Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

On Nebraska's Defensive Line and What It Lost

March 1, 2020
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Name two men who made themselves more money at the NFL Combine this weekend than brothers Khalil and Carlos Davis.

The list would likely be pretty small.

Khalil Davis opened his workouts with 32 reps on the bench, tying for the second-most amongst the defensive participants. Then he ran an official 4.75 40-yard dash, the best time for a defensive lineman weighing more than 300 pounds in the last 20 years at the NFL Combine.

The Davis brothers both had strong showings in the agility drills on the field, as well. If they weren’t on boards before the Combine began, they at least made some teams open up the eyes a little bit and commit some time to taking an extended look at the tape.

They combined for 12 sacks last season. Khalil had 11 tackles for loss by himself. The brothers played outside on a more permanent basis while Darrion Daniels manned the middle, and on an individual level, they had pretty strong seasons.

Their success this weekend serves to highlight just what kind of task the Husker defense has on its hands in 2020.

The Huskers had all three of their defensive line starters from a season ago at the Combine, which says something about the quality of that front line in and of itself. While the counter-argument fairly easily centers around Nebraska’s inability to stop the run in recent years, head coach Scott Frost has spoken about their inability to consistently fit gaps at the second level in 2019. It wasn’t all on the defensive line.

But Nebraska is going to have to show improvement on defense this season, and the defensive line is going to have to bear some of that weight.

Nebraska was middle of the road in terms of sack rate on passing downs and slightly below average in stuff rate. Letting six teams average more than 4.5 yards per carry against Nebraska had as much to do with the seven losses as any high snap, missed kick, or missed read did. Even the most optimistic of offensive prognosticators still have to have something of a wait-and-see mode. Only something like a top-five or top-10 offense could buoy a defensive-troubled team that accomplishes what Frost wants to accomplish.

Will Nebraska have that?

I like the pieces, but I’m not entirely sure yet.

So, back to the defensive line. As my colleague, Greg Smith, pointed out in Recon on Friday, the intrigue and promise with the defensive line is there. Guys like Ty Robinson, Casey Rogers, Deontre Thomas and Keep Green are all on the shortlist for “10 Most Intriguing” this upcoming season, but how many of these guys will prove consistent?

Just another question that needs answering.

Nebraska could sure use the sure-thing that was its top line on the defensive depth chart last season for this upcoming year.

I’m sure those dudes will be padding their bank accounts soon, though.

One Other Thing: on NCAA rules tweaks

Players ejected for targeting are no longer forced to leave the sideline after the call is made.

Wonderful.

Players can now wear the number 0 on their jerseys.

I’m down.

The NCAA wants to speed up the replay system; reviews are now to take two minutes or less.

“We are putting guidelines in for the instant replay officials that they need to complete their video review in less than two minutes,” Steve Shaw, the national coordinator of officials, said on a conference call with the media this past week to address a few key updates to the college football rulebook for the 2020 season. “If you get to two minutes, it’s time to wrap it up. If you’re at two minutes and you don’t know the answer, it’s time to let it stand and not continue to drag the process out.”

Ew.

I understand the case for pace of play. The game needs to flow and needless stoppages are just that, needless. But I’d much rather see the number of timeouts dwindle than put officials in a pressure cooker in potentially game-changing situations.

Touchdown, commercial, extra point, commercial, kickoff, commercial. That sequence needs the fat trimmed.

The point of a replay review is to get the call right. Officials shouldn’t determine games, and for that reason the review process/system should be strengthened, not constrained.

 
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