LINCOLN — Thad Randle knows by now just about all the fundamentals and techniques and assignments that go with being a Nebraska defensive tackle.
And after taking a good look around him, he also understands the situation.
The Huskers badly need Randle to stay healthy and anchor their interior defensive line. They need his experience and maturity to bring stability to a position heavy with underclassmen.
And the senior realized all that long before the NU staff ever had to tell him.
“I know what the standard is,” Randle said. “Now you've got to live up to it.”
Randle and Brodrick Nickens, a walk-on and former offensive lineman, are the only seniors at defensive tackle. Randle and defensive end Jason Ankrah are the only scholarship seniors along the defensive front.
If his knees hold up, though, Randle is ready to put anyone and anything on his back for the next few months.
“I've been training for it since I knew I was going to have to be the guy,” he said.
That has meant trying to go the extra step both on and off the field to set the right example for younger defensive tackles like Aaron Curry, Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice — any of whom could be playing behind or next to him this season.
In particular, Randle said, Collins has lots of questions. It reminds him of how he kept the queries coming to veterans like Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler when he was a newcomer.
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“He wants to get better, so I don't have a problem helping anybody who wants to get better,” Randle said. “You've got to be more of a coach to the younger guys, because when I was young the older guys were more of a coach to me.”
All that's fine, but the biggest goal for Randle will be staying on the field.
The 6-foot-1, 290-pounder from Galena, Texas, has battled knee injuries throughout his Husker career, with the right knee twice needing surgery.
The trouble limited him to six games in 2011. It constantly nagged him last season, when he seemed to be getting helped off the field at some point almost every other week. It kept him out of spring practice this year.
“We knew it didn't feel good,” Ankrah said. “For a guy to go through something like that and be able to still try and get in games last year … we know that he cares and we know that he wants to be out there, and we respect that.”
Randle said the right knee still gets sore but said it feels better after the second surgery than it did after the first. The frequent stops in the training room during preseason camp are just part of the game.
NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said Randle has been energetic and a leader through camp, helping to ease some concerns that only escalated when the Huskers recently lost potential starter Kevin Williams to a knee injury.
“Thad Randle has had a very good camp to this point,” Papuchis said. “I think we can feel pretty solid that he's going to be lining up for us on Saturdays.”
Randle contributed as best he could last season, when he played in 13 games (six starts) and finished with 21 tackles, two quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.
The fact that he couldn't do more to help the defense only added to the frustration.
“I knew that I couldn't do what I wanted to do,” Randle said. “I was just like, 'Dang, when am I going to get better?' But I just tried to stick it out the best I could.”
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