Demorrio Williams Revisited
One of the reasons that Bo Pelini is Nebraska's head coach today is due to the remarkable turnaround the Husker defense experienced in his first and only year as the team's defensive coordinator in 2003. Demorrio Williams had already flashed considerable talent in 2002 ,the year before Pelini arrived. Williams had led the team in tackles and forced fumbles as a light 215-pound linebacker in 2002. Pelini opted to line up Williams as a rush end in passing situations, unleashing his abilities as a playmaker in the other team's backfield. History now appears ready to repeat itself with newcomer Marcus Newby, who is the same size as Williams and coming off of a redshirt year.
The brilliance of the move with Williams had been to get a speed rushing linebacker in the mix without having to blitz. Williams sack totals grew from 1 to 11 and the tackles for loss number grew from 6 to 21 and his quarterback hurries rose from 5 to 13. Even playing more end, Williams still led the team in solo tackles in 2003.
But there's a reason you don't see a lot of defensive ends at 215 lbs. It doesn't help your rushing defense. In particular, it seemed to compound problems against the better running quarterbacks (like Brad Smith, Vince Young, and Ell Roberson) and running backs (Zack Abron, Cedric Benson, and Darren Sproles) in 2003. Though it can work as it did against Texas A&M (with dual-threat quarterback Reggie McNeal) and Oklahoma State (with running back Tatum Bell) that year.
Ideally, you employ it because you want to not because you have to. You don't want to be forced into using a 215-pound end against Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin's power run game on early downs. The payoff would be greater pressure on the quarterback off the edge. A slow footed tackle or tight end may not be quick enough to keep such a player out of the backfield.
Seeing Newby line up at end will be something to watch in the Spring game on Saturday. If he can be a disruptive force against a unit with ample opportunity to practice against a smaller and quicker end, imagine what he'll do against teams with far less time to prepare.