Nebraska seemed to be set at linebacker coming into 2012. The Huskers had three seniors returning in Sean Fisher, Will Compton, and Alonzo Whaley along with a talented junior college prospect, Zaire Anderson, and a couple of promising youngsters in David Santos and Trevor Roach to provide depth. There was even a nice stockpile of talent at the position after the Huskers signed three more linebackers in addition to Anderson in the 2012 class.
But that nice and neat progression has changed. The defensive debacle at UCLA left Nebraska looking for more speed on the field. Enter Santos and Anderson. Both played decently enough in last weeks game, but it was revealed this week that Anderson was playing on a torn ACL. His season was over after his first real game at linebacker.
Now Nebraska has been forced to reevaluate its options while facing the prospect of playing three linebackers for the first time this season in a Big Ten conference that’s totally up for grabs. The Huskers will definitely lose Compton and Whaley next year and Fisher is still undecided on whether or not he will pursue a sixth year of eligibility. That ups the pressure on Nebraska to get some meaningful snaps for some of its younger players, and that could include a few of the freshmen who have yet to see time this season.
Linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Ross Els offered his impressions of the three true freshmen earlier this week:
JORDAN AFALAVA (6-3, 215) – Afalava missed a portion of fall camp due to eligibility issues and will be redshirted this year. The nice and neat storyline was that the Huskers were stockpiling linebackers last year as a result of the move to the Big Ten but the plan for Afalava contradicts that a bit.
“Jared is a raw, very talented football player and we knew that when we recruited him,” Els said. “He’s a strong kid, he’s going to be a very good kid. I’m glad we’re able to redshirt him this year so he can learn our system a little bit this fall and a lot in the spring.”
Els went on to say that he didn’t see much need to put more weight on Afalava, which is really the key development.
“I don’t like those big linebackers,” Els said. “I like guys that can absolutely run.”
THOMAS BROWN (6-2, 210) – Based on Els comments this week, Thomas Brown might already be playing if it weren’t for an ankle injury early on. With Anderson out, there’s still a chance Nebraska might use him this season. Like Afalava, Brown’s best attribute is speed.
“He’s given our offense fits when he comes off the edge in pass rush,” Els said. “He can play in space a little bit better than the other guys and that’s why we recruited him. He’s also got some height so he’s going to be a good one too.”
For now, Brown seems to still be a “break in case of emergency” type of player but with the Will linebacker spot still very much in doubt, he could still play this season.
MICHAEL ROSE (5-11, 230) – Of all the players in Nebraska’s 2012 recruiting class, Rose may have been the most intriguing. He had a monster game against the nation’s best high school talent in the Under Armour All-American game and had scholarship offers from the likes of USC and Ohio State. But more than just talent, Rose seemed to have the football smarts to go along with it. Here’s the really intriguing quote from Els:
“He has not gone down onto the scout team yet. We want to continue to give him reps. He’s a very intelligent player, can play inside the box, so he could possibly play this year too.”
As the most traditionally sized of the three, Rose seems to project as a middle linebacker but Els said he could be a Will linebacker as well.
While both Brown and Rose are still candidates for redshirts, there is some value for Nebraska if the staff chooses to use them this year. Faced with the prospect of an entirely new linebacking corps next year, having some snaps for either Brown or Rose could be valuable even if their redshirts were burned three games into the season.
There aren’t a ton of intriguing story lines in this Idaho State game, but what Nebraska does at linebacker is certainly one of them.