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2017 Nebraska Spring Football: Defensive Line Preview

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Who’s playing nose tackle? Who’s going to step up and make a name for themselves this season?

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

It’s one of the biggest storylines of Nebraska spring football - who will play nose tackle in Bob Diaco’s new 3-4 defense?

Adam Carriker did everyone a favor yesterday and provided some clues in an interview he did with Mick Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg stated that he would be playing nose tackle initially along with Khalil Davis. Stoltenberg also said he’d been asked to gain some weight, which is to be expected since everybody knows the guy in the middle has to weigh somewhere in the 500-pound range to be effective. Stoltenberg is currently at 310, so he has some way to go.

So the 500-pound thing is an exaggeration, but you’d swear that linemen get measured by most solely on their weight. A successful nose tackle, or nose guard, is going to need more than just weight to perform well. They will need to be as strong as a couple oxen, and be able to keep a low base so they’re not blown back, which means they need to have good footwork.

Gone:

Ross Dzuris, Kevin Maurice

Ross Dzuris played a lot better than most expected last season, leading the team in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (5.5). Kevin Maurice was a darned good run stopper in the middle of the defense.

Returning:

I’m not going to make much of a distinction between big hog defensive tackles and defensive ends here because we really don’t know what Nebraska’s alignment will look like when they take the field next fall. In the Carriker interview, Stoltenberg mentioned the different fronts of the 3-4, so keep that in mind, and go back and read our articles on the 3-4 Okie and 3-4 Over front. There is also the possibility that the transition to a 3-4 takes time, and they run a 4-3 until they’ve got the guys up front who can handle their positions.

Nebraska has plenty of bodies to go around, it’s just a question of who’s going to step up and be a star, because, bluntly, right now what we have is a fair number of mostly meh.

Freedom Akinmoladun returns as Nebraska’s most experienced defensive end, starting in every game in 2016, and finishing with 32 tackles, four sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries, nearly a third of the team’s total of 31. Expect Carlos Davis at the other end position. Davis started four games last season in place of Stoltenberg, who started the other nine. Stoltenberg will be a junior and appears to have taken a leadership role. Can he excel at nose tackle?

The Davis twins now have a year under their belt. Sedrick King will be a junior, A.J. Natter a senior, and where will DaiShon Neal fit into all of this? What about Peyton Newell? Sophomore Alex Davis was behind Dzuris on the depth chart at the end of the season and played in 12 games last season. Is he going to contribute more this year?

As I said, plenty of bodies, but whether the defensive line will be average, good, or great is anyone’s guess.

2017 Returning Defensive Linemen

No Name Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown (Prev. School)
No Name Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown (Prev. School)
91 Freedom Akinmoladun DE 6-4 255 Jr. Grandview, Mo. (Grandview)
22 Alex Davis DE 6-5 255 So. Riviera Beach, Fla. (Dwyer)
48 Erik Evans DE 6-3 255 Sr. Waverly, Neb. (Waverly)
47 Matt Jarzynka DE 6-4 255 Jr. Loup City, Neb. (Loup City)
17 Sedrick King DE 6-4 250 Jr. Plant City, Fla. (Plant City)
98 Collin Miller DE 6-3 235 RFr. Fishers, Ind. (Hamilton Southeastern)
45 A.J. Natter DE 6-5 260 Sr. Milton, Wis. (Milton)
9 DaiShon Neal DE 6-7 270 So. Houston, Texas (Omaha Central)
95 Ben Stille DE 6-5 240 RFr. Ashland, Neb. (Ashland-Greenwood)
75 Fyn Anderson DL 6-3 260 So. Lincoln, Neb. (Southeast)
58 Joel Lopez DL 6-2 280 Sr. Saint Charles, Ill. (Burlington Central)
76 Dylan Owen DL 6-5 240 Jr. Westchester, N.Y. (Bridgton Academy) (Somers)
44 Mick Stoltenberg DL 6-5 290 Jr. Gretna, Neb. (Gretna)
96 Carlos Davis DT 6-2 295 So. Blue Springs, Mo. (Blue Springs)
94 Khalil Davis DT 6-2 290 So. Blue Springs, Mo. (Blue Springs)
99 Peyton Newell DT 6-3 290 Jr. Hiawatha, Kan. (Hiawatha)

Newcomers:

This was defensive line coach John Parrella’s first year, and I’d say he did a pretty decent job. He came up with a serviceable defensive line in 2016 when he had little experience returning, and he looks like he will be an excellent recruiter.

I would expect the newcomers to redshirt this season, spend a year getting into the strength and conditioning program, and learning the defense. On the other hand (disclaimer!) if nobody steps up, you might see Damion Daniels and Deiontae Watts on the field. Those two represent the future of the nose tackle position, whether they can excel, just like is the case with Stoltenberg, time will tell.

2017 Incoming Defensive Linemen

Name Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown (Prev. School)
Name Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown (Prev. School)
Guy Thomas DE 6-3 200 Fr. Miami, Fla. (Booker T. Washington)
Ben Lingenfelter DL 6-5 265 Fr. Cherokee, Iowa (Washington)
Jordan Paup DL 6-4 230 Fr. Central City, Neb. (Central City)
Damion Daniels DT 6-2 310 Fr. Dallas, Texas (Bishop Dunne)
Deontre Thomas DT 6-3 280 Fr. Mustang, Okla. (Mustang)
Deiontae Watts DT 6-3 300 Fr. Plano, Texas (Plano East)