The 2019 season has officially come to an end, which means its time to turn our sights toward 2020. With Nebraska locking in the vast majority of its recruiting class during the early signing period, now is a good time to take stock of where the roster stands.
Last week we wrapped up our review of the offense. Now it’s time to turn to the defense, starting with the front line.
Defensive Line (13 Scholarship, 8 Walk-On)
Returners: SR Ben Stille, JR Damion Daniels, JR Deontre Thomas, JR Keem Green, JR Chris Walker, SO Casey Rogers, SO Tate Wildeman, rFR Mosai Newsom, rFR Ty Robinson, JR Damian Jackson (walk-on), JR Ben Lingenfelter (walk-on), SO Colton Feist (walk-on), rFR Matt Huser (walk-on), rFR Jacob Herbek (walk-on), rFR Eli Richter (walk-on)
Newcomers: JR Pheldarius Payne, JR Jordon Riley, FR Marquis Black, FR Nash Hutmacher, FR Baylor Brannen (walk-on), FR Casey Doernemann (walk-on)
Departures: Darrion Daniels, Carlos Davis, Khalil Davis, DaiShon Neal, Vaha Vainuku, Fyn Anderson (walk-on)
No single position has been more impacted by departures than the defensive line where Nebraska has lost all three starters in the elder Daniels and the Davis twins.
That being said, Nebraska actually returns a lot of experience there as well. Ben Stille has 14 career starts including 11 as a sophomore and he’s Nebraska’s returning sacks leader with 3.0. I’ll be shocked if he isn’t starting at one defensive end spot, and he seems like a potential captain as well.
The other spot seems to be more of a wildcard. Deontre Thomas is the most experienced option as he’s seen playing time in 26 games in his first three season (including an injury-induced redshirt year in 2018). But Casey Rogers saw his snaps continue to rise down the stretch of the season. Junior college transfer Keem Green looks the part but never quite got comfortable enough within Erik Chinander’s system to cut it loose and avoid a redshirt; if a full offseason in the program is enough to change that, he could be the guy.
Like Rogers, Ty Robinson saw some time in the last few games of the season, but not enough to burn his redshirt. His position has not yet been settled; he could still play either nose or end.
The rest of the defensive end candidates have a combined one appearance between them. That belongs to Lincoln native Chris Walker during his redshirt freshman year. He got hurt last season and did not play. Tate Wildeman also dealt with an injury his first year on campus and redshirted, and he did not appear in a game last season. Mosai Newsom also redshirted last year, but unlike Ty Robinson he never appeared in a game.
At nose tackle, could Damion Daniels be ready to step in for his brother at the starting spot? He’s played quite a bit of football and shown some serious flashes, but hasn’t displayed the ability to stay on the field for more than a few plays in a row before his effectiveness drops off. If another offseason with Zach Duval can improve his stamina, he could earn a much larger role than he’s had thus far.
Beyond Daniels, Nebraska is looking at potentially having Robinson or even Green play nose tackle.
To replenish the team’s depth after losing so much, the coaches brought in four new linemen in the 2020 class — two junior college players and two high school players. Nash Hutmacher seems destined for the nose tackle spot, but he’s currently well below the 300 pounds the roster lists him at as he’s wrestling at the 285-pound heavyweight class up in South Dakota. It will be interesting to see where the other three newcomers settle. Lackawanna Community College transfer Pheldarius Payne is listed at 275 pounds and looks to be more of a pass-rusher than the others, but Garden City Community College product Jordon Riley and Georgia native Marquis Black are both listed at 290 pounds.
Damian Jackson is the big name among the walk-on linemen as the former Navy SEAL is heading into his fourth year of organized football. He’s appeared in three games over the last two years including two last season on kickoff coverage where he made two tackles. Fyn Anderson worked his way onto the three-deep at nose tackle as a senior last season, but he’s among the departures.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.