April 5, 2011

Back-up linebackers confident they will develop

It's not often Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini openly voices concern about a certain aspect of his team, but he just couldn't help himself following Saturday's first scrimmage of the spring.

While the Huskers look to be stacked with their three first-string linebackers in seniors Lavonte David and juniors Will Compton and Sean Fisher, the depth behind them has been anything but reassuring for Pelini.

On Monday, Pelini followed up on his concerns by saying he's still waiting for the next group of linebackers to show the kind of consistency needed to pick up where the first unit leaves off, especially considering the unit's injury issues the past few seasons.

"We have guys that are progressing, but our consistency has to be better with the second group," Pelini said. "Our ones are playing pretty good football and progressing, but we've got to create some more depth and we've got a couple of guys coming in that we think can help us. We'll see how it goes."

Coming into the spring, the projected No. 2 linebackers were junior Alonzo Whaley at Mike linebacker, junior Graham Stoddard at Buck and seniors Mathew May and Jim Ebke at Will.

However, injuries have limited both Whaley and May this spring. Whaley has been dealing with an ankle injury recently, and as a result true freshman walk-on Trevor Roach has been working as the No. 2 Mike.

As for May, he said he's still recovering from specialized groin surgery he had in Germany over the summer, though he expects to be back at 100 percent by the time the Huskers open fall camp.

"I'm getting there," May said. "I think another good summer of conditioning and working (strength coach James) Dobson and getting strength back, I should be there by the fall."

Aside from the physical issues, Stoddard said one of the biggest hurdles for the linebackers has been re-learning all of the old defensive concepts of the 4-3 defense, as Nebraska played primarily a two-linebacker set in the peso last season.

Once the unit brushes the dust off of its old scheme, Stoddard said things would pick up much faster in terms of depth development at the position.

"I think it's been going pretty well," Stoddard said. "We're getting back into this base defense after playing peso, so there's a lot of learning to do, but at the same time, everyone's coming along pretty well."

While Pelini may not be satisfied with the progression of the linebackers, May said it was by no means due to a lack of competition.

"Everybody is getting a chance to get reps and in the mix," May said. "The competition is real high. Everybody is really working for a spot and trying to help everybody out."

With the move back to the 4-3 as the base defense, there will obviously be a huge need for linebacker depth as Nebraska forges its way through its first season as members of the physical Big Ten Conference.

After watching Fisher miss all of last season and Compton miss the first five games of the year due to injuries suffered before the Huskers even played a game, there's little question that NU will need all the help they can get at linebacker this season.

It might be taking longer for that depth to emerge than Pelini might like, but May, Stoddard and the rest of their fellow backup linebackers are confident they'll be ready to step up when needed.

"The first group is doing awesome, but I think the second group is really starting to come together," Stoddard said. "As a group as twos, I think we're really starting to feel comfortable with each other and play and communicate much like the ones do, and that's really important."

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