After Thursday's bowl practice in Orlando, Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski finally came out and admitted something fans had long since assumed and concluded about Nebraska's defensive line:
"We have to get more bodies. We really do. Because (the Big Ten), it just beats up on you. … You get into November, and it's tough."
What's he saying? Looking over the roster, Nebraska has bodies. Nebraska's trying to redshirt four of them on the line, two of whom are tackles. Vincent Valentine has been getting some rave reviews from the scout team while Aaron Curry played early, then got injured and seems headed for a medical redshirt. But the last few years, Nebraska has recruited guys like Todd Peat, Jr., Jay Guy, Kevin Williams, and Tobi Okuyemi. Nebraska has bodies.
The problem is that those bodies aren't able to contribute. That's why Cameron Meredith is moving over to play as an undersized defensive tackle. Meredith out of position is more productive than the guys who aren't redshirting. And Nebraska is apparently moving on. Bo Pelini announced today that Peat has been granted his release and is no longer with the program. He sees the writing on the wall; Nebraska is aggressively trying to land two more junior college defensive tackles, starting with Ben Bradley who seems poised to sign with Nebraska as soon as today.
Some of the others may follow. Kaczenski talks up the redshirting freshmen as well as well as Kevin Williams, who's still recovering from knee surgery last year. No mention of sophomores like Peat, Guy, and Okuyemi. That's backed up by the reshuffling of deck assignments on the defensive line. The message is clear. Nebraska is not planning on using those players moving forward. Those 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes are filled with major misses on the defensive line, and Nebraska is now paying the price for those misses. If a Bradley signs, that helps. But this gaping hole on the defensive line is a major concern.
I've read a lot of people conclude that "Pelini can't recruit" and viewing this as a final condemnation on his coaching tenure. Personally, I don't want to go that far. It's clear that the 2010 and 2011 classes have major holes, but I also recognize that the recruiting coordinator for those classes left between the bowl game and signing day. I get the clear indication that Pelini knew there was an issue there, and took action in his own way in January 2011. Was it an evaluation issue? Was it an issue with identifying the wrong prospects? Was it just bad luck that Nebraska couldn't land the premier talents they really wanted? Was it injuries to Williams and Peat? All of the above? Doesn't matter anymore; the problem is the damage was done for those classes. The 2012 class looks much better, but now we have concerns about 2013. But there still is well over a month to go for the 2013 class, and several enticing prospects have decommitted in recent days.
I still believe in Pelini, and I like Kaczenski's record of developing solid defensive linemen at Iowa. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Kaczenski talks highly of his youngsters, and they will have to develop quickly this spring and in the summer. But in this day and age where the internet allows the disgruntled to air their grievances to large audiences, the past failures in recruiting and developing defensive linemen will continue to be a hot topic until we see tangible results on the field. And in the end, that's what everybody is looking for.