Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Big shoes to fill: Nebraska
By Brian Bennett
As we tick off the days toward spring practice, we're taking a look at how each Big Ten team will replace key players on their depth charts. We're picking two departed players who left big shoes to fill and identifying who might be ready to do that filling.
Up today is Nebraska, which has two rather large sets of empty cleats to occupy from the defensive side.
Nebraska has 133 tackles to replace now that linebacker Lavonte David has graduated.
Why: There was arguably no more valuable defensive player in the Big Ten last year than David, an All-American and Butkus finalist who led the Huskers with 133 tackles. When Nebraska needed a big stop, David was usually the guy to provide it. The front seven for Bo Pelini underachieved in some ways in 2011, and David was easily the team's most consistent player on that side of the ball. David made up for a lack of overwhelming size with his speed, tackling ability and instincts for the game. And his top two listed backups at weakside linebackers were also seniors.
Replacement candidates: Sean Fisher (6-6, 235, Sr.), David Santos (6-0, 205, RFr.), Alonzo Whaley (6-1, 235, Sr.), Zaire Anderson (6-1, 220, incoming junior college transfer), Jared Afalava (6-3, 215, incoming freshman), Michael Rose (6-0, 225, incoming freshman), Thomas Brown (6-2, 210, incoming freshman)
The skinny: Nebraska brought in four linebackers in this year's recruiting class to fill some holes at the position. Fisher has been held back by injuries and inconsistency and is built more like a defensive end. Santos could be ready to make an impact after redshirting. Anderson is a well-regarded junior-college signee, just as David was two years ago. Rose and Brown are viewed more as inside linebackers, but nothing is set in stone. The Huskers hope someone from this wide pool of candidate announces himself this spring.
Why: When healthy and on point, Dennard was the best lock-down cornerback in the Big Ten last season. Though he had a few lapses, like in the Michigan and South Carolina games, he also shut out Michigan State star B.J. Cunningham in a big win over the Spartans. Getting great play from the cornerback spot is a key part of Nebraska's defensive scheme.
The skinny: Someone will have to make a major leap forward in order to match Dennard's performance level. Evans and Jean-Baptiste saw plenty of time last year as backups, though Evans seemed more suited as a nickel back and the rangy Jean-Baptiste is still learning the positionafter an in-season switch from wide receiver. Cooper started a game at corner against Wyoming but was then moved to safety. Seisay and Davie will each have an opportunity to prove they're up to the challenge. The other hope for Nebraska is that returning starter Andrew Green raises his game to the point where he becomes the next dominant Huskers cornerback.