"You can feel it in practice," fellow lineman Chase Rome said. "It's like a missing piece to a machine ... He's not always the most vocal guy, but he knows exactly what's going on, what we need to do and when things need to be said, he says it. He's a great senior leader."
Coach Bo Pelini said muscle pulled away from a bone in Crick's chest during a fourth-quarter collision in the Oct. 8 game against Ohio State. Pelini said Crick had successful surgery Monday and that his future in pro football isn't in jeopardy.
There is uncertainty, however, about how the loss of Crick will affect Nebraska's defense.
Even when he was healthy, the 13th-ranked Huskers (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) had difficulty stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks. Rome, Thad Randle and Terrence Moore will rotate with Baker Steinkuhler at the two tackle spots in Saturday's game at Minnesota (1-5, 0-2).
"We're going to mature as a group, especially with a blow like this," Rome said. "Everybody is going to step their game up and the attention to detail is going to be greater."
Nebraska is 10th in the Big Ten and 75th nationally against the run, allowing 168 yards a game and 4.5 yards per attempt. Four backs have had 100-yard games against the Huskers.
"It's all fixable," Rome said. "We're not just getting driven off the ball. It's not like they're blowing by."
The Huskers are eighth and 90th in sacks, with 1.5 a game.
Rome said it "stings" to hear those statistics but he doesn't put much stock in them. "At the same time," he said, "we're 5-1."
Pelini said he's heartsick over Crick's injury. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound senior from Cozad could have left Nebraska after last season, when he was projected to be a first- or second-round NFL draft pick. He announced in January he would return to school and finish his history degree and be the anchor for the defense in Nebraska's first year in the Big Ten.
Crick emerged in 2009 playing in the considerable shadow of national player of the year Ndamukong Suh. While Suh took on double- and triple-teams, Crick recorded 9.5 sacks and 73 tackles.
Last season, Crick had another 9.5 sacks and 70 tackles despite drawing extra blockers, and he earned All-Big 12 first-team honors for the second straight year.
Crick came into this season as a national honors candidate. He got hit on the head on the last play against Washington - Pelini didn't call it a concussion - and missed the following week's game at Wyoming. He finished with 22 tackles and a sack in five games.
Pelini said Nebraska was granted a waiver from the Big Ten that will allow Crick to travel to road games and not count against the 70-man limit. Crick also will mentor the younger linemen at practice.
"The worst thing that can happen when somebody gets hurt (is that) he drifts away from the team," Pelini said. "It's his senior year, these are his guys, he's a leader on the football team. He has the right mind set from the start. He'll be around all the time."
Pelini didn't announce who would start in Crick's place. Moore took his spot in the lineup at Wyoming, and Moore also started against Ohio State when Crick opened the game at defensive end. Pelini said Moore and Randle have been inconsistent and that Rome has come a long way in his understanding of the defense.
"We're looking for consistency across the board, not just from those guys," Pelini said.