This is a series taking a look at each position on Nebraska’s 2023 roster. It’s a brief glimpse on the most intriguing aspects of each position.
Expect a wholesale makeover on Nebraska’s defensive line. It will almost certainly look completely different than last season and, to some extent, different than spring ball.
The Huskers spent the spring season without the big body of Ty Robinson in the middle. Former Husker Stephon Wynn transferred out after the spring. Those movements allowed Nash Hutmacher to step into a leadership role. Now that Robinson is back on the field the Huskers have options to eat blocks and space on the interior. The team could benefit even more if Ru’Quan Buckley has a big fall.
There’s also been movement through the transfer portal and internal positional changes that add depth to the interior. Texas A&M transfer Elijah Jeudy, a new father, gained praise in the spring and coaches are pushing him to reach his next level. Grand Island native Jacob Herbek and Iowa native Blaise Gunnerson both received shoutouts from coaches and teammates alike. Hutmacher said he leaned on Gunnerson as he made his leap in spring camp. Then there’s incoming freshmen Vincent Carroll-Jackson and Riley Van Poppel, big bodies with different backgrounds. Matt Rhule sees Carroll-Jackson’s potential with just one year of organized football to his name. The big man chose Nebraska over Syracuse. Van Poppel is another imposing body from Texas who stayed committed to Nebraska through the coaching change. Sua Lefotu is a project freshman new to the room.
Mason Goldman and Jason Maciejczak are also potential additions to the defensive line room, although they could move to the offensive line. Defensive line coach Terrance Knighton spoke highly of both during Nebraska’s National Signing Day video recaps.
Expect Hutmacher, Robinson and Jeudy to gain an inside track to the field. Rhule hopes to utilize the team’s depth by hockey-style line substitutions in Tony White’s dynamic 3-3-5 defense.
Speaking of White’s defense, Nebraska’s edge rushers are in a big position to provide a lift this fall. White’s attacking mindset allows the Huskers’ athletic edge defenders to move in space and collapse running lanes. AJ Rollins and Brodie Tagaloa both moved to the defensive end in the spring and showed promise during the Red-White Game. But most of the excitement on the edge comes from freshmen. Princewill Umanmielen, Cameron Lenhardt and Kai Wallin all got into the backfield and disrupted running lanes throughout the spring. Knighton and White spoke highly of them after practices and they showed their potential in the spring game. Again, Rhule wants to utilize mass substitutions on the line so they’ll all have chances to play. Having said that, it’s absolutely foreseeable Umanmielen and Lenhardt start for the Huskers on August 31.
Big bodies and capable pass rushers give the defensive line a high ceiling. But aside from Robinson, none of those Huskers are really proven to consistently produce at the college level. That could provide growing pains right away and really stresses the importance of fall camp. The line gets nearly a full month with Knighton and to learn White’s system.
Finally, it’s worth noting the potential x-factor in the room: Knighton. The NFL veteran coaches at a high level. He coaches directly and hands-on with the Huskers, working on the fine points like leverage, hand placement and timing. In order for the Huskers to turn their record woes around, they’ll have to improve on defense. Those improvements start up front. The defensive line struggled at times to hold their own despite sending three to NFL workouts. That wipes the slate clean for Knighton and this new coaching staff to build improvement from the ground level.