NCAA FOOTBALL: AUG 20 Nebraska Practice

Fall Camp Rewind: Defense

What we saw:

Early in camp, the defense held a clear advantage over the offense when the units scrimmaged “good on good” as Bo Pelini says, meaning ones vs. ones, twos vs. twos, etc. As Tim Beck put it, the defense plays “see ball, get ball” early on. But the defensive edge remained throughout camp. Injuries to middle linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey and nickel back Charles Jackson and a season-long suspension for safety LeRoy Alexander took out three potential starters, but cleared the picture for Josh Banderas, Byerson Cockrell and Nate Gerry. Coaches “love(d) everything about Byerson Cockrell” from day one in the spring, Bo Pelini said, and Gerry is a loud, wild animal with the power to hit like a truck.

What we heard:

“One of the things that you hear a lot about our football program is our turnover margin, we’ve got to get better at it. Well, half of that is on us…getting takeaways is half of the battle in terms of the turnover margin, and we gotta hold up our end of the bargain. In some of the games where we may have had some turnovers and people point at that, we didn’t have very many takeaways either, so there’s a lot to be said for a defense equaling things out, so that’s something we’ve been stressing and harping on.” – defensive coordinator John Papuchis.

“(Randy Gregory) is phenomenal even at the run stop as well. It’s just one of those things where he has that third game, that getting to the quarterback. He has that edge where when it comes to his hand speed, his first step, he’e excellent. With myself, I may be more of a run stopper, press the pocket kind of guy, but I still have the ability if I do the things currently that Randy’s been teaching me, as well as coach Kaz, I can also be a quick guy off the edge in terms of being power to speed.” – Greg McMullen

“He was able to translate his experience as an offensive lineman to his play on defense. He understood what kind of blocks he was getting, he understood where the back was in relation to what plays he might be getting, he’s probably a little bit further ahead than a lot of freshmen.” – John Papuchis on true freshman D.J. Foster switching to defensive line late in fall camp.

What we think:

The starting front four of Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen could be pound-for-pound the most gifted unit since Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick anchored the Blackshirt D-line. McMullen, who received possibly the least hype of the four during the spring and fall, might be the biggest surprise, measuring in at daunting 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds at defensive end. Zaire Anderson could also surprise plenty of people in blitz packages. If Daniel Davie and Jonathan Rose can shore up the second cornerback spot across from Josh Mitchell, this is the year that Bo Pelini earns back his stripes as a “defensive guru.”

What we know:

The cornerbacks just mentioned in Davie and Rose will both play plenty of snaps, so says Papuchis. Davie and Rose split time with the to defense in spring and fall camp, with Davie spending more time with the ones when fall camp ended last week. True freshmen safety Kieron Williams and cornerback Josh Kalu will play this year. Nothing about those two says “freshman,” namely the size and quickness for Kalu, and physicality for Williams. Coming from Texas, Papuchis said, Kalu played plenty of spread teams, allowing him to learn multiple secondary positions, and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything new to him in coaching here in Lincoln.

What we’re wondering:

Who will replace Gabe Miller at long snapper? Pelini said he’s not counting on having Miller back soon, meaning the job likely falls on Nate Gerry or freshman walk on John Faulkenberry, who both struggled at times in fall camp. Who will they be snapping for on field goals? The battle between Mauro Bondi and true freshman Drew Brown was neck-and-neck throughout fall camp, so much so that Pelini hasn’t yet named a starter. When the other team is doing the kicking (or punting), who will be receiving it for Nebraska? The top candidates coming out of fall camps look like Kenny Bell, Terrell Newby, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Jordan Nelson. Will Ameer Abdullah join that group come game time?