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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Safety Dance

Although the coaching staff is apparently not worried, my biggest question mark of fall camp is the safety position. With Tierre Green and Andrew Shanle penciled in at the top of the depth chart, it means that both safety positions will be manned by first time starters. I’m still looking for the exact answer, but that hasn’t happened since sometime before 1997 (maybe it’s time I had Mom ship me the media guide collection). Although Green started seven games last year at cornerback, he has only been at safety since the spring. Andrew Shanle has been a career back-up, but has been an important contributor on special teams (just ask Michigan return man Steve Breaston). While I think these two could be solid performers, I don’t expect them to be dominant in coverage or in run support. I also expect some growing pains early in the season as they get their feet wet as starters, and join the defense as a whole, in adjusting to the loss of Zack Bowman.

Behind the starters there is little depth. My dark horse at this position is former walk-on Ben Eisenhart, who like Shanle is a product of 8-man high school football. I thought Eisenhart was one of the most impressive performers in the Spring Game. The safety position also includes special teams ace Brandon Rigoni (who is impossible not to love), walk-on Matt O’Hanlon and true freshmen Major Culbert and Corey Young. If Culbert’s high school hype is to be believed, he is the future at one of the safety spots. Young on the other hand is just getting adjusted to the defensive side of the ball after starring as a running back at Millard North. I thoroughly believe Leon Jackson was expected to be a contributor at this point at one of the safety positions. As we all know by now, however, he had other ideas.

This has left us a recruiting class or two away from being shored up at the safety spots. As Husker fans we have probably been spoiled by a glutton of talent here in recent years. It was easy to get used to seeing this position manned by some of our biggest names and greatest athletes. For instance, in the last decade or so, Nebraska has sent players like Toby Wright, Mike Minter, Mike Brown, Jerrell Pippens and both of the Bullocks twins to the NFL. This recent success was a major reason the Huskers were a contender for’s designation as "Safety U."

For this season, however, I think we rely on Green and Shanle to play intelligent and consistent football. Unless they struggle making tackles in the open field or give up the big play, we probably have enough talent around them on defense to beat most of the teams on our schedule. If they progress quickly and make big plays behind our front seven, teams are likely to have a hard time moving the ball on us. So in other words, watching the development of our safeties is another reason September 2nd can’t get here soon enough.