in sacks, ahead of Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern. Nebraska finished last in the conference in tackles for loss. For further comparison - Whitney Mercilus from Illinois had 16 sacks and Denicos Allen from Michigan State had 11, individually.
Mike: Ouch. Those numbers hurt.