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Spring Look Back: Defensive line

We continue our spring positional recaps today by giving our final take on Nebraska's defensive line.

Related: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL

Defensive lineman Ty Robinson.
Defensive lineman Ty Robinson. (Tyler Krecklow)

WHAT WE LEARNED: This position group is the deepest it's been in years

A year ago at this time, Nebraska's defensive line was the biggest question after losing three starters from 2019 to the NFL.

Not only did the 2020 group answer those questions, they arguably exceeded expectations under position coach Tony Tuioti. Going forward into 2021, NU returns every single key contributor from a year ago, other than Keem Green who entered the transfer portal after seeing his snaps go down.

The Huskers will be led by senior Ben Stille, sophomore Casey Rogers, third-year freshman Ty Robinson and junior Damion Daniels. After that, veterans like Deonte Thomas and Jordon Riley round out the top six.

Then you have another group of emerging players like sophomore Colton Feist, second-year freshman Nash Hutmacher, third-year freshman Mosai Newsome and true freshman Ru'Quan Buckley who all showed flashes this spring.

Nebraska has done an outstanding job of recruiting and developing this position group and they will have the bulk of this bunch back for 2022 and 2023 as well.

Defensive lineman Deontre Thomas and Damion Daniels.
Defensive lineman Deontre Thomas and Damion Daniels. (Tyler Krecklow)

BIGGEST SPRING CONCERN: Finding the right rotation 

There aren't a lot of concerns when you look at this group, other than finding the right rotation early in the season.

The Huskers will play eight straight weeks from Aug. 28 to Oct. 16. That is going to really test the depth of this unit, and Tuioti is going to have to figure out the right rotation over that stretch.

You also hope that Daniels continues to improve his overall conditioning level so he can give the Big Red more snaps this season.

Walk-on defensive lineman Colton Feist.
Walk-on defensive lineman Colton Feist. (Tyler Krecklow)

SPRING SURPRISE: Colton Feist 

The walk-on program exists for stories like Colton Feist. He came to Nebraska as a 255-pound multi-sport athlete from Yutan.

He led his team to a Class C-2 state championship and was one of the best overall players at the smaller class level. Since then, Feist has added 25+ pounds and reshaped his frame.

He saw action in four games in 2020 and is the first walk-on defensive lineman to see significant snaps under Erik Chinander.

With Stille out this spring, he saw his rep count increase even more. There's no question Feist has made himself a factor heading into 2021, and don't be surprised if he's put on scholarship sooner, rather than later.

Sixth-year senior Ben Stille.
Sixth-year senior Ben Stille. (Tyler Krecklow)

LOOKING AHEAD: This is Stille's room to lead in 2021

When you look at this group, there's a lot of experience, potential and leadership returning.

However, there's no question the leader of this room is Stille, who is entering his sixth season at Nebraska.

As a fifth-year, he had his most productive season as a defensive lineman. So much so, that Pro Football Focus has recognized him as one of the top five overall interior defensive line draft prospects heading into 2021.

This will be Stille's line in 2021, and that should give rising stars like Robinson and Rogers one more valuable season to learn from his approach to the game. You aren't going to find a better overall example of how to conduct yourself on and off the field than Stille. He just earned his Master's Degree in five years this past May.