Nebraska Football Defensive Lineman Deontre Thomas Tries to Knock Down a Northwestern Pass
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Rogers’ Return Adds to Already Deep D-Line

October 04, 2021

Nebraska has gotten off to a strong defensive start this season, allowing just 15.5 points per game through six games, and the Blackshirts have done it without a big part of their defensive line rotation from last season.

Casey Rogers suffered an injury to his left knee a couple of weeks before the season opener against Illinois and had to watch the first handful of games for the sideline.

“It was a pretty big setback, and just frustrating,” Rogers said. “It stunk. The first game really hurt, being able to watch those guys go play. I obviously wanted to be out there with them. But I just kind of had to keep my mind focused on getting what I had to get done to be able to play. It made it easy to watch those guys go out there and do what they did against those teams. They motivated me a lot to do what I had to do to get back out there.”

Rogers finally made his debut on Saturday against Northwestern and nearly recorded a sack on his first snap. He finished with two tackles including half a tackle for loss while logging 13 snaps. Prior to that, however, he saw the Blackshirts hold Buffalo to three points and Oklahoma and Michigan State to 23 points apiece. He saw the defense shut down the nation’s leading rusher in Michigan State tailback Kenneth Walker III. Nebraska is among the Big Ten leaders in tackles for loss, and a lot of that starts with the big guys up front.

“I think being out really showed how deep we actually are,” Rogers said. “You can say that those guys went out and they played better than any any d-line that I’ve been able to see. So I’m really proud of those guys. They’ve really stepped up and then they’ve really set the standard for everyone. I think the d-line at Nebraska is now known or is definitely getting known. I’m proud of those guys. It’s been really fun to watch. Now I want in, so I’ve got to get myself there.”

Perhaps the player who has stepped up the most in Rogers’ absence is fifth-year junior Deontre Thomas. After playing in just 18 out of Nebraska’s 28 games from 2018 to 2020 because of a variety of injuries, Thomas is listed as a co-starter on Nebraska’s depth chart along with Ben Stille and has 15 tackles including 1.5 for loss under his belt so far this year.

“DT, we’ve always known he’s been able to do it,” Rogers said. “I think he was cursed last year with a couple of injuries. With him, he had to get himself right, and he did this year. This summer, he was able to fully do all the workouts. In the spring he did a really good job. It’s been kind of a coming out party for DT because we all knew he could do it, like I said, and now he’s out there making the plays that we all know he could do. I’m proud of him.”

Thomas played a huge part on arguably the biggest defensive play of the game on Saturday. Northwestern moved the ball all the way to the Nebraska 1 early int he second quarter. On first and goal, Thomas teamed up with Stille to stuff quarterback Ryan Hilinski for no gain. On second down, Thomas and Domann both timed the snap perfect and shot through the line. Domann punched the ball free and Thomas fell on it for the fumble recovery.

“Those guys are not in until they’re in, so you’ve got to keep playing every play as hard as you can, no matter how close they are,” Rogers said. “I think DT did a really good job getting off the ball. Luckily, he didn’t get touched, he went right in and then JoJo came on the backside, stripped that ball and DT was able to cut that ball off. So that was huge. That was another nail in the coffin, trying to put them away. When they get that close and can’t get in, it’s definitely a confidence [crusher].”

Thomas got a chance to make an impact on the other side of the ball as well against Buffalo as the Huskers used him as a fullback in a goal line package. He cleared the way for Gabe Ervin Jr. to walking into the end zone untouched.

“I was jealous,” Rogers said about watching that play. “A couple weeks before that we were all in a package together with a bunch of d-linemen. We didn’t know if they were going to use it. And then the next day I got hurt. To see him out there, that was awesome. He reminds me of just a little bull out there to go kill someone and it was cool to see. It was fun.”

Rogers said Thomas does a good job of doing whatever the coaches ask of him as hard as he can, which is a shared trait in the defensive line room. Their goal is to hold their ground on every single play.

“That’s our standard, we’re not going to allow each other to get pushed back,” Rogers said. “And if someone does, we correct it right away. Our leaders, Damion [Daniels], Stille, all those older guys, they’ve really made that standard tight. You can’t slack off any plays. I think that’s been what we’ve been doing this whole this whole year. Starting in the spring, we had a goal, we had a plan and we’re just executing that plan and we’re just going to keep doing that.”

That standard starts with defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, whose mantra with his linemen is “good, better, best.”

“Each week we get better, and there’s a best to come out of that,” Rogers said. “So we have above the line behaviors, below the behaviors, and we try to do everything above the line. That’s huge in our in our d-line room. Like I said, with Coach T’s ‘good, better, best,’ we’re always trying to find things we can get better and then become the best at. So nothing’s really changed. We just really bought into what Coach T is saying and we’re just trying to get the best out of each other.”

Now that he’s back in the rotation, Rogers can take part in pushing the other linemen to reach their best. Saturday will bring another difficult opponent in ninth-ranked and undefeated Michigan, and Rogers said he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s big boy football,” Rogers said. “Those guys are big up front, probably the biggest line we’ve seen all year. But that’s what we want in the Big Ten, that’s why we came here. It’s going to be a hard fought battle in the trenches. Like I said, that’s what we want. So we’re excited. They run the ball a lot, so that’s our number one goal as defensive linemen is to stop that.”

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