This group is deep, but inexperienced. Nebraska has a lot to replace. Again, not dominating individual players, but players who statistically had solid years and when combined were a solid unit.
Joseph Carter, DE – Appeared in 12 games for Nebraska last year and had 18 tackles in a backup role to Martin.
Eric Martin, DE (Starter) – The converted LB played in all 14 games last year starting 12. He led the team in tackles for loss and sacks.
Cameron Meredith, DT (Starter) – He slid down to DT his senior year. He finished the year seventh in tackles, third in sacks and second in tackles for loss.
LOST TOTAL PRODUCTION:52 total games and 38 starts. Gone are the 5th, 7th, 10th and 17th leading tacklers from last season totaling 177 total tackles between the four of them including 33 of 78 tackles for loss (38%) and 17 of 31 total sacks (55%) from last season.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURENebraska comes back with Jason Ankrah leading the way as the only returning starter. The Huskers re-load with some experience and a ton of potential. The projected two-deep has good balance consisting of three seniors, one junior, one sophomore and three redshirt freshmen.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:
Jason Ankrah, SR, DE – Ankrah is easily the most seasoned in the two deep playing in 36 games and starting half of them. Ankrah was the starter last year opposite Martin.
Aaron Curry, SO, DT – Before being slowed down by injuries, Curry showed serious potential. Curry played in four games last year as a true freshman.
Avery Moss, RFr, DE – Moss appeared as a true freshman, but suffered a shoulder injury and was awarded a medical redshirt.
Thad Randle, SR, DT – Finally Randle appears to be completely healthy and should be a serious factor this year. The senior has played in 31 games starting six of them.
Randy Gregory, JR, DE – He was widely considered the top junior college defensive end in the country in the 2013 class . Gregory broke his leg early in they season last year at Yuma (Ariz.) Arizona Western.
Brodrick Nickens, SR, DT – A converted OL, Nickens has a big body that showed in the spring game that he is capable of eating up space and blocks in the inside.
Vincent Valentine, RFr, DT – There may not be a player on the two-deep that people want to see more than Valentine. Supposedly dominating at times, but still trying to be a more complete player.
Ready to push:
Maliek Collins, FR, DT – Collins has a wrestling pedigree and was a two-way lineman for Kansas City (Mo.) Center last season. Collins provides Nebraska options to rotate on the inside a little more freely.
Kevin Maurice, FR, DT – Maurice, like Collins, was a two-way lineman from Orlando (Flor.) Freedom and shows a tremendous motor and a knack for making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
A.J. Natter, FR, DE – There is some lack of experience in-front of Natter when you look at Moss, Gregory and McMullen. Natter from Milton (Wisc.) is really in a great position to turn some heads in fall camp.
When you look at the projected two-deep you just can't immediately see where the numbers are going to come from.
The leadership falls squarely on the shoulders of the seniors Ankrah and Randle. The best way to show this group how to do their job will be for them to go out and do their job trying to get those numbers.
There is definitely a bounty of potential though for where the numbers may come from though including a junior college transfer and a few true freshmen. Gregory is easily the top one out of all the newcomers to keep an eye on.
The junior college transfer was physically cleared to do all workouts, but the immediate concern is conditioning and picking up the defense. Gregory is just getting to Lincoln after needing to finish up academics, but athletically he's as gifted of player as there is on the team.
"He can step on campus day one and be a third-down guy, but I think he's got a little more to him," said Pelini. "We have kind of expanded our package to play to his strengths."
Behind him, or really along side him, stands Natter and he deserves to be mentioned in the next breath behind Gregory. There is a real lack of experience at the end positions other than with Ankrah. Two redshirt freshmen and a junior college transfer fill out the two-deep to go along with Ankrah.
Collins and Maurice have a lot of similar qualities at defensive tackle. They both have good motors, show good strength, move their feet, and make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Give the edge to Collins over Maurice at the moment after Pelini made a point to mention him up front.
"Maliek Collins walked in a grown man," said Pelini.
Other than Randle, and four games that Curry saw action in last year before injury, there is no one else on the team with any experience at the interior spots. That is scary on one hand, but when you are at the bottom looking up like Collins and Maurice are, it should be as inviting of a situation as you could have as a true freshman.
"To play great defense, you have to have difference makers up front," said Pelini at Big Ten Media Days. "We have had good players, but I don't know if we had difference makers. I thought when we recruited that class who will be redshirt freshman, that was in my mind the best defensive line recruiting class that we were able to sign since I have been here, top to bottom, on potential."
*** BRR Publisher Josh Harvey contributed to this report ***