Competition is thriving on loaded Husker defensive line
Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers are about as good of friends as college football teammates could be.
When it comes to getting on the practice field on a loaded Nebraska defensive line, though, that friendship turns to direct competition.
The Huskers’ defensive front returns nearly every piece from last year’s depth chart, including an additional sixth year for senior end Ben Stille. They also added three incoming freshmen to that mix, with Ru’Quan Buckley already on campus as an early enrollee.
With 12 scholarship players pushing for playing time at just three spots in NU’s three-man front, practice reps have become an invaluable commodity for the defensive line this spring.
“To a football player, reps are probably the most important thing you can get,” Rogers said. “It’s tough because I love Ty to death, but I want all of his reps. It’s the same way for him. It’s tough. We’ve got a lot of guys in the room, and we all want to up our game.
“But you’ve got to deserve those reps. You’ve got to go out and show you’ve earned those reps.”
The top of the practice rotation opened up a bit, as Nebraska head coach Scott Frost announced on Wednesday that Stille, the most established member of that crowded d-line, would miss all of spring ball after undergoing offseason surgery.
The good news is that, for one, few players could afford to sit out a spring more than Stille. His absence also opens a window for NU’s younger linemen to get a few more of those coveted practice reps.
Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said that even if Stille were healthy, he likely would have had a minimal workload to keep him fresh for the season. Now Stille can focus his attention on his equally important role as the leader of the d-line.
“It gives Stille a chance to be a leader in a different way,” Tuioti said. “He’s doing a great job of meeting with the guys and watching extra film outside of my meetings… He’s been through this system for a long time, so my plan for him, even if he was in spring ball, was to put him on the shelf a little bit.”
Two players who have benefitted from the additional practice work are Buckley and second-year freshman Nash Hutmacher.
While there is a slew of veteran talent ahead of them, both players have already made their coaches and teammates take notice early on this spring.
“Nash has really made a big jump from last year to this year,” Robinson said. “I think last year was a good acclimation period for him. But coming into spring ball, he looks good.”
Tuioti said Buckley had impressed in his work on the practice field and his commitment to the classroom.
“The thing about Ru’Quan is, the one thing I love about him is he wants to work hard,” Tuioti said. “He doesn’t want to take any shortcuts, even in academics. (NU Executive Associate Athletic Director for Academics) Dennis Leblanc tells me that he lives down there (at Academic Services), and he’s trying to get the best grades he can.
“He’s trying to do the same thing in our meeting rooms and after practice just trying to get better. If he has that attitude, he’ll be OK at the end of the day.”