August 18, 2010

Huskers boast plenty of depth on defensive line

Don't expect Jared Crick to signal the sideline, indicating he needs a breather, very often this season. In fact, if it's up to him, he might not leave the field at all when Nebraska is on defense.

"I'm not going to want to come off the field," he said.

When he does take a break, however, whether willingly or otherwise, "it's going to be good to know the guy coming in for us is capable and ready to do the job," the junior tackle said.

The Cornhuskers certainly have depth at defensive tackle. They also have depth at defensive end.

"This is the most depth that we've had at the defensive end spot since we've been here," said defensive ends coach John Papuchis.

And as is the case at defensive tackle, youngsters are a significant part of that depth.

Senior Pierre Allen and sophomore Cameron Meredith are the experienced ends, with sophomore [db]Josh Williams and redshirted freshman Jason Ankrah competing for playing time.

Crick, sophomore Baker Steinkuhler and junior Terrence Moore are the experienced tackles, with redshirted freshman Thaddeus Randle and true freshman Chase Rome competing for playing time.

And if those aren't enough, sophomore walk-on Justin Jackson is playing well, too.

"Justin's having a great camp," Crick said.

Jackson's problem, in part, is numbers, with Rome, who enrolled in January and went through spring practice, emerging as a factor. He is "really coming along," head coach Bo Pelini said of Rome on Saturday.

Randall and Ankrah were among the top recruits a year ago, and even though they redshirted, they didn't spend a lot of practice time on the scout team.

"We kept them with us, purposefully, because we knew they were going to figure in this year," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said during spring practice. "They were still practicing with the ones and twos, just to get those reps."

The 6-foot-1 Randall arrived at Nebraska weighing about 260 pounds. He's listed at 280 now, and his speed "didn't diminish at all," said Crick.

"He's still fast. That's great… I definitely see a lot of gains in his strength and just in his overall technique. The biggest thing for Thad is (he's) just got to keep learning what we want to do as far as schemes and as far as techniques. And if he does that, keeps progressing through camp, he's going to be a great player."

The same can be said about the 6-4, 260-pound Ankrah. It has been said, in fact, by Bo Pelini.

"He still makes some young mistakes, but I'm seeing progress, which is real positive, and I'm excited about that," Bo Pelini said. "I think he's going to be a good football player for us."

The redshirt season and then spring practice have served Ankrah well.

"His knowledge of the defense has increased 10-fold from a year ago," Papuchis said. "His knowledge and ability to play the techniques we want him to play are dramatically better, so he just keeps getting better and better, and he hasn't even scratched the surface on how good he can be."

Williams has made the most dramatic weight gain of all. He weighed about 210 pounds when he got to Nebraska but is about 260 now.

"He's starting to step up, but he still has a long way to go," said Papuchis. "He hasn't had his first true game experience in a situation that really mattered. So there's going to be more obstacles along the way for Josh, but I'm excited for him."

Rome has even less experience in the system. Even so, Crick has been impressed.

"He's got all the tools, all the potential in the world, but you've got to learn what we want to do first before we can put you out there," Crick said. "His technique is coming as (for) all the younger guys. That's the biggest thing for them right now, to learn what we want to do going into game week."

Come game time, Crick plans to be on the field as much as possible. But when he's not, there appear to be some talented young players ready to step up and take hold of the opportunity.

"We feel pretty good about our depth up front right now," Bo Pelini said.

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