The most frequent complaint about Bo Pelini's defensive scheme was its complexity; that it was difficult to learn and kept young, talented players on the sideline. Its complexity lead to players thinking too much instead of playing football, which lead to players making mistakes, which lead to them fearing making mistakes, which lead to lack of confidence, which lead to embarrasing blowouts, which lead to Bo Pelini being fired.
Exit Bo Pelini, rumored to be a defensive guru.
Enter Mike Riley and Mark Banker, his defensive coordinator, who isn't rumored to be a defensive guru, although he did compare notes with Pat Narduzzi at one point, apparently. Looking at the past few season's stats, Banker hasn't exactly set the world on fire. Let's hope that Narduzzi thing rubs off on him.*
Nebraska loses a fair amount experience on defense and one truly marquee player in Randy Gregory. Also gone are linebackers Zaire Anderson and Trevor Roach, and from the secondary, Corey Cooper and Josh Mitchell.
Nebraska returns a solid defensive line, although one that is lacking in experienced depth. Maliek Collins should be Nebraska's next star defensive lineman, and his cohorts Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen are solid young players that will only get better. Freedom Akinmoladun has moved to defensive end, leading every Husker fan to hope they can scream a rendition of Braveheart's FREEDOOOOMMMMM with every play he makes.
The linebacking corp is cause for concern. In the final two regular season games at Wisconsin and Iowa, Nebraska couldn't put three reliable linebackers on the field. Whether that's because of injuries, lack of talent, or player development/coaching could be debated until the beginning of next football season. (Probably, moot, too, unless it involved beer, because those coaches are gone.)
David Santos is out for spring. Josh Banderas returns and Michael Rose-Ivey returns from injury. Other than that... where will the linebackers come from to defend against those power offenses of the Big Ten?
The secondary, lead by Nate Gerry, should be decent. Byerson Cockrell showed flashes last season, as did Daniel Davie. Throw in some improvement by Joshua Kalu and things might be better than okay. Leroy Alexander will return after being suspended for a season.
While Riley has state he will adjust his offense to fit his personnel, there has been no such claim made about the defense. Banker will run a 4-3 base with quarters and/or man-free coverage. The defense should be simplified, so at least the defensive players won't be looking at learning linear algebra out of the gates. Instead, they'll be concentrating on playing football instead of thinking too much.
One thing is certain. Everyone will be starting from scratch.
Of bigger concern than Banker's defensive scheme might be that other than a single year stint as a linebacker coach at Hawaii in 1995, Banker has never coached collegiate ball outside the Pac-12. Stanford runs a power offense, but most of that conference can be described as "zing-winging offense" all over the place; they didn't have to contend with cold, blustery weather of November in Big Ten country.
If there's a consolation, it wasn't as if Pelini's defense stopped USC nor UCLA the times we played them over the past three years. BONUS consolation: Mark Banker's Beaver defense held Wisconsin to 397 total yards in a 35-0 loss in 2011 and then, in 2012, held the Badgers to 207 total yards in a 10-7 win.
Overall the defense looks more suspect than the offense. There are serious depth issues that Riley and Banker will have to sort out. Spring football starts in a week and the process will really begin.
*Is that cynical? Yeah, that's cynical. I'll explain more tomorrow.