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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Linebacker Mess Reexamined

The Oklahoman recently provided their rankings of the Big 12 linebacking units. The group of Nebraska linebackers came in on the list at #11. This is perhaps not surprising, but is disappointing nonetheless. This is what the article had to say about the Huskers’ LB corps.
11. Nebraska. Lost the top four backers, leaving Jenks' Phillip Dillard heading the rebuilding effort.
We did indeed lose our top four LBs, and Dillard will be counted on to lead the unit. But a closer look shows just how bad things have gotten for the second layer of our defense.

The pre-Fall camp depth chart really highlights our lack of quality starters and depth. We’ve got a converted RB in Cody Glenn at one starting OLB spot and walk-on Tyler Wortman at the other. Colton Kohler, another walk-on who started his career at Nebraska Wesleyan and has never hit the field as a Husker is our backup MLB right now. Obviously incoming recruit Will Compton will push him for that spot when camp opens, but this remains a precarious situation.

When you take a look at the full roster, things remain almost as bleak. Overall 21 players are listed as linebackers on the official roster. Of those, just nine are scholarship athletes. And that number includes both Cody Glenn and four incoming freshmen in Micah Kreikemeier, Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher. The 12 remaining linebackers on Nebraska’s roster are all walk-ons. It appears that no other position has received nearly the bolster from the resurgent walk-on program than Pelini’s linebacking corps. But this may or may not be a good thing. At the current time it appears that every small town stud approaching 6-foot and 200-pounds is listed as a LB for the Big Red. The list is so out of control that uniform numbers have become scarce meaning the numbers 61, 62, 65, 66 and 71(?!) have all been assigned to linebackers.

So just how did we get here? For all the effort Bill Callahan and his staff put into recruiting, linebacker was one position hit hard by defections, near misses and decommitments. Callahan’s first class in 2004 included just two linebacker recruits in Michael Keenan and Lance Brandenburgh. Keenan left the team before making any kind of mark and Brandenburgh would be starting in 2008 had Callahan not burned his redshirt for a grand total of 3 special teams tackles that first year.

In 2005, the vaunted recruiting class included five LBs in Steve Octavien, Dontrell Moore, Jeff Souder, Phillip Dillard and Nick Covey. Octavien has moved on, Dillard will start in 2008 and Covey has yet to find a spot in Lincoln. Souder and Moore both left the team zapping our depth once again. In 2006, the lone linebacking recruit Steve Allen never made it to Lincoln. The class of 2007 gave us Austin Stafford and Latravis Washington who both should contribute this fall. The Huskers also just missed on Travis Lewis who picked Oklahoma and should be a stud in Norman for years to come. And finally Doug Rippy and Shaun Mohler both decommited following the coaching change which subtracted two more highly sought after linebacking recruits for good measure.

The end result of this mess is a linebacking unit that looks scary thin on paper, could perhaps have some quality young talent, and certainly has a glut of walk-ons searching to become the next Tyler Wortman. I doubt this is the kind of situation a coach like Pelini expects to inherit at a once-proud program such as ours. Ultimately the play of Nebraska’s linebackers will certainly help determine the success of our season. Here’s to hoping someone can step up in the new system.

Anyway, the summer job is over and I'm back to living and soon working normal human hours. So I should be back around DXP just in time for the kickoff of 2008.