- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week, we're examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it can potentially be repaired in 2015.
Your turn, Nebraska.
Problem position: Linebacker
Why linebacker was a problem in 2014: Nebraska has been playing catch-up at the linebacker spot since it moved from the Big 12 -- where it needed more defensive backs and swift linebackers against all those pass-happy offenses -- to the more rugged, physical style of the Big Ten. The Huskers thought 2014 would bring improvement to the position, but a preseason knee injury to starter Michael Rose-Ivey proved a big setback. Once again, Big Red mostly failed to get elite production out of its linebackers, and the lack of size and skill there was evident in losses to Wisconsin, Minnesota and USC. With the graduation of Zaire Anderson and Trevor Roach and the transfer of Courtney Love to Kentucky, the position is perilously thin heading into 2015. New coach Mike Riley and his staff have made recruiting linebackers an immediate priority.
How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Rose-Ivey's return from injury should be a big boost, as he was drawing rave reviews before he went down. David Santos and Josh Banderas return a lot of experience, though Banderas saw his playing time dwindle in 2014. Backups Marcus Newby, Austin Williams and Chris Weber also are back but need to take major steps forward.
How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): The Huskers have only one linebacker currently committed in three-star prospect Tyrin Ferguson. They are still hot on the trail of other linebacker prospects and will continue to hunt for more until signing day. Nebraska is also in the mix for former South Carolina linebacker Kaiwan Lewis, who could provide some immediate assistance as a graduate transfer.
Early 2015 outlook: The Huskers were barely holding it together at linebacker by the time the Holiday Bowl rolled around because of injuries and other issues. Riley understands that the position needs to be restocked and rebuilt. Rose-Ivey is a crucial part of that process if he bounces back fully healthy. Reinforcements are still needed in recruiting, and landing Lewis would be big. Nebraska is unlikely to have one of the top linebacker units in the Big Ten in 2015, but it can hope for a little bit better performance.