LINCOLN — After three Nebraska football practices, it’s no surprise what first-year assistant coach John Parrella is craving from his Husker defensive linemen.
And not only is consistency the buzzword to start fall camp, but Parrella knows it won’t just solve itself magically.
“They come in and have a great play, and then next play are playing (something) bizarro, chasing ghosts,” Parrella said Saturday. “For our young guys, just be consistent. Have a great play, then the next play just do your job. Do your job.
“We’ll get there. Ask me again in a couple weeks, and we’ll know where we’re at.”
The Husker cupboard at defensive end and tackle got raided last winter and spring by the departures of Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen and Kevin Williams — all with eligibility remaining.
That has left upper parts of the depth chart littered with underclassmen hoping to get a shot, but not always sure how to go about it.
“Everybody wants to play, but the biggest thing is you’ve got to prove it in practice,” Parrella said. “You’ve got to go out there and show that you’re worthy of being there.”
That means avoiding the urge sometimes to do what you want to do, rather than what you’re supposed to do.
“Try to make the big play,” Parrella said, “and forget, ‘Hey, I have this gap,’ or ‘I’m supposed to be doing this.’ And that’s a common theme with every kid in the country, probably.”
Nebraska will get Sunday off to digest its first three practices before returning Monday. The film of the defensive line might be studied as hard as any position.
NU’s only seniors with significant experience are Ross Dzuris at defensive end and Kevin Maurice at tackle, and Parrella said the Husker line will only be as good as its leadership. Neither senior played much before last season, however, so those become further demands added to their plates.
“I think most people are uncomfortable at it at first until you make ’em, until you challenge them to do that,” Parrella said. “And I think those two are embracing the challenge.”
Sophomore defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun and sophomore defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg started camp working with Dzuris and Maurice on the No. 1 line. Akinmoladun started four games last season and led the Huskers with 4-1/2 sacks.
Stoltenberg played sparingly as a redshirt freshman, then suffered a knee injury in bowl preparations that forced him to miss spring practice.
“It’s really good to see Mick Stoltenberg on the field,” NU defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. “It sounds crazy, (but) the injury might have been the best thing to happen to him. Mick was always very strong and developed from the waist up, but the most important thing that’s happened to him — because of the rehab with his knee — is his flexibility appears to have really increased along with his mobility and change of direction.
“He’s a big guy and he can bend, and let’s hope that translates into being a hell of a football player.”
Among others at tackle are redshirt freshmen Khalil and Carlos Davis as well as sophomore Peyton Newell. Also at defensive end are sophomore Sedrick King and redshirt freshmen Alex Davis and DaiShon Neal.
Even with so much youth, and potential for day-to-day frustration, Parrella said his job is simply to make sure the improvement is steady.
“That’s why you coach,” Parrella said. “You really want to help. Coach Riley, all of us, we’re here to help build young men and great football players. It’s fun. It’s challenging. At some point, they get to where all of a sudden the lightbulb turns on and they get it.
“We just got to keep pushing and hammering. We floor it every day. We’re just starting work. This next couple weeks, we’ll crank this thing up.”
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