2011 Defensive Line Could Be Memorable
If there's one component of your football team that you'd like to see be strong, it's the defensive line. It's hard to remember seeing a bad defense with a dominant defensive line. It's comparable to starting pitching in baseball. It keeps you in every game. And Nebraska appears to have the makings of a dominant defensive line for 2011, which would almost by itself allow you to pencil in the Huskers as division champions.
Why So Good?
Jared Crick was a second-team All-American in 2010 and returns for his senior season. Joining him on the inside will be 2010 honorable mention All Big 12 tackle Baker Steinkuhler. There's some depth behind them with senior Terrence Moore and sophomore Thad Randle. Further depth is available as star recruits Chase Rome and Jay Guy come off of redshirt years.
Cameron Meredith was a second-team All-Big 12 selection at defensive end. The competition for the other starting spot begins with returning two-deep ends Josh Williams, Eric Martin and Jason Ankrah. Ankrah and Williams were big-time recruits who may be ready to make big contributions. Junior college transfer Joe Carter could also immediately get into the mix. Martin is particularly intriguing as a former linebacker. With a standout pass-rusher at linebacker in Lavonte David, Martin might be the ideal compliment for zone blitzes. He'd seem more than adequate to provide underneath pass coverage in a cover-two zone. Beyond these names, there are a trio of redshirted ends that can now compete in Walker Ashburn, Tobi Okuyemi, and Donovan Vestal.
Think back to the better defensive lines in Nebraska history and in particular in the Big 12 era, and you'll see quality lines (with at least two real standouts) nearly always corresponded to division championships. The 2009 unit led by Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick brought NU within a whisper of the Big 12 title. The 2006 unit featuring Adam Carriker and Jay Moore was far and away the best under Bill Callahan and was his only division champion. Though the 1999 squad is remembered for the All-Americans in the secondary, it had an All-Big 12 nose tackle in Steve Warren and second-teamer in Kyle Vanden Bosch. The 1997 line featured two All-Americans in end Grant Wistrom and tackle Jason Peter that led the Huskers to a national title. The 1996 squad had Wistrom, Peter, and second-team All-American Jared Tomich. All of these teams won the Big 12 North.
If Crick can maintain or improve his All-American status and have one emerge around him (most likely Steinkuhler or Meredith), the Huskers can have the kind of line to put them in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. Of course, other positions matter too which is why you need more than that to win a conference championship or national championship. The Atlanta Braves may have had John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, but the Yankees still had Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.