As the dog days of summer continue, HuskerOnline.com is introducing a new series breaking down Nebraska's top-15 players on the roster heading into 2011.
In today's installment of "Key Huskers," we take a look at junior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler and where he stands entering the start of fall camp.
After coming in as Nebraska's most highly-touted recruit of the 2008 class, defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler took a big step towards living up to that hype last season in his first year as a starter. While Jared Crick got the bulk of the attention on the interior line, Steinkuhler quietly had a solid sophomore season, ranking ninth on the team in tackles and third with 3.5 sacks.
Steinkuhler's biggest impact arguably was felt against the run, as he posted five games with at least five tackles, included a career-high eight stops against Texas. The Lincoln native started all 13 regular-season games, and with his experience back along side Crick, defensive tackle will be the overall strength of the Blackshirts in 2011.
What he still needs to prove
The only area Steinkuhler could really improve on is simply doing a better job of capitalizing on his situation this season. For the second year in a row, he will be the No. 2 priority for opposing offensive lines with Crick garnering the bulk of the attention next to him. That means he'll once again be set up with numerous opportunities to take advantage of one-on-one blocking opportunities.
Steinkuhler got off to a great start last season with 3.5 sacks in the Huskers' first three games, but he cooled off noticeably and didn't get to the quarterback the rest of the season. This year could be an opportunity similar to what Crick had playing next to Ndamukong Suh for Steinkuhler, and he could be poised for a breakout year as long as he can take advantage.
Most memorable play or moment
His eight-tackle performance against Texas was certainly impressive, but it came in one of the worst losses of the season. That's why Steinkuhler's sack of Washington quarterback Jake Locker in Nebraska's win over the Huskies in the third game of the year is a much more memorable moment.
The sack itself wasn't entirely impressive - Steinkuhler chased down a scrambling Locker along the sideline in the second quarter - but the 8-yard loss killed the Huskies' drive and eventually led to a Roy Helu touchdown that put NU up 21-7. It also marked the last time he would bring down an opposing quarterback in the backfield.
Once again, Steinkuhler will be set up for a big year by playing along side Crick and also having guys like Cameron Meredith coming off the edge. When he's on his game, Steinkuhler has proven just how valuable of a piece he can be on Nebraska's defensive line, both in the pass rush and against the run.
Everyone remembers what happened in last year's Holiday Bowl loss to Washington when Steinkuhler was out due to a suspension, as the Huskies ran right through NU's front four. With a year of starting experience under his belt, there's no reason why Steinkuhler can't be one of the better defensive tackles in the Big Ten this season. He just has to be able to make the most of his opportunity.