Nebraska Football: Previewing the '14 Linebackers

Gregory Shamus

Linebacker play has been an issue since Nebraska moved to the Big Ten conference. But young players are starting to grasp their roles; are these guys ready to be a team strength instead of a weakness?

Departing

Colby Starkebaum, Graduating Senior
Jared Afalava, Dismissed from program
Nathan Gerry, Moving to Safety

Returning

Zaire Anderson, Senior
Trevor Roach, Senior
Austin Williams, Senior
David Santos, Junior
Michael Rose, Sophomore
Josh Banderas, Sophomore
Brad Simpson, Sophomore
Courtney Love, Redshirt Freshman
Marcus Newby, Redshirt Freshman
Erik Evans, Redshirt Freshman

There were huge question marks at the linebacker position at the start of last season, as Nebraska had to replace three starters and only have one returning player with significant experience. And all that inexperience showed in the early part of the season. True freshman Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry had to play right away as Bo Pelini desperately tried to find two or three linebackers he could depend on. David Santos started the season in the middle, then moved back to his original Buck (strongside) linebacker position in November. Meanwhile, Michael Rose shifted back to middle linebacker after spending much of the first half of the season at the WILL. Zaire Anderson was limited early in the season, but played better in the second half of the season. Banderas and Gerry played quite a bit in the early parts of the season, but then saw their playing time drop towards the end of the season.

By the end of the season, the linebacker corps started to gel, and the lineup of Anderson, Rose, and Santos seemed to be Nebraska's strongest group on the field. But it's far from settled. Banderas has added ten pounds and is working both the BUCK and middle linebacker positions this spring. Trevor Roach is back after missing last season with a "freak" foot injury; he's working mostly in the middle. And then there are the touted freshmen that redshirted last season. Marcus Newby didn't qualify until just before classes started, so he spent all fall catching up on the scout team. Jeremiah Sirles took note of Newby's athletic ability, calling him one of the fastest linebackers he'd seen. And for what it's worth, Courtney Love was named the scout team defensive player of the year last fall.

So what does that mean for 2014? It's still very much a position in flux, but there now is tangible evidence that Nebraska is getting stronger at linebacker. Bo Pelini told the Omaha World-Herald that "they're in another galaxy" at linebacker this spring versus last spring. No doubt that Pelini had to rebuild the linebacker corps after the switch from the spread-happy Big XII to the Big Ten, and Pelini admits it as such:

"We knew we were going to go through some growing pains when we switched leagues a little bit, when we kind of saw what was needed in this league. Because we didn't recruit a lot of linebackers there for a couple years, with all the open sets we were getting in the Big 12."

We all saw the linebacker issues in 2012 first hand, and even at the start of 2013, when the young talent that Pelini started to recruit after Nebraska switched to the Big Ten were thrust into battle as freshmen. But as the season wore on, the linebacker corp began to gel, and there is reason to be optimistic. In fact, Pelini talks that the linebackers "could be a real strength of our team for the next couple years."

So what's the depth chart likely to look like? Here's my rough guess:

WILL: Zaire Anderson, David Santos, Marcus Newby
MIKE: Michael Rose, Trevor Roach, Courtney Love
BUCK: David Santos, Josh Banderas, Courtney Love

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