According to defensive line coach John Parrella, sophomore tackle Mick Stoltenberg is almost 100 percent after recovering from arthroscopic surgery. Stoltenberg missed week two against Wyoming but has played limited snaps off the bench in the last two games.
“I’m feeling good now,” Stoltenberg said. “I’m feeling great. Last week I didn’t practice Tuesday and Wednesday because I was just real sore from that Oregon game. I didn’t play in the first half really in the Northwestern game but I ended up getting about 20 snaps the second half. It felt real good, it held up great. I practiced today and it felt awesome, so I’m definitely going to practice this whole week and get ready for Illinois.”
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker admitted that they probably rushed Stoltenberg back a bit. He underwent the surgery on Sept. 9, returned to practice on Sept. 15 and played against Oregon on Sept. 17. Stoltenberg said two weeks is probably the usual recovery time for a knee scope, but he was back in six days.
“I thought this past week, because we gave him some more time off, he was better,” Banker said. “I thought we rushed him probably the week before and then probably played [him] a little bit too much, but he seemed to play pain free and, with less reps, [he] was more effective.”
After working so hard to earn the starting job at defensive tackle next to senior Kevin Maurice, Stoltenberg was understandably frustrated when he had to miss time after just one game. However, two previous serious injuries have given the redshirt sophomore from Gretna a unique perspective.
“It’s somewhat frustrating, but it was definitely a blessing that the injury wasn’t more severe,” Stoltenberg said. “I was really glad to be able to go into surgery and ended up walking out of there and rehabbing real hard and ended up playing in eight days. I can’t really ask for any more as far as knee surgeries go.”
Without Stoltenberg, redshirt freshman Carlos Davis has filled in and the Huskers have barely missed a beat.
“Carlos is playing tremendously and it’s helping us a ton, having that third really good guy to roll with me and Kevin [Maurice],” Stoltenberg said. “He’s definitely taken that spot and ran with it a lot these last two weeks. It’s just great for the unit.”
Banker said he was especially impressed with what he saw from Davis in his first road game at Northwestern last weekend.
“He had another good game this past week,” Banker said. “I remember the Fresno game when he came in for Mick and replaced him, he had an unbelievable game. This past week, he showed up like that again, just in different ways. He’s really playing well and is much more responsible … He’s really matured at this point in time. I hope he just continues to grow because he’s playing really well.”
Despite playing the same position, Davis is a different kind of player than either Maurice or Stoltenberg and gives Parrella and Banker more tools to use at the point of attack.
“He’s a real explosive athlete,” Stoltenberg said. “People see that. He’s a tremendous pass-rusher when he gets one-on-one situations. He definitely brings that explosive edge, kind of playmaker ability to the D-line.”
After the win against Oregon in week three, the coaches expressed a desire to rotate more on the defensive line to keep the team’s top playmakers fresh for the stretch run, and they did that at Northwestern.
“We played eight defensive linemen last week,” Banker said. “So I thought the defensive line was pretty fresh throughout the course of the game.”
Davis’ emergence and Stoltenberg’s recovery makes rotating all easier for the Nebraska coaches, and what looked like perhaps the biggest question on the team heading into the season – the defensive line – is quickly becoming a position of strength.