LINCOLN — Roles are becoming more defined as Nebraska's defense forms its identity at the season's midpoint, and one versatile veteran has emerged as a vital part of the plan.
Andrew Green was out on the field for almost every defensive snap during the first three quarters of the Huskers' last two blowout wins — playing just about everywhere possible.
He contributed at safety. He matched up against slot receivers as a dime defensive back. He started plays as a cornerback, positioned a couple yards off the line of scrimmage across from tight ends. He even lined up in the box with his hands at his knees like a linebacker.
Green's not necessarily stuffing the stat sheet, but numbers don't appear to be a true indicator of his importance at this point.
The fifth-year senior knows the defensive system as well as anyone, strong enough to fill a running lane and athletic enough to cover routes. That, Nebraska's coaches will tell you, makes Green especially valuable against opponents who are able to bounce between jumbo formations (multiple backs and tight ends) and spread looks (four or more receivers) several times during one possession.
“You need this guy in a defense, the way we play, with as versatile and as flexible and as multiple as offenses are,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.
Take the second drive against Purdue two weeks ago as an example.
The Boilermakers went from a three-receiver formation on first down, to an empty backfield set on second, to a two-tight end look on third.
Nebraska's philosophy has always been to match an opponent's speed with its own speed (or power with power), a process that can often create a frantic pre-snap scene as the NU coaches identify the offense's new substitutes and adjust their on-field lineup accordingly.
Green's recent emergence means one fewer substitute, a little less confusion and a tad more continuity for an inexperienced Husker defense that probably could benefit from more uniformity.
The thing is, though, Green's still learning. He's not yet made the same game-changing impact of several other veterans on this defense.
Green has missed just two meaningful snaps in the past two games (both came after he injured his foot against Illinois). He did total eight solo tackles in those two wins, but he recorded no sacks, no stops behind the line of scrimmage, no interceptions, no pass breakups and no forced fumbles.
Statistics don't tell the whole story, but they suggest what Green confirmed Monday: He has plenty of room to grow.
“I feel like I'm starting to get the big picture and know the little things that I didn't know,” Green said.
The coaches advised him to start taking mental reps at the safety position while he waited to get healthy during spring practice. He played cornerback and safety during seven-on-seven drills in the summer. By preseason camp, Green was a full-time safety.
He's added more jobs since, embracing each one.
“It comes back to preparation, just studying,” Green said. “If you prepare for anything, you should be ready and feel confident in what you're doing.”
The coaches appreciate Green's willingness to take on the extra workload.
Green started 12 games at cornerback last year, but he moved to a brand new spot with six months left in his career because the Huskers needed him to. Now he's playing all over for NU, instead of refining his skills at one spot to increase his chances at producing individual highlights.
“He's always been a team-first guy,” Papuchis said. “I give him credit. There are some guys who would either have too much pride or be too stubborn to do what (he's done).”
No big deal, Green said.
He begins each week with little idea of the newest game plan. He gets to Saturday knowing full well that everything could be scrapped completely depending on the opponent's strategy after kickoff.
He views it all as a challenge, not a burden.
Said Green: “Whatever's best for the team.”
* * *
Video: Bo Pelini
Video: Kenny Bell
Video: Tommy Armstrong
Video: Jeremiah Sirles
Video: Andrew Green