There's been a lot of chatter about departures as they relate to the defensive line, both on the field and off. In the end, much of it may be overblown. As great as Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine were, Kevin Williams and Kevin Maurice have been the equivalent to starters for their entire careers. Now they get their shot. If anything, Valentine might be a bigger loss than Collins just because he was the closest thing to an immovable object. Was he as athletic as Collins? Hell, no. But that size and Gilbert Brown-esque gap-plugging is hard to replace. That was noticeable when Valentine was injured this year. That said, Williams and Maurice held their own.
From a talent perspective, the early departures on the interior line aren't as big of shot as people may think. Depth, however, takes a huge toll with the losses, and now we will learn what some of last year's recruiting class has to offer. Most notably? The Davis twins. Carlos and Khalil Davis, much ballyhooed during the 2015 recruiting cycle, will likely get their chance to perform. Guys like Mick Stoltenberg and Peyton Newell, now sophomores in their third year in the program, will also get their shots.
But interior line isn't probably the biggest issue when eyeing how last year relates to this year. There was a lot of overperformance from guys like Jack Gangwish, Ross Dzuris and newly-made defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun, but overachievement must give way to performance this season.
While the secondary was rightfully maligned during much of 2015, a big dose of blame could be applied to the lack of a pass rush. With another year of seasoning, Akinmoladun's physical gifts could potentially develop into something beyond potential, and the Huskers are desperately hoping so.It is a testament to the Huskers' lack of raw talent on the perimeter in 2015 that Akinmoladun led the team in sacks (4.5) in his first season playing defensive end.
The Huskers ranked 10th in the B1G with just 24 sacks, including a paltry 14 in conference play. How Freedom and and fellow youngsters like DaiShon Neal and Alex Davis develop will be crucial to the success of the rest of the defense.
Of course, Collins and Valentine weren't the only early departures from the defensive line unit. Proving that he still has a killer instinct, Mike Riley sensed weakness from Hank Hughes and let the former UConn defensive coordinator go. Channeling his inner-message-board-poster, Riley hired a former Husker in John Parrella (still no word on whether he'll hire Scott Frost as offensive coordinator, Terrell Farley as linebackers coach, Matt Davison as wide receivers coach and Ralph Brown as defensive backs coach). Parrella was allegedly the only person offered the job, and though he has an amazing pedigree, his highest level of coaching is at the Division II level. The word around Hank Hughes was a lack of communication, both with the players and the staff (also, when you look at the small number of newcomers, that might have something to do with it). Parrella has personality, Husker ties and a hell of a lot of credibility on resume, at least as it relates to playing. How he can immediately convey the staff's teachings to the his new unit will also be incredibly vital the Huskers' success in 2016.
Maliek Collins: Declared for NFL draft
Jack Gangwish: Graduation
Joe Keels: Transferred to Eastern Michigan
Vincent Valentine: Declared for NFL draft
|91||Freedom Akinmoladun||DE||6-4||255||So.||Grandview, Mo. (Grandview)|
|84||Alex Davis||DE||6-5||255||RFr.||Riviera Beach, Fla. (Dwyer)|
|88||Ross Dzuris||DE||6-3||255||Sr.||Plattsmouth, Neb. (Plattsmouth)|
|48||Erik Evans||DE||6-3||255||Jr.||Waverly, Neb. (Waverly)|
|47||Matt Jarzynka||DE||6-4||255||So.||Loup City, Neb. (Loup City)|
|17||Sedrick King||DE||6-4||250||So.||Plant City, Fla. (Plant City)|
|90||Greg McMullen||DE||6-5||300||Sr.||Akron, Ohio (Hoban)|
|45||A.J. Natter||DE||6-5||260||Jr.||Milton, Wis. (Milton)|
|9||DaiShon Neal||DE||6-7||270||RFr.||Omaha, Neb. (Central)|
|75||Fyn Anderson||DL||6-3||260||RFr.||Lincoln, Neb. (Southeast)|
|96||Carlos Davis||DL||6-2||295||RFr.||Blue Springs, Mo. (Blue Springs)|
|94||Khalil Davis||DL||6-2||290||RFr.||Blue Springs, Mo. (Blue Springs)|
|50||Garret Johns||DL||6-0||285||Sr.||Aurora, Neb. (Aurora)|
|58||Joel Lopez||DL||6-2||280||Jr.||Saint Charles, Ill. (Burlington Central)|
|99||Peyton Newell||DL||6-3||290||So.||Hiawatha, Kan. (Hiawatha)|
|76||Dylan Owen||DL||6-5||240||So.||Westchester, N.Y. (Bridgton Academy) (Somers)|
|44||Mick Stoltenberg||DL||6-5||290||So.||Gretna, Neb. (Gretna)|
|55||Kevin Maurice||DT||6-3||300||Sr.||Orlando, Fla. (Freedom)|
|97||Logan Rath||DL||6-4||280||Sr.||Giltner, Neb. (South Dakota State) (Giltner)|
|92||Kevin Maurice||DT||6-2||275||Sr.||Holland, Ohio (Springfield)|
|Collin Miller||DE||6-3||235||Fr.||Fishers, Ind. (Hamilton Southeastern)|
|Ben Stille||DE||6-5||240||Fr.||Ashland, Neb. (Ashland-Greenwood)|
Looking Ahead to 2016:
There will be some familiar faces and steadying hands, but Greg McMullen is the only senior with significant starting time. He'll likely be asked to do a lot, both on the interior and on the edge, and the combo of Williams and Maurice will be steadier than people are expecting inside. But the real story going into 2016 is the youth movement up front. There are a lot of exciting athletes across the board. Now Mike Riley and Co. just need them to produce. The front four will be the biggest wild card entering this season. No position group (except maybe offensive line) has as much potential for both boom and bust on the roster.