Injuries have forced Nebraska’s coaching staff to mix things up all over the field. On the defensive line, however, the Huskers have been pretty healthy. That hasn’t stopped line coach John Parrella from getting new faces in there and seeing what they can do.
“They’re really starting to come on,” Parrella said of youngsters like Ben Stille, Deontre Thomas and DaiShon Neal. “We feel that way about a lot of guys.
“The next years are going to be great for them.”
Start with Stille, a freshman defensive end that has moved back and forth between end and linebacker all season depending on the matchups.
“Ben Stille’s a hard-working kid and that’s how he got on the field,” Parrella said. “Just kept noticing him in practice and how hard he was working and running to the ball and knowing what he was doing and his technique was coming around.”
Hail Varisty’s Jacob Padilla does a snap count breakdown after each game and Stille’s have been on the rise. Numbers from the most recent 31-24 loss to Northwestern aren’t available yet (but look out for those soon), but against Purdue on Oct. 28, Stille played 29 of 69 snaps. He moved back and he played with his hand in the dirt. The coaching staff feels like they can put him wherever and still find success because of his football IQ.
“He’s really a super smart kid,” Parrella said. “For him, it took a day [at linebacker the first time] and he knew exactly what he was doing. He’s really intelligent.”
As for where Stille will line up against Minnesota on Saturday, Parrella kept his cards close to the chest.
“Can’t tell you that,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe he’s playing running back? I don’t know.”
Neal, a sophomore, has also seen his playing time ramp up lately. He played eight snaps against Purdue and saw a few more against Northwestern.
“His size is obviously what everyone loves and he’s working hard and getting better every day to try to get on the field and help us,” Parrella said. “He’s getting more technically sound. And he wants to play. The biggest thing for us is to make sure that he is in the right fit and technically sound and doing what we’re asking him to do and hopefully over these next few weeks we can get him some more playing time.”
Thomas, another freshman that has seen significant time this season at defensive tackle, has also impressed. Thomas has 14 total tackles in eight appearances, but more than the physical challenge the college game presents, Parrella has liked the way Thomas has handled the mental challenges of being a freshman.
“It’s tough to be a freshman to come in and play right away, not only physically but mentally,” Parrella said. “With school and being away from home, going to practice every day, it’s tough but he’s done a great job with that and he’s got a really bright future at Nebraska.”
Minnesota’s offense has struggled to move the ball this season – second-to-last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (147.2), third-worst yards-per-game average (319) – but that has more to do with its quarterback play than anything else. The front line is sixth in the conference in sacks allowed (14) and Minnesota ranks fifth in rushing yards per.
Nebraska will need better play from its defensive line against the Gophers to have a chance. The forecast calls for freezing weather, possibly rain or snow and almost definitely classic Big Ten football.
Over the last four games, Nebraska has allowed 1,063 rushing yards at an almost 6-yard-per-carry rate. That number needs to shrink, and while the veterans up front like juniors Mick Stoltenberg and Freedom Akinmoladun need to be better, the newcomers could once again play roles in big spots.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.