I think Nebraska’s defense is going to be good in 2017. How will it be good? This is how I think it happens.
How good will it be? That I’m not quite so sure of, but let’s say top 30 nationally and adjust from there.
And, at the end of the year, who will we view as the leaders on that side of the ball that played key roles in the Blackshirts’ presumed improvement? That’s a tough one to answer too because the Huskers have a number of players who seem capable of taking “the leap.”
Defensive backs Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones are the players who will draw the most attention on Nebraska’s defense as they are the two most proven options on that side. A “leap” isn’t even really necessary with those two. There’s decent experience on the defensive line, too. Freedom Akinmoladun, Mick Stoltenberg and the Davis twins have some games under their belts and all seem to still be on the rise.
But the guy I’m buying the most stock in right now as the potential heart of the Huskers’ 2017 defense plays in the heart of the Huskers’ defense. It’s Chris Weber.
That’s something of an “intangibles” play. Weber made just 17 tackles over 13 games a year ago — a total that includes six special-teams stops — as Josh Banderas remained healthy throughout the 2016 season (and led Nebraska in tackles). But Weber’s 2015 season is probably a better indication of what’s in store. He made four starts as a sophomore and had 49 tackles over just nine games (5.44/g), including a three-game stretch (Southern Miss, Illinois, Wisconsin) that included 36 tackles. Then Weber missed the next three games, other linebackers got healthy and the Elkhorn native filled a backup role for the next season-and-a-half while being a consistent special teams contributor.
Those are the stats, but the biggest reason I’m bullish on Weber is what has transpired since the end of the 2016 season. He was one of Nebraska’s best during the spring transition to the 3-4, but the biggest thing is it’s clear he has emerged as one of the Blackshirts’ leaders. He’s one of three Huskers headed to Chicago for Big Ten Media Days alongside Jones and quarterback Tanner Lee, a good indication of a player’s standing on the team. He’s up for the right kind of awards. He’s been one of the voices for Nebraska all offseason.
All of which is to say that Weber seems to be filling the role you’d expect to see of a returning all-conference type player. I think by the time we reach the end of the 2017 season, that will all make perfect sense.
Algebra is Fun
Your teachers were right. You do need algebra. I used it this morning to figure out something from Pro Football Focus.
Jacob Padilla wrote about this tweet about Kieron Williams yesterday . . .
Kieron Williams is a playmaker in his own right. pic.twitter.com/fURzINuKdB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 11, 2017
. . . and did a good job of outlining the sort of conflict there. Williams, per PFF’s numbers, makes plays, but, based on the spring, might be on the outside looking in at the moment. To put it another way: One of Nebraska’s best playmakers a year ago might be seeing fewer plays this year. No need for me to add anything more to what Jacob already said, but one thing that did interest me here is the equation for PFF’s playmaker index.
It confused me for a moment because “passes defended” is an actual stat tracked by the NCAA. It’s pass breakups plus interceptions. But the PFF formula would then be counting interceptions twice. You certainly could weight interceptions that heavily, but it seemed strange.
Algebra to the rescue! Toying around with the numbers there it became apparent that “passes defended” had to actually be “pass breakups,” and once I knew that I could find that Williams was targeted 27 times in 2016 by PFF’s count.
And that’s what always makes stats like this interesting. That’s basically two targets a game. So is Williams’ “playmaker index” an indication of what he’d be capable of with more snaps, or is it a reflection of a small sample size?
If it’s the former, the latter will probably take care of itself as there’s still plenty of time for Williams’ to make his case to start in 2017.
(Special thanks to all of the Hemingford Public Schools math teachers who helped me write this somewhat strange post 20-plus years later.)
The Grab Bag
- Another good scheme breakdown from Corn Nation.
- Why hasn’t Florida been able to find a quarterback post-Tebow? An interesting story when viewed through a Nebraska lens.
- Cornell is ending its licensing deal with Nike over labor concerns.
- ICYMI: Mike Babcock selected Nebraska’s All-New Jersey team.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.