LINCOLN — Coach Bo Pelini thinks that there's a good chance Nebraska will play with three linebackers on the field at times against Michigan.
It all depends on the Wolverines' offensive formation, though.
The last two games — against the multi-receiver looks of Northwestern and Ohio State — the Husker defense operated mostly out of nickel and dime personnel groups (no more than two linebackers, with as many as six defensive backs).
But Pelini's preparing to use the 4-3 defense against Michigan, playing four down linemen and three linebackers.
“I'm sure we're going to see some bigger sets from these guys,” Pelini said.
That would mean more playing time for senior Sean Fisher, whose strongside linebacker position is often occupied by a quicker defensive back against spread offenses. Fisher saw some snaps last week as Will Compton's backup at middle linebacker.
“He's getting better,” Pelini said of Fisher. “I have a lot of confidence in Fish.”
QB Armstrong will have knee surgery
True freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong will soon undergo corrective surgery and will miss a few weeks, Pelini said Thursday.
Pelini said Armstrong, who had his left knee wrapped in practice this week, originally suffered the injury in high school. There are no torn ligaments, according to Pelini.
Armstrong is the team's third-string quarterback and he's already on track to redshirt. He will be out of practice for a few weeks.
“Something's bothering him from an old surgery and we're gonna fix that,” Pelini said.
In other injury news, Pelini confirmed that defensive tackles Chase Rome and Kevin Williams, who both did not travel to Northwestern, will be healthy enough to play against Michigan on Saturday.
Abdullah still part of kick return team
Sophomore Ameer Abdullah may absorb an increased workload at running back if senior Rex Burkhead cannot play Saturday. But that won't impact Abdullah's role on special teams, according to Pelini.
Pelini said Abdullah will continue to return kickoffs and punts Saturday, even if Burkhead (knee) is out. Pelini indicated that Nebraska plans to use sophomore Braylon Heard and freshman Imani Cross at I-back to keep Abdullah fresh.
“We're going to play it like we have,” Pelini said. “We have a full range of players at the running back position.”
There will be changes, however, to other parts of the kick return team. Pelini said the NU staff has adjusted the lineup in several special teams units this week.
“We'll see how it works out,” Pelini said. “It looked good in practice.”
The fact that Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson lined up as a kick returner to begin the second half last weekend won't impact Nebraska's game plan, Pelini said.
Pelini praises Stafford, Smith
Pelini said senior safeties Daimion Stafford and P.J. Smith played “really well” in NU's 29-28 win over Northwestern last week.
They each finished the game with a team-high eight tackles. Smith was credited with a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.
Now the two veterans just have to replicate that performance.
“They're a big part of our defense,” Pelini said. “They need to play well and execute, and just continue to get better and have great attention to detail.”
Both Stafford and Smith stayed after practice some this week to work on fundamentals. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis spotted them working late as he spoke to reporters Tuesday.
“They understand what's at stake,” Papuchis said. “They're leaders for us, and they take a lot of pride in the role in which they play.”
— Jon Nyatawa