Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska’s 2023 Spring Football Positional Reset: Edge Rushers

February 20, 2023

In total, Nebraska’s new coaching staff added 39 new scholarship players in the 2023 recruiting class. This puts the program’s scholarship numbers over triple digits in spring camp. With winter workouts ongoing and spring ball likely to impact who stands out to this coaching staff, Hail Varsity is taking a deeper look at what each position looks like right now.

Previous resets: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers,Tight Ends, Offensive Line, Defensive Line.

There’s a considerable difference between Nebraska’s current roster and the one that beat Iowa in November. And perhaps no position shifted as much as the edge. Not only in personnel but in responsibilities in a new system.

Defensive coordinator Tony White wants a dynamic, aggressive defense. That involves moving players around the proverbial chess board in order to create advantages. The defensive end position evolved into a home for a physical, athletic, smart player to not only get in the backfield but hold the edge against the run. White’s not stubborn in how that will look. It could involve dedicated edge rushers and big bodies who shift to the interior. Linebackers could also move down to the first level and play more on the edge to provide athletic mismatches on tackles and tight ends.

“I mean, we go 3-3-5 but we line up in a ton of different positions,” White said.

White watched some of Nebraska’s film from last season before meeting with the media in December. He found the defense played hard, especially at the end of the year. The defense showed talent and effort. White said the returners could benefit from fine-tuning in an aligned defensive system. But the edge doesn’t return that much experience. Caleb Tannor, who played in every single game at Nebraska during his college career, exhausted his eligibility. Scottsbluff native Garrett Nelson declared for the NFL Draft. Both were team leaders and elected as captains in 2022.

Mobile, Alabama, native Jimari Butler originally declared for the transfer portal but withdrew shortly after White was introduced as defensive coordinator. He made nine tackles last year while playing in every game. Those nine tackles lead the team at the position. Blaise Gunnerson also played in every game and his role expanded at times, allowing him to tally five tackles. Lincoln native Jake Appleget didn’t play last season and Wymore native Braden Klover hasn’t played in three seasons. Those four are the only returning edge rushers.

This is a spot where some new arrivals could make a big impact. Former Texas A&M edge rusher Elijah Jeudy arrives in Lincoln as a highly acclaimed high school recruit who didn’t play on the line in College Station. Princewill Umanmielen, Cameron Lenhardt, Maverick Noonan and Kai Wallin are all early enrollees and in workouts. All of them played on the edge out of high school and, while possessing immense developmental upside, could also find immediate snaps. There’s also the possibility of current linebackers moving to the edge.

“To me, it’s just when you have a great offensive line and defensive line, and they’re the right guys, the whole vibe in the locker room is different,” Rhule said previously. “You have kind of that rugged team that you want.”

As of the last meeting with the media, it wasn’t established who would directly coach the edge rushers. They’ll either be coached by defensive line coach Terrance Knighton or linebackers coach Rob Dvoracek.

It bares repeating that this position, or at least the personnel in it, could change again significantly after the spring. White’s 3-3-5 allows fluidity so the best available players see the field in the positions they can make the biggest impact.

“I think the biggest thing, especially with coach Rhule’s background, you take athletes, you take football players and good coaches adjust the scheme around them,” White said. “It’s always about how the scheme fits the players versus recruiting players to fit the scheme.”

Nebraska’s front is short on experience and size. But the Huskers added athleticism and strength on the defensive line with recent roster arrivals. That’s before the first winter workouts with strength and conditioning coach Corey Campbell.

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