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2013 Spring Preview: Defensive Line

RETURNING | DEs: Jason Ankrah, Sr.; Walker Ashburn, Jr.; Ross Dzuris, RFr.; Greg McMullen, RFr.; Avery Moss, RFr.; Donovan Vestal, Jr. DTs: Aaron Curry, Soph.; Jay Guy, Jr.; Tobi Okuyemi, Jr.; Thad Randle, Sr.; Jeff Uher, Jr.; Vincent Valentine, RFr.; Kevin Williams, Soph.

INCOMING | DEs: Randy Gregory, Jr.; Dimarya Mixon, Fr.; A.J. Natter, Fr.; Ernest Suttles, Fr. DTs: Maliek Collins, Fr.; Steve Graeber, Fr.; Kevin Maurice, Fr.

DEPARTING | DEs: Joseph Carter, Eric Martin, Cameron Meredith DTs: Kenny Anderson, Chase Rome (transfer), Baker Steinkuhler

OUTLOOK: With so many question marks on defense in 2013, it’s hard to pinpoint the biggest positions of need but if a team isn’t good up front it typically isn’t very good period. Nebraska has a lot to sort out on the defensive line and the development there, or lack thereof, could be make or break this season.

There are really only two certainties back in 2013 (career stats): DE Jason Ankrah (45 tackles, 3 sacks, 8.5 TFLs) and DT Thad Randle (36 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFLs). Both have starting experience – the only starting experience back for the Huskers up front – and will likely have to anchor Nebraska in 2013.

With a slew of more experienced players who have yet to distinguish themselves, a lot rides on the development of the linemen in the 2012 class. Avery Moss (4 tackles) earned some snaps in 2012 before an early injury netted him a redshirt season. He might be the favorite to start the season opener opposite Ankrah. Greg McMullen could be another contender for that spot if he doesn’t shift down to defensive tackle. There’s been a lot of buzz about Vincent Valentine who many think was close to playing as a true freshman. He’s a big, space-eating tackle and could provide the Huskers with a different look than they’ve had in the past. Aaron Curry (3 tackles) saw limited snaps in 2012 as a true freshman, indicating the coaches like his talent.

Of the veterans listed above, Kevin Williams remains as a player on the cusp of cracking the regular rotation while Walker Ashburn was the only other player to make even a minor dent on the stat sheet.

Nebraska loaded up on defensive linemen in this year’s recruiting class, but with none of them enrolling early, they’re not offering any help right away this spring. Of the group, JUCO transfer Randy Gregory is the most ready to play right away, provided he’s fully recovered from a broken leg that cost him his 2012 season. Maliek Collins, one of the best wrestlers in the state of Missouri, looks like he might have the best chance of the freshmen tackles to contribute right away. There’s so much up in the air for Nebraska next season that it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of the three freshmen ends – A.J. Natter, Dimarya Mixon, Ernest Suttles – challenged for playing time when they arrive in fall. It might be more surprising if they don’t.

With Randle out for the spring following off-season knee surgery, defensive line might be the most interesting spot to watch in the spring. Which of young players learned the most during his freshman year (redshirt or otherwise)? Will the light finally go on for one of juniors who have yet to make their mark? Are there any game changers in the group?

For that last question, it’s hard to say that there definitively are based on what we’ve seen thus far, but that’s why they have spring ball.