A couple of coworkers thought of a question for me when I was going to write this article. Take the current 3-3-5 system, but put any former Huskers in the middle three, who are they?
My response is Barrett Ruud, Carlos Polk and Lavonte David. Guys who were ALWAYS named every time the “tackle made by” announcement came over the PA system. These dudes just made plays. They were clearly the smartest defender on the field and probably the most athletic as well. Most importantly, they were leaders on the field. The defense went as they did, and it usually went well.
So, let’s take a look at the guys who could fill the 3 in the linebacker position this season.
Jimari Butler, Chief Borders, Kaine Williams, Luke Reimer, Randolph Kpai, Mikai Gbayor, Javin Wright, John Bullock, Garrett Snodgrass, Nick Henrich, Michael Booker III, Grant Buda, Gage Stenger, MJ Sherman, Korver Demma, Grant Tagge, Maverick Noonan, Eric Fields, Dylan Rogers, Jacob Bower, Danny Pasko and Noah Bustard. This group comes out of camp slightly dinged up, especially with Noonan going to miss the entire season, but there are plenty of options to go around.
Reimer, Bullock and Henrich have all earned single-digit numbers from their peers, so from a leadership aspect the linebacking core is in good hands. It should speak volumes that three-tenths of the single-digit numbers go to the “quarterback of the defense” (I would put one-third, but 0 is included, so no yelling at me that I can’t do math). This tells you that these 3 will play a huge role, particularly in the middle linebacker spot this year.
Guys like Snodgrass, Sherman and Borders (albeit mainly special teams for Chief while at Florida) bring plenty of experience into a group where it will be needed. Guys with big time motors that can play in the outside linebacker position, or even as part of the 5 defensive backs as potential rovers and spies. I particularly like Snodgrass to play that LB/Rover hybrid because he has plenty of giddy up for both pass rush and covering tight ends and running backs.
One Freshman I particularly think could have a solid year in the same hybrid role is Eric Fields. He’s built more like a defensive back, but as the year progresses, he could bulk up some to help come down into the box. I like him as a guy who could float around covering slot receivers or serve as a potential QB spy, which as more teams convert to a passing heavy offense but with more mobile QBs (hello Wisconsin), combined with next year’s incoming schools into the B1G, he could be an asset early in his career.
This group is arguably the oldest/most experienced of the entire team. If Nebraska’s defense is to be successful, I believe it is actually the linebackers that will have the biggest impact. Having the experience is one thing, but getting everyone on the same page is vital. I predict these guys steal a game for Nebraska in November, from making a solid stop or creating a game clinching turnover. The leadership starts and ends with this group, and I believe they will be ready to go in a week’s time.
Go Big Red!