Nebraska’s defense is looking to rebound after a rocky 2017 season in which the Huskers finished 116th (of 129) in scoring defense and 102nd in total defense.
The Huskers currently have 42 scholarships devoted to defense — half of the 84 scholarships on the roster. On Monday, we looked at how the scholarships are divvied up on offense. Now we’re tackling the defense.
Nebraska must can have up to 85 (NCAA limit) by fall camp, and there still could be additional attrition. The Huskers saw some attrition already from wide receiver Keyan Williams, center Michael Decker and linebacker Andrew Ward. With their departures, there could be new additions to the roster this summer.
Here’s how the scholarships break down:
SPECIAL TEAMS: 3
Below, we’ll dig into the defense position by position.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (3)
- Mick Stoltenberg (senior)
- Khalil Davis (junior)
- Damion Daniels (redshirt freshman)
DEFENSIVE END (9)
- Peyton Newell (senior)
- Freedom Akinmoladun (senior)
- DaiShon Neal (junior)
- Carlos Davis (junior)
- Deontre Thomas (sophomore)
- Ben Stille (sophomore)
- Chris Walker (redshirt freshman)
- Tate Wildeman (freshman)
- Casey Rogers (freshman)
Outlook after spring: Nebraska returns its entire defensive line from the 2017 season, which is key for defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. While the defensive line wasn’t all that good at stopping the run last season, a lot of that had to do with the scheme used by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. That should change in 2018.
Chinander also runs a 3-4 defense, which Nebraska switched to under Diaco in 2017. The biggest difference? Chinander provides more ownership for his players and gives the defensive line more freedom to attack the quarterback and ball carriers.
With so many returners on the line, it’s hard to imagine the newcomers will have much of a chance to play right away. Both Wildeman and Rogers could redshirt. Keep an eye on Daniels and Walker. Fresh off their own redshirt seasons, defensive line coach Mike Dawson could find ways to mix things up with those two.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (11)
- Luke Gifford (senior)
- Sedrick King (senior)
- Tyrin Ferguson (junior)
- Alex Davis (junior)
- Breon Dixon (sophomore)
- Quayshon Alexander (sophomore)
- Collin Miller (sophomore)
- Pernell Jefferson (sophomore)
- Guy Thomas (redshirt freshman)
- David Alston (freshman)
- Caleb Tannor (freshman)
INSIDE LINEBACKER (5)
- Dedrick Young (senior)
- Will Honas (junior)
- Mohamed Barry (junior)
- Avery Roberts (sophomore)
- Willie Hampton (redshirt freshman)
Outlook after spring: If there is one position at which Nebraska doesn’t need more players, it’s outside linebacker. Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt has quite the job ahead sorting through the depth chart and trying to find two or three players who can consistently pair up with Gifford.
Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud’s job is a little more manageable, mostly because it’s pretty clear who his top players are. Young, Honas and Barry are expected to be playmakers this season.
There’s a lot of talent and potential among the linebackers. There also are question marks, but Dewitt and Ruud have to feel good about the room set up by former linebackers coach Trent Brey.
- Lamar Jackson (junior)
- Eric Lee (junior)
- Avery Anderson (junior)
- Dicaprio Bootle (sophomore)
- Braxton Clark (freshman)
- Cam Taylor (freshman)
- Antonio Reed (senior)
- Aaron Williams (senior)
- Deontai Williams (sophomore)
- JoJo Domann (sophomore)
- Tony Butler (sophomore)
- Marquel Dismuke (sophomore)
- CJ Smith (freshman)
- Cam’ron Jones (freshman)
Outlook after spring: Nebraska returns plenty of familiar faces at defensive back, but there are some new faces as well. As for those returning, Jackson started at cornerback all 12 games last season and Lee and Bootle saw their fair share of playing time. At safety, Aaron Williams started eight games and Antonio Reed started four. Jackson, Lee, Bootle, Williams and Reed provide a good foundation for defensive backs coach Travis Fisher.
The kicker? Nebraska’s cornerbacks had no interceptions last season. Ouch. That’s something Fisher will want to correct, especially because of the pressure that put on the safeties.
It’s also worth noting that Dixon is listed above at outside linebacker. He could move to safety if needed. He’s a hybrid safety/linebacker, after all.
One interesting fact about Nebraska’s scholarship defensive backs: Not a single one hails from the state of Nebraska.
- Long snapper Jordan Ober (senior)
- Punter Caleb Lightbourn (junior)
- Kicker Barret Pickering (freshman)
Outlook after spring: Replacing kicker Drew Brown won’t be easy, especially after he made more than 80 percent of his field goals over the last three seasons. He missed only 11 field goals and two extra points during that time. Pickering is the scholarship replacement, but he’ll battle it out against walk-on Cole Frahm. Even Lightbourn is trying his hand at kickoffs in Brown’s absence.
Neither Pickering nor Frahm had a good spring game, which leaves room for concern. Would the Huskers pursue a graduate-transfer kicker as a result? Nebraska technically doesn’t have a scholarship available, but it would be surprising if it wasn’t being considered.