August 2, 2010

Fall camp preview: DEs ready to step up

Like nearly every other defensive position, Nebraska must replace some valuable experience and talent at defensive end this season. However, just like all the other positions, there looks to be plenty of talent ready to step up and fill the void.

With a mix of key returning veterans and a solid crop of up-and-comers, the Huskers should once again feature a more than capable cast at defensive end heading into the start of fall camp.

Biggest question: Can the pass rush improve

Nebraska got a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback from its front four last year, but just about all of it can be credited to the big guys on the interior. While Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick combined for 21.5 of NU's 44 sacks in 2009, defensive ends only recorded 13 as a unit. Of those 13, 5.5 came from the now departed Barry Turner, meaning only two returning ends - senior Pierre Allen and sophomore Cameron Meredith - recorded even a single sack last year. Allen has been especially vocal about his wanting to increase his pressure on the quarterback this season, guaranteeing both in the spring and at last week's Big 12 Media Days that he would surpass his five sacks from '09 this year.

What we know right now: There's plenty of potential

Outside of Allen, none of Nebraska's returning defensive ends have ever started a game. The good news is that what the unit lacks in experience it more than makes up for in potential. With guys like Meredith, redshirt freshman Jason Ankrah and sophomore Josh Williams all taking big strides over the course of the past year, the Huskers should have no trouble finding a capable replacement for Turner to line up opposite of Allen. In particular, Meredith reportedly had as good of an offseason as anyone, and the coaches seem to be extremely excited about his development thus far.

Fresh fall camp faces: D. Vestal, T. Okuyemi, W. Ashburn

As far as defensive ends go, Nebraska cleaned up last year with its latest recruiting class. With the additions of highly touted freshmen Donovan Vestal, Tobi Okuyemi and Walker Ashburn, the Huskers set themselves up for a very bright future at the position for years to come. While it's unlikely any of the three will see much or any playing time this season, their competition throughout the year will only be the start of things to come for the next four to five years.

Early camp prediction

I'm really expecting some big things from the defensive ends this year. I think Allen is destined for a breakout year, and with the way everyone has been talking about the offseasons Meredith and Williams have had, the Huskers should be just as dangerous on the other side of the line. With Suh out of the picture and Crick likely to receive far more attention from opposing offensive lines, it's going to be crucial for the ends to step up their pressure and both get to the quarterback and disrupt the running game more often. Looking at the talent NU has at the position, I don't think that should be much of a problem.

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