May 5, 2010

Spring grade out: Linebacker

As the Nebraska football team moves closer to the start of summer conditioning, will begin our daily position grade outs of where things are at out of spring ball. Today we breakdown the linebacker position and the positives and the negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice and we also preview what lies ahead.

Other spring grade outs: QB l RB l WR l TE l OL l DE l >DT

Overall spring grade: B

While there was heavy competition at nearly every position on Nebraska's roster this spring, no spot may have had more of a log jam for playing time than linebacker. Because of the Huskers' move to make the peso defense their base package, the Buck linebacker was essentially eliminated from the starting lineup. As a result, players from three linebacker positions suddenly had to compete for two starting jobs at Will and Mike linebacker. The good news is that NU suddenly has more depth than it could ask for at the position, and with most of its young players now having a year of experience under their belts, it also has plenty of talent to work with as well. It may be harder for some linebackers to see the field as much in the new peso package, but as Nebraska's players and coaches have always said, competition is only going to make everyone better.
Spring surprise: Scrapping the Buck

With the Buck linebacker position now basically a thing of the past, guys like sophomores Sean Fisher and Micah Kreikemeier were left having to jump into the already crowded competition at Mike and Will. In the peso, the Buck's responsibilities are taken over by the nickel - a hybrid defensive back/linebacker. That means Nebraska will have 18 linebackers battling for two starting positions when fall camp opens up. The good news is that the Huskers are guaranteed to have only their best linebackers see the field because of the competition. Despite the move, Fisher reportedly had one of the best springs of any linebacker, which means he definitely won't be left out in the cold for playing time if he keeps it up.

Question that still needs answered: Who will replace Dillard?

Based on the fact that he was a fourth-round draft pick, Phillip Dillard obviously leaves a great deal of talent to be replaced this off-season at Mike linebacker. But what may be even harder to replace is the leadership and knowledge of the defense he brought to the table, especially towards the end of last season. So which of Nebraska's numerous young linebackers can fill Dillard's shoes? The three leading candidates appear to by sophomores , [db]Eric Martin and Fisher. All three saw significant playing time on defense or special teams last season, and all had great springs. Compton has already been very vocal about wanting to step up his role as a leader on the defense this year, so look for him to possibly emerge as Dillard's successor in that regard by the end of fall camp.

What does the future hold at linebacker?

Nebraska obviously has a lot to work with at linebacker this year, but it's not just a matter of having a lot of bodies competing for a couple starting spots. The feeling coming out of spring ball was that players like Compton, Fisher and Martin were right on pace to each take their games to the next level. The most exciting player to watch right now is undoubtedly Martin, as not only has his overall play improved, but so has his knowledge of the defense. As long as those three can emerge as Big 12 caliber players - which they should - a position that may have been regarded as the weak link in the Huskers' defense could be in pretty good shape come the start of the season.

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