Nebraska Football: JUCO Transfer Talk Highlight Needs on Defensive Line

DSC08736

Over the last week, Nebraska has brought in two junior-college transfer candidates on the defensive line for a look at the Huskers. Graduate transfer Stevie Tu’ikolovatu came to Lincoln for his first of five potential visits after receiving his degree from Utah, according to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star. And defensive end Raveon Hoston from Valley College of Los Angeles said on Facebook that he has received an offer from Nebraska, according to Sam McEwon of the Omaha World-Herald.

It’s not a huge surprise, of course, that Nebraska is looking for a “break glass in case of emergency” option on the defensive line. The departures of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine to the NFL were not unexpected, but left a big hole in the middle of Nebraska’s defensive front. Kevin Williams followed up with his transfer from Nebraska to Michigan State, which put even more stress on the defensive line.

How much stress? Well, only three defensive linemen (Freedom Akinmoladun, Kevin Maurice, and Ross Dzuris) will be back in 2016. According to Athlon Sports, Maurice – the only returning tackle – has one start, while defensive ends Akinmoladun and Dzuris have eight each.

That’s mighty thin for such an important position on the field. At the moment, Nebraska will be leaning heavily on redshirt freshmen Khalil Davis and Carlos Davis and untested sophomores Peyton Newell and Mick Stoltenberg to solidify things up the middle.

So the signing of Tu’ikolovatu for Nebraska would be a massive (literally and figuratively) addition to Nebraska’s defensive line. He played in all 13 games for Utah last year, a team that finished sixth (!) nationally in rushing defense. If Tu’ikolovatu does pick Nebraska, he would almost certainly walk into Lincoln as a starting defensive tackle and give the Davis twins an additional year to develop before being asked to perform as starters.

The pursuit of Hoston is a little more interesting, as Nebraska’s depth at defensive end is (slightly) better than at tackle. Sedrick King, A.J. Natter, and DaiShon Neal should all be competing for playing time, although the experience of Akinmoladun and Dzuris should pencil them in as starters for next season.

Still, Nebraska’s pass rush in 2015 was woeful, checking in at no. 78 nationally in sacks. Nebraska was also no. 122 in pass defense overall, no. 123 in pass defense on third down, and no. 122 in pass defense on third down and 10 or more yards to go. Sure, some of those struggles can be laid at the feet of the secondary, but the lack of a consistent pass rush (which Nebraska struggled with all season) makes the secondary’s job a lot harder.

Hoston had 19 tackles, three sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last season. His addition to Nebraska’s roster, if it comes to pass, wouldn’t be the obvious shot in the arm at end that Tu’ikolovatu’s would be at tackle.

But at the very least, the fact that Nebraska is exploring at least two junior college transfers on the defensive line suggests the coaching staff recognizes one of NU’s biggest weaknesses coming into the 2016 campaign. And is looking for a means to address that weakness immediately.

(All stats from cfbstats.com unless otherwise indicated).

Nebraska Football: 5 Freshmen Who Must Shine In Fall Practice

IMG_8932
photo and article by Patrick Runge
Nebraska football fans are anxiously awaiting the beginning of fall practice, when they will start to see which freshmen may shine. While the established stars are known, fall practice is the first real opportunity for the freshmen on the roster to claim a spot on the field.
So who will those freshmen be that shine? Who will be the new stars for Nebraska? Here are five candidates.
Adam Taylor
Once again, Nebraska has a plethora of young I-backs. Behind senior Ameer Abdullah is junior Imani Cross and sophomore Terrell Newby, before getting to redshirt freshman Adam Taylor. While Taylor came in a little ahead of Newby in terms of recruiting rankings, Newby was able to see the field right away given his unique set of skills.
Taylor redshirted, and as a result is looking up at three talented I-backs on the depth chart. If Taylor wants to earn any kind of significant playing time, a strong fall practice will be crucial.
David Knevel
At the start of last season, it would have been pretty easy to pencil in Knevel as a starting tackle. His size alone (six-foot-nine, 305 pounds) makes him an imposing presence on the offensive line.
But then Colorado transfer Alex Lewis shone in spring practice, looking to have won the starting left tackle position. A strong fall practice will help Knevel move his way back up the depth chart, or at least earn himself significant playing time in a rotation.
Drew Brown
It could be argued that Brown might be the most important signing of this year’s class, at least for 2014. Given the departure of Pat Smith, last year’s placekicker, and the failure to impress by Mauro Bondi and the other kickers currently on the roster, it is likely that Brown will come in and have a shot to win the starting job from day one.
For Nebraska’s sake, Brown needs to have a strong fall practice—and a good 2014 campaign.
A.J. Natter
There’s little question that Randy Gregory will be occupying one of the two starting defensive end positions. But the other position looks up for grabs. Junior college transfer Joe Keels should have the inside track on the position, simply given his experience.
But a strong performance from redshirt freshman A.J. Natter could push Keels for playing time, or at least give Bo Pelini and the coaching staff some options to rotate the defensive line. And with three years of eligibility after 2014, a strong showing from Natter this year would provide a good base for years to come.
Marcus Newby
Nebraska is deep and young at linebacker. Other than Zaire Anderson, there looks to be only one upper-classman (junior David Santos) that will be in the starting rotation. So there will be work for Newby to do if he wants to see the field as a linebacker.
But Newby has a bit of a secret weapon in his locker. During the Spring Game, Newby was used as a hybrid defensive end or outside linebacker in a three-man front look. Functionally, though, Newby’s role was as a pure outside pass rusher, and he excelled. While Newby might be a ways down the depth chart as a linebacker, if he can excel as a pass rusher in fall practice he can earn playing time—and provide a real weapon for the Blackshirts in 2014.