The 2010 Nebraska football story line will be all about replacing Ndamukong Suh. National media outlets will be asking - is Crick the next Ndamukong Suh? Can he put up the numbers that Suh had in 2009? Can Nebraska's defense really be better? Is Bo Pelini crazy for thinking so? You're going to see the same story repeated everywhere. When you go out and buy your Lindy's, Sporting News, or Athlon or pre-season magazine, that'll be the one story they run about Nebraska football.
(The answers above are no, no, yes, and.... Bo Pelini IS crazy, but not for thinking the defense could be better.)
Lost: Ndamukong Suh
Let's take another perspective on the "replace Suh" story (which I just said to forget...??? Hmmm...) The normal angle is that Crick's numbers were inflated because Suh was that good. From another perspective, perhaps Suh's numbers were inflated because Crick is that good. Staying with that perspective, IF the defensive line unit comes anywhere close to reproducing the 2009 numbers, then 2010 will be about whether or not the guy next to Crick can wreak the same havoc that Crick did last season.
That means that sophomore Baker Steinkuhler, junior Terrence Moore or redshirt freshman Thaddeus Randle need to step up to the same level of play that Crick gave the team as a sophomore. Crick is the Blackshirts' top returning tackler with 73 total tackles in 2009, 15 for loss, while adding nine and a half sacks. The best news about Crick is that he should be around for another couple years.
Steinkuhler played in 13 games last season, essentially being the number three defensive tackle. He finished with 17 total tackles, only one for loss. Key for him will be coming into the season stronger, and fans are hoping he's the guy who becomes the Crick of 2009. What we've heard about Randle is that he brings good speed and power to the position, potentially providing a strong presence in pass rushing.
The good news is that someone else might get to make a tackle, now that Suh isn't greedily hoarding them all to hissself.
Pierre Allen started every game last season except one in which senior David Harvey was given a start as thanks for his hard work throughout his Husker career (a nice gesture by the coaching staff). Allen had a decent season in 2009, finishing with 51 total tackles, 12 for loss, five sacks, and five pass break ups. Two of his five sacks came in the Holiday Bowl. His final season should see those numbers improved as the defensive line unit makes up for Suh's productivity.
The loss of Barry Turner hurts largely due to the experience he brought to his position. The good news is that Cameron Meredith played extensively behind Allen last season, so moving to a starting role may natural for him. Meredith played in 14 games last season, finishing with 21 total tackles, five for loss with one and a half sacks.
The unit will gain the services of Jason Ankrah, who redshirted last season. Ankrah spent most of his time as a redshirt practicing with the top units so he should see plenty of playing time this season. After hearing about him as a recruit and his potential as a redshirt, Ankrah is one of the most-anticipated players of 2010.
Josh Williams is another name to watch. A 2008 recruit, Williams redshirted his first season, and saw the field in three games last season, finishing with three tackles. He should figure into the rotation this season, like Ankrah, bringing rush speed.
Bottom line - we have four guys in play for defensive end. Meredith and Allen will be your starters, while Ankrah and Williams will be used when Nebraska wants to get after the quarterback.
Chase Rome and Jay Guy are early enrollees from the 2009 class, while Jake Cotton (Barney Cotton's son), Walker Ashburn, Donovan Vestel, and Tobi Okuyemi are other recruits for this unit.
Fans tend to have a "new kid in town" syndrome with new recruits. Bottom line on these guys - they'll redshirt if our defensive line unit truly has enough quality depth. If it doesn't, Chase Rome is most likely to get some playing time.
2009 vs 2010
It's the 800-pound gorilla - who will replace Ndamukong Suh? Fact is, no one will replace Suh. A player like him doesn't come along but once every 20 years. With him, the defensive line unit was so dominant that they could be counted on to put pressure on passers and at the same time contain opponents rushing without the addition of so many blitzes.
That will be key for this unit in 2010 - the ability to pressure quarterbacks without requiring assistance from linebackers or defensive backs. Nebraska finished second nationally with 44 sacks last season. The defensive line unit contributed all but 10.5 of those sacks. Can this group duplicate that productivity?
The other key for the defensive line unit is finding quality depth. Nebraska was pretty fortunate last season in that the entire defensive line unit played throughout the entire season missing a game due to injury. Take Jared Crick out of this unit, and what do you have?
You have a single player who's started a game - Pierre Allen. That's not a lot of experience. The good news is that Nebraska has recruited well at these positions and that guys like Meredith and Steinkuhler have gotten some playing time. There is a lot of potential, but let's be honest with ourselves - spring is the time of year where everyone is a contender, even Colorado. Okay.... maybe that's a stretch, but you get the idea.
Losing Crick isn't very appetizing, is it? If you had to pick a guy that the defense can't afford to lose, he'd be your guy.