Much of the offseason discussion regarding the 2011 Nebraska football team has centered on the move to the Big 10 and whether or not the retooled can offense take enough pressure off a stout defense as it did in the first half of the season.
Since Bo Pelini arrived as the Cornhuskers head coach in December 2007, he has fostered a culture on the defensive side of the ball. Talented players will come and go. Some years the talent will be better than others. However, as long as the Pelini brothers (Bo and Carl) are in Lincoln, we won’t see disasters like the Kevin Cosgrove, and to a lesser degree, Craig Bohl eras.
In 2007, the Huskers rated 112th in the nation in total defense and that was quite possibly the worst defense ever to set foot in Memorial Stadium (including Nebraska opponents). In 2008, Nebraska improved to 55th in total defense in Pelini’s first season. In 2009 led by Heisman Trophy candidate defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Huskers finished second in scoring defense behind National Champ Alabama and ninth in total yards. Despite the loss of Suh in 2010, Nebraska was No. 7 in scoring defense and No. 10 in total yards per game. The defense put up such numbers despite at times showing wear and tear from an inconsistent offense.
The 2011 defense figures to be pretty stout as well with Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuher forming a strong tandem at defensive tackle. Cameron Meredith returns to start at one defensive end position with Eric Martin moving from linebacker to end.
As for the linebacker unit, Butkus Award candidate LaVonte David was the surprise star of the defense in 2010, without an offseason as the starter to prepare. With an offseason’s work, David should have an even better season in 2011 at middle linebacker. Sean Fisher is the likely starter at SAM linebacker with Will Compton getting the call at WILL linebacker.
As for the secondary, Austin Cassidy is the probable starter at strong safety. Cassidy established himself as a heady playmaker in the second half of the 2010 season. The starting free safety could be either Courtney Osbourne or PJ Smith but in the second half of last season the coaching staff clearly had more confidence in Osborne.
At cornerback, the Huskers lose Prince Amukamara to graduation but some people believe his running mate Alfonzo Dennard might be even better. Ciante Evans would appear to be Dennard’s partner in crime. Evans performed admirably after injuries pressed him into extensive duty as a true freshman.
While the X factor in how well Nebraska’s defense performs is predicated on how much pressure the offense relieves them, the Blackshirt defense should e just fine in 2011.
There isn’t a single person along the projected starters that is not a proven commodity. This defensive team is probably better than some schools all-time teams and even though none of the pass rushers will make me forget the likes of Grant Wistrom, the 2011 Huskers are strong enough at cornerback that they will give a little more time to the pass rush to get to opposing quarterbacks and allow for less coverage and more carnage.