Phillip Dillard is off the milk carton – or so it would appear.
Dillard, who is a senior that has not played the first two games of the season, has been working with the No. 1 defensive unit at WILL linebacker as opposed to the MIKE position.
The big question after spring practices was would Dillard get out of the doghouse? Dillard came to Nebraska as one of Bill Callahan’s prized recruits from 2005 class. He saw sporadic action as a true freshman. Dillard gained a redshirt year in 2006 based on sustaining a season-ending injury in 2006. Dillard split time at middle linebacker with Corey McKeon in 2007 but got in with the good graces of Bo Pelini’s staff by losing 40 pounds. Dillard, however, missed the last four games of the regular season and played sparingly in the Gator Bowl.
It was generally assumed by many Husker fans that Dillard would be a starter (or at least in contention for a starting job) when healthy and emerge as a leader. In spring practice, however, Dillard slipped “down there” on the depth chart. At the time, neither Pelini or linebackers coach Mike Ekeler specified how far “down there.” As for why Dillard fell on the depth chart, Ekeler said: “There's some things that we ask. I'll just leave it at that.”
When I heard the most recent news on Dillard I was expecting something like he was leaving the program. One of the reasons for the emphasis on Dillard’s rise is because starters Blake Lawrence (ankle) and Matthew May (stinger) are currently less than full strength.
Even if he was overweight and slow, you'd think Dillard would find his way onto the field. Otherwise, why wouldn't he have just transferred out of Nebraska? I have a feeling that this is very good news for the defense and a nice little wrinkle to throw at Virginia Tech for Saturday’s much-anticipated road game.
I am overjoyed for Dillard and the team. He always seemed like a good kid, and was one of the few to play with passion and heart in 2007. He could really help with the run defense this week which is significant given that the Hokies pride themselves on being a physical running team.
What's being lost in all of this is that Dillard is practicing at the WILL position. That position requires more speed than the MIKE position, which is where Dillard played in the past.
Another thought is that Pelini saw something in film that leads them to believe that Dillard will have a positive impact in that position. He is a senior with 33 games under his belt. He has played some WILL linebacker in the past. He is not going to be intimidated by the atmosphere at Virginia Tech.
Dillard is known to bring a little fire to the game as well but what is so hard to understand? He seems to have done every thing the coaches asked. He has maintained a good attitude and seems to have worked very hard at getting to the weight the coaches wanted. It seems like a no brainer to me. The linebacker play against Arkansas State was not the greatest and for sure needs to be better because VaTech will be a true test.