LINCOLN — When redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine lines up across from the center, he's sure of one thing.
The double-team is coming.
Valentine refers to the scrum as the “clog,” and his punishing, sacrificial responsibility is to ensure that Nebraska's three-man front isn't gashed against the run.
The Huskers' defensive line has varied its looks early in the season — most notably by taking one of its four linemen and allowing him to roam off the line of scrimmage. Instead of four guys with their hand in the turf, many times this season it's been three, leaving the 325-pound Valentine alone in the middle with a nose tackle role.
“It's definitely more double-teams inside there,” Valentine said. “But I enjoy it. I'm a big body. I know what they want me to do. Just clog up everything and make everything bounce outside.”
Why vary the alignment?
Nebraska coaches said this week it's to keep opposing offensive lines off-balance, especially in the running game.
When the Huskers start every play with four down linemen, it's easier for blockers to prepare a plan for engaging the D-line and to find their way to the second level. NU usually wants its linebackers and defensive backs making the tackles, so it's important to keep blockers occupied at the line and away from those potential playmakers.
“We're trying to change targets a little bit, trying to take some blocking angles away for the offensive line,” defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said. “(We're) making it tougher to dig us out of there.”
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The three-man front has always been part of Bo Pelini's scheme. He started experimenting with it three years ago. The staff has been building on the basic package ever since.
But this season is the first that Pelini and the coaches think they have the players to run it effectively, in almost every situation — instead of disguising blitzes or featuring Eric Martin on third down, which seemed to be the alignment's purpose a year ago.
Here's what they have: a defensive end in Randy Gregory who's comfortable playing like a linebacker, with enough versatility to rush from any spot. Other defensive ends who can line up on the inside shoulder of an offensive tackle and hold their ground. Middle linebackers who are able to react quickly to fill running lanes between the tackles. And a guy like Valentine to occupy the middle.
“It gives us a little more multiplicity; that's the theory behind it,” Pelini said. “This year, our personnel lends a lot more toward being able to accomplish that.”
That's why Valentine doesn't mind his role as the nose tackle. He may not get the stats, but he knows he's following the coaches' plan and freeing up others.
“It's definitely harder,” he said, “but I take pride in it and just attack.”
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