Nebraska might have heavy doses of youth and inexperience up front, but defensive coordinator John Papuchis said the Huskers finally see more of what they need on their defensive line.
Potentially good players, and more of them than ever before.
“The thing that I’m so excited about with this group is that I finally feel like we have the depth that we need on the defensive line,” Papuchis said Friday. “For the first time in the six years that I’ve been here, when I watch the film, I don’t see a tremendous difference between the first group and the second group.”
Papuchis was the speaker Friday at the first Big Red Breakfast of the season. A crowd of about 400 was on hand at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Convention Center as Papuchis discussed the 2013 team and the season-opening game Saturday night against Wyoming.
Jason Ankrah is the Huskers’ only senior at defensive end, but Papuchis and assistant coach Rick Kaczenski also have junior college transfer Randy Gregory, Avery Moss and Greg McMullen to work with. Either Gregory or Moss will start opposite Ankrah.
“Those four guys are relatively interchangeable,” Papuchis said. “All four are dynamic. All four can rush the passer. All four can be physical in the run game.”
Papuchis said he’s always been high on Thad Randle at defensive tackle, but the senior has been limited the last two seasons by knee trouble.
“Knock on wood, this will be his year to really shine,” Papuchis said.
After Randle and Brodrick Nickens, the Huskers will be young at tackle with Aaron Curry, Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice. Valentine is a redshirt freshman — and the other potential starter — while Collins and Maurice will play as true freshmen.
“I hope in four years, when they’re seniors, I’m still the one up here talking to you guys, because I think it’s going to be a pretty special group to watch,” Papuchis said.
Some other breakfast bites:
>> Papuchis said no decision had been made yet on whether Harvey Jackson or Andrew Green would start with Corey Cooper at safety. Papuchis also commented that Cooper is “light years ahead” of where he was last season, when he was a backup at safety and sometimes was used in the NU dime package as a sophomore.
>> Papuchis said the seven defensive players that were awarded Blackshirts on Wednesday epitomize what the tradition is about, and said “they’re everything that we could want out of our defense” when discussing Cooper, Ankrah, Randle, Ciante Evans, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Josh Mitchell and David Santos.
>> Papuchis spoke highly again of safety Nathan Gerry and linebacker Josh Banderas, two more NU defenders that will play as true freshmen this season.
>> On going into his second season as defensive coordinator for head coach Bo Pelini, Papuchis said: “I expect to be a better coach than I was a year ago.”