Play of Front Four Trumps Losses on Defense

If faced with the choice of a mediocre to subpar front four with a strong experienced healthy secondary behind it or a dominating front four with a battered inexperienced secondary behind it, give me the dominating front four every time.  Nebraska lost its second most productive linebacker from a year ago, it's second most experienced safety, and it's second best returning cornerback from a year ago all in the span of three days.  That's a lot to lose before a single snap against an actual opponent.  But if NU's front four lives up to some very high and promising expectations, you may hardly notice their absence.


Plenty at Linebacker
While Rose is arguably the best player of the three lost, he appears to be the player the Huskers were in the best position to replace.  Josh Banderas was a highly touted recruit out of high school and has starting experience at middle linebacker.  Trevor Roach is an experienced veteran at middle linebacker after missing his junior season due to injury.  David Santos has been Nebraska's most productive outside linebacker but also has starting experience at middle linebacker.  Zaire Anderson also has starting experience on the outside.  Also, in the mix at linebacker is freshman Courtney Love who was the scout team MVP while he redshirted last year.  Marcus Newby was also a highly touted recruit who redshirted last season and is still a freshman.  They like Newby's pass-rushing ability so much that they had practiced packages to line him up at defensive end just as they had with Demorrio Williams more than a decade ago.  Linebacker is one area where if Bo Pelini says "we'll be fine", you can believe him.

Safety More Precarious
Corey Cooper was assured of one starting spot and it LeRoy Alexander and Nate Gerry were competing for the other top spot.  D.J. Singleton appeared to be a top reserve in spring and now seems certain to see the field as a top backup.  Beyond that trio, the Huskers will be forced to use true freshmen or walk-ons.

More Than Five Corners?
Josh Mitchell and Jonathan Rose are experienced cornerbacks as is Daniel Davie.  Freshman Boaz Joseph comes off of a redshirt year and was practicing with the second team defense as a top reserve.  2014 recruit Byerson Cockrell arrived a semester early and is a top contender to start at nickel.  After that the Huskers are in the similar position as safety of using freshmen or walk-ons.   

1993 Revisited?
When you look at the roster for 2014, it doesn't seem all that different from Nebraska's 1993 team that came a missed field goal from a national championship and was dominant on defense throughout the year. Josh Mitchell and Barron Miles have already drawn comparisons as little guys who play big.  If anything, Mitchell comes in more experience than Miles was that year.  Tyrone Williams manned the other corner spot but hadn't played prior to that.  If anything, Jonathan Rose has a leg up on Williams in the experience department.  Toby Wright played his only season at safety for Nebraska coming in as a transfer and was second on the team in tackles.  They don't need as much from Byerson Cockrell but the parallels are clear.  Troy Dumas bounced between free safety and linebacker.  That's somewhat reminiscient of Gerry though as a junior Dumas was admittedly a bit more experienced.  Then you could compare safety John Reece with Corey Cooper.  Both are seniors though Cooper has been the more productive player three years in.  All-in-all, the Huskers actually still appear to be in better shape in the secondary now than they were in 1993.  So how did the 1993 squad acheive so much with so little experience in the secondary?

It's All About the Pass Rush
Trev Alberts had a Butkus Award season as a rush end with 15 sacks and a staggering 38 quarterback hurries.  Dwayne Harris averaged a pair of sacks or quarterback hurries per game.   Kevin Ramaekers and Terry Connealy both nearly matched that pace from their tackle positions.  Donta Jones also was a double-digit hurry guy.  By living in the backfield, the Huskers didn't give opposing quarterbacks time to exploit an inexperienced NU secondary.  Linebackers Ed Stewart, Mike Anderson, and Ernie Beler also racked up tackles to spare the secondary of having to make a bunch (Toby Wright excepted). 

Randy Gregory appears ready to be as pesky as Alberts was.  Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins, and Aaron Curry need to live up to their billing as bullrushers like Ramaekers and Connealy.   Defensive end Joe Keels needs to show why he was on Alabama's wish list, Greg McMullen why he was on Ohio State's, and A.J. Natter why he was on Michigan State's.  Santos, Anderson, and Newby can be the complement as edge rushers.  If collectively this group can live up to that four sacks a game and a dozen hurries per game pace of their predecessors, then the 2014 defense can dominate with the secondary they have.  

If the Huskers can't get pressure rushing four, then all bets are off.  Once the Huskers are forced to blitz or cover for five seconds at a time then the secondary gets exposed.  But don't blame the backfield.   A great secondary can compensate for a weak front, but you'll seldom see a standout defense that can't create pressure with four guys up front.  That will be the most important thing for Nebraska in 2014, and that was true before anyone got injured or suspended.    

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Comments 27 comments so far

This column deserves kudos for optimism, but your premise—that “you’ll seldom see a standout defense that can’t create pressure with four guys up front” is faulty.  The only true measure of ‘pressure’ is QB sacks and knockdowns, and if you take a look at Alabama’s defensive stats in recent years, for example, you’ll see they usually rank low in QB sack ratings.  Iowa had a top 10 defense last year and also ranked extremely low in QB sacks and the Nebraska game notwithstanding, got very little pressure on QBs during the year.  Great defenses are based first and foremost on being able to stop the run.  Period.  Given that fact, any talk of Nebraska’s defense being “dominant” in 2014 is baffling to me.  Iowa made them look like a Division III defense vs. the rush the last game of 2013.  What has dramatically changed since then?

Alabama’s defense was torn apart in their bowl game last year because of the pass. Not in stopping the run. Plus there are more instances where the great defenses also having a great front 4, or 7 than without. Are there stats that show that top defenses don’t necessarily have to be great pass rushers or stoppers, just be able to stop the run? That would be interesting to see.
I disagree with your assessment of what might happen this year with our team though. And I’m not so sure this coaching staff would agree with that assertion either, that it all starts with stopping the run. They seem to think it all starts with the secondary…it’s what our defense is based on basically. I think we have a lot of talent that is blossoming right now, especially with the front 7, and I think we’ll be seeing a much better defense overall moving forward, especially at stopping the run…it’s been our achilles heel so far (see Wisconsin championship game), not being able to stop the run. But I think it is because we haven’t have a dominent front 4, recently at least…when we had both, we were an outstanding defense. With Gregory coming back and what they’re saying about some of these other front 7 players, it could very well happen that we are great at stopping the run this year. We don’t know yet certainly, but is there truth to the assertion that good defenses are able to stop the run first, as opposed to being able to stop the pass first, like we have done extremely well under Pelini? What our defenses have lacked in the last few years is stout defense up front along with the usual great secondary (Pelini’s trademark coaching spot - where he should be coaching - God I wish he could be our defensive coordinator and let us go out and get our own Gus Malzon or Chris Peterson - but I digress)...since Crick left there really hasn’t been any “beasts” up front. Great secondary, but no beasts up front so overall average to below average defenses that do tend to get blown out occasionally because they can’t stop the run. We just havben’t had the talent. Maybe we’ll have both this year. We’ve got a great opportunity to be a top 10 defense if it all comes together this year. Loosing those 3 guys didn’t help much, and I was really looking forward to seeing what Charles Jackson and Michael Rose could do, LeRoy too. We’ll be fine. Great article.

The NU “good ol’ days” included defenses that first, and foremost, stopped the opponents run game.  NU was begging them to pass the ball.

In regards to the front seven:

Thank God Banderas wasn’t booted for his bike theft or we’d be out a MLB. #idiot

Uh, RG is the only DL who’s a known commodity.  The other would be starters are true sophs with partial experience and the b/ups are true sophs that have even less or no experience.

Somehow, unlike ‘93, I dont think we’ll be knocking down the doors of the NCG this year—call me ‘cautious’.

I’m still curious as to how Bando sees the field this yr after bandito-ing 20 bikes in broad daylight.  Must have a helluva lawyer.


Probably the fact it was in daylight.

I guess thats a handy tip to know for would-be banditos.

Banderas is a simple matter to explain:  Lancaster Co Attorney is an NU graduate.  Prosecutor provides Banderas with deferred prosecution - no charges filed if he is a good boy over next several years (that means, no stealing bikes).  Since there is no conviction of any kind involving BOP’s player, BOP and Friends avoid the need to respond to a criminal finding of guilt, especially when no formal charge was filed.  If the prosecutor believes in Banderas, how can a $3 million over paid coach believe otherwise.  You are innocent, says the law, until proven guilty.  BOP takes advantage of ‘legal fictions’ to justify keeping Bandy on the team relying upon the prosecutor’s good graces and loyalties to the university.

And, perhaps BOP bought Bandy a bike of his own so Bandy doesn’t have to steal them anymore.  Problem solved!  Let’s play ball.

Works for me.

re: And, perhaps BOP bought Bandy a bike of his own so Bandy doesn’t have to steal them anymore.

No, that would violate NCAA rules.  More likely, his punishment is he has to be the bike repair guy for everyone on the team for one year (thus he still gets opportunity to ride!).

Apparently, stealing a bike is not an NCAA rule violation for players prohibiting them from playing ball.  Earning money or receiving gifts can be a violation.  Figure that one out!!!  The kids ‘whose’ bikes he stole had to buy them with money.  Banderas admittedly takes them without paying for them (that is called ‘stealing’), and he pays no price for his ill-begotten ways.  So, what are the lessons Mr. Banderas has learned in this process?  Nothing that builds responsible men out of boys, it appears.

No NCAA rules on ethics. They just trust the law and school to sort it all out.

Besides, the NCAA has better things to do like making sure an athlete doesn’t get an extra helping of pasta at the training table.

Bosworth had it all correct - National Communists Against Athletes.

Ethics or integrity, or else Johnny Rodgers would have been banned from college football.

7turds, if we need another one of your cockamamie comments on ethics let’s start with ANOTHER one them BITCH SLAP’N sooners. How about frank shannon?

Only a dumbass with a third grade education would compare a robber to Frank Shannon.

Lawrence Phillips is another groovy dude, as well.

Stick to peepin’, it’s what you’re good at.

BTW, speaking of bitch slappin’...

I’m still enjoying the bitch slappin’ OU put on ‘Bama.

Besides, you are certainly not anyone to give advice on ethics or integrity, trailer park boy.

Yuk yuk.

ou7turds, And that shows what an ASS you are. In your book robbery is a lesser crime than beating and assaulting women. You are a punk and a basturd.

Said the window peeker…

Haaa haaaaaaaa

oklahoma rb joe mixon, arrested for punching a woman in the face. What do you pussys pour on your wheaties? RED BULL?

Both persons you have used as examples have both been dealt with.

It’s not like OU put them back on the team and promoted them for Heisman trophy after their crimes.

Bob Stoops is a respected man in the head coaching community, so don’t look for us to apologize for our coach. It will never happen.

Do you think before you type, or do you just always go off halfcocked?

You really represent Husker Nation well.

Thank You turd! Although I’m not trying to represent, I am happy to bash the basher. If stoops knew who you are, he’d relieve you of your pom-poms. What, you jump on a HUSKER site and talk shit and NOBODY is going to talk back at ya? You’re a troll’n in the wrong backyard bully-girl. Sucks be’n out smart-assed don’t it. HAAA-HA & YUK YUK…... CRIMSon and cream? pfttt

“Play of Front Four Trumps Losses on Defense”
Ok, but Jackson was going to be a pretty good, seamless transition from Evans, in Pelini’s most critical position.
You hear though, that Newby might be used as an edge rusher. Lots of fresh players and options in the back 7.
That was a crazy week- the injuries and suspension.
But yeah, had big Valentine or Gregory been in that trio, it would’ve been like losing Abdullah and Armstrong Jr.

Yes, It was a crazy week for a lot of schools.

This is a perfect situation for second stringers to show their stuff.

Certainly a challenge for the NU coaching staff and they may shine yet.

Suspensions/injuries may become a non-issue.

Aaaaand, this just in, Curry transferring to Siete’s team.

I’m not exactly following the story LINE evaluation of our team by most of those so-called ‘in the know’.  They say the DL is the strength whereas we’ve got to rebuild the OL.  But last time I checked, yeah we’ve got some young studs on the DL—Val, Collins, Maurice, this Keels guy, and Mcmullin is ok—but we lose Curry and now K Williams is gimp, so we’re basically 1,deep and green at that.

The OL lost starters, but most those huys were hurt last year and their b/ups are stout and are more in the junior(s) range—Moudy, Sterup, Reeves, Pelini, C Long, the Cotton bros, etc.

Seems like the OL is better set up for the season, if you ask me.

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