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Nebraska Football 2023 Position Preview: Defensive Line

The biggest (and first) line of defense

Minnesota v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Tony White’s 3-3-5 formation will soon be unleashed, so after getting to know the offense, now it is the defense’s turn. Having only three down linemen might not seem like a lot, especially against offenses in the B1G, but when “Back in Black” starts blaring as the Blackshirts take the field all hell is about to break loose.

The defensive line, the guys responsible for filling all holes, the emergency plan to plug gaps when Phil Swift runs out of Flex Seal or when the government needs help preventing the Hoover Dam from bursting.

Let’s meet the big boys on defense. Elijah Jeudy, Princewill Umanmielen, Nash Hutmacher, Jacob Herbek, AJ Rollins, Brodie Tagaloa, Ru’Quan Buckley, Cameron Lenhardt, Kai Wallin, Blaise Gunnerson, Ty Robinson, Vincent Carroll-Jackson, Sua Lefotu, Jason Maciejczak, Riley Van Poppel, Leslie Black and James Williams.

This group brings back plenty of experience, specifically in the forms of Hutmacher, Robinson and Gunnerson, but the diversity in size of the group is what makes it intriguing.

How will Tony White use these guys in multiple sets? Will he use just the three down linemen, or will he combine the “smaller, faster” D-line as outside linebackers to mix in with the bigger guys inside?

A guy like Umanmielen will arguably the biggest name that will seem to contribute right away, but using his size and speed could be effective in multiple positions right around the line of scrimmage. His combination of size, speed and strength works well for guys like him who could be used as a “hybrid” defensive end. A prime example of that would be a guy by the name of Randy Gregory.

Lefotu and Maciejczak are two of the bigger-sized guys who could help out purely in short yardage situations, or if other pure interior linemen need a breather. Both guys are over 300 pounds, which means they will not be easy to push around. Clogging running lanes purely by size is accomplishable. The biggest name I can think of that was just an absolute behemoth of an individual is Vince Wilfork (granted he exceeded the weight limit on the interstate, but you can picture that type of role in the defense).

Hutmacher looks to be the man in the middle to disrupt the run game, commanding double teams to let teammates make plays. Oh, and he’ll probably stuff a couple of runs and be a menace in the passing game, kind of like the role some guy named Suh did a few years back. I might be absolutely roasted for predicting something like that, it may even seem blasphemous to suggest such a thing, but the defense clearly sees him as a leader capable of doing everything.

Robinson and Gunnerson could play either as the middle or used in tight as the outside members of the front three. They bring back some crucial experience to the team and that bodes well for Nebraska. Both played vital parts in multiple positions up front, which will be asked of them again this season.

Where Coach White would employ the “Defensive ends” in his defense will be telling. These two could be tucked either between the guard and tackle, or outside of the tackle and inside of the tight end. Either way it would show the coaches trust the versatility of these two players from last season.

People will argue, correctly, that the game is won in the trenches. No one else looks good if the guys up front don’t do their jobs, so the success of the defense in any game this season depends squarely on the shoulders of the D-line. Look for the run defense to be better than last year, as well as an uptick in QB hurries, pressures, sacks, and ultimately INTs.

I see good things for this group this season.