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March 1, 2017

Front seven on defense

Welcome, Husker Nation, to the Carriker Chronicles. My plan today was to give you five things to watch during Husker spring ball the next month to month and a half. But if you haven't seen or heard my interview with Mick Stoltenberg from this past Monday, Husker Blackshirt, you gotta go back and check it out because a lot of interesting things came out of that and that's why I've changed what I'm going to talk about today. He basically gave us an update on who's going to be starting along the defensive line for the Huskers when they line up for their first practice this Saturday. He also gave us a good idea about the linebackers as well. Now, he wasn't as definitive – he doesn't know for sure about the linebackers – but he gave us a good idea, so I'm going to talk about that today.

I gotta be honest with you; I'm honest with you people at home, right down to the core. So I'm shaving today (hashtag 'beardgate'). As we all know I lost, my wife was going to win, we all knew that was going to happen. I'm sitting here in the studio, and if feels like there's a breeze in here; I miss my beard, you know? There's no breeze in the studio: I'm just getting used to not having a beard. I kinda miss the thing. I gotta be honest with you, I don't hate looking like I'm 22 again, and the wife has been pretty happy about it lately ... if you know what I mean. She's going to kill me for that one!

Let's get into this, shall we? I'm excited: I can't wait to talk about this. Mick was talking about how he put on 50 pounds his first couple of years at Nebraska, and now he's put on another 20 pounds throughout this past winter conditioning. He's currently 310 pounds. By fall camp, he'd like to be 315-320. Why is that? Because he's going to be running with the ones as the nose guard come this Saturday when the Huskers line up for their first practice. So he's going to be the nose guard, with the prospective Black Shirts this Saturday at defensive end. It's going to be Carlos Davis at one end and it's going to be Freedom Akinmoladun at the other end. He wasn't sure strong or weak, who was going to be where, but running with the twos at nose guard is Khalil Davis, and running with threes at nose guard is going to be Joel Lopez. He's a senior, billed as 6'2", 280 pounds but I gotta imagine he's put on some weight, much like Mick did during this winter conditioning. That's going to be your starting defensive line Day 1, first practice, 3-4 defense, under Bob Diaco.

I talked to him (Mick Stoltenberg ) a little bit about the outside linebackers, the pass rushers in this defense, and he said there are no definitive starters right now that he knows of; there's going to be quite the battle going on. But at the rush end, as he called it, the battle's going to be between Alex Davis, who is 6'5", 255 pounds. He was the 2015 scout team defensive MVP. I always love when I read these things about guys like this; it shows how hard they work in practice, no matter what, so that bodes well for him. He's going to be battling it out, looks like, with Cedric King, 6'4", 250 pounds, a junior, who is rated three stars coming out of high school. I kinda feel silly even talking about that because if he's put in his work at this point, what you're rated in high school no longer means anything. At the other outside linebacker spot, he said, is going to be between Marcus Newby, who's billed at 6'1", 214 – I'm pretty sure he's heavier than that. Luke Gifford – by the way, on Newby – I was hoping he'd be one of these guys that'd get an opportunity to get after the quarterback because this guy has an explosive first step. I know there's one outside linebacker who's going to rush more and one who drops a little bit more in Diaco's defense. It looks like Newby might be battling out for the other outside linebacker one that drops a little bit more. I'm hoping he gets opportunities; if it's not in base, or as much in base, in these sub-packages: nickel, speed nickel, dime, whatever Diaco runs, he gets opportunities to get after the quarterback and knock 'em on their keester, because he's got an explosive first step. Coming into this, I thought Freedom and I thought Newby were the two guys who could get after the quarterback the best. I'm going to talk about Freedom here in a little bit because I was surprised to see him listed as a 3-4 defensive end, according to Mick Stoltenberg. You have Marcus Newby, Luke Gifford (who is 6'3", 230 pounds, a junior) and Tryon Ferguson going to be battling it out for that other outside linebacker spot, according to Mick Stoltenberg. Ferguson, 6'2", 225 pounds – he flashed outstanding potential his freshman year.

Another name that came up throughout my conversation in the interview was true-freshman, early-enrollee Avery Roberts. He said he stood out during these workouts and he's looking really good, and he was a highly recruited kid so that's not shocking to hear that. It looks like he's going to be one of these guys battling it out for middle linebacker position, which is completely fine, but what I would love to see - he had seven sacks his senior year of high school – I'd love to see him be like Marcus Newby. You can even move Freedom Akinmoladun around in these sub-packages; let these guys get after the quarterback. There are so many things you can do, especially with these sub-packages that you can run on a 3-4 defense. I'm excited to see how Diaco uses these various guys with pass rush skills. We need some of these guys to emerge at these outside linebacker positions that can get after the quarterback in just your base defense because one of the great things about 3-4 defense is you can confuse the quarterback, blitz him, and it's hard to tell where it's coming from. But just like in any defense, you have to be able to get after the quarterback in your base defense. We need some of these outside lineback pass-rusher guys to emerge because that is vital to this defensive success so we don't have to blitz all of the time.

A name that didn't come up was Chris Weber, but I have him projected to be one of the starting middle backers and it's just simply because he's the only guy in the entire defensive depth chart with any starting experience as a middle linebacker, so I've got him kind of in one of those two middle linebacker roles going into Saturdays day one practice.

Mick didn't know for sure, he wasn't definitive outside the defensive line, where everyone was going to be. I think there's going to be a lot of movement, and he even said so. There could be a day where Carlos Davis plays a little bit of nose, Khalil Davis goes to end; maybe Mick – he's getting up there in weight – maybe he doesn't move around too much. But maybe he does, because they've got to fit the pieces to this 3-4 puzzle, this new defense, and find out where guys fit. So they're going to see who's successful where and then you kind of piece the defense together. Guys are going to be moving around a lot, getting a lot of looks, lots of different positions throughout spring ball: there are so many things that are going to be so fun to watch.

Freedom Akinmoladun. I gotta be honest: when I looked at this roster, there were a couple of guys who stood out to me as potential pass-rushers. Alex Davis and Cedric King are those guys; Marcus Newby; if you give Avery Roberts a chance but Freedom was the one guy who stood out to me. His freshman year (and I'd have to go back and look this up for sure) but I want to say he had four sacks in the first four games. If not, it was the first half of the season, then he hurt his knee and it bothered him the rest of the year. And then last year, I had some high expectations for Freedom. He's billed at 255, but it looked to me that he was about 270-275, and he did not move the same. I was hoping they'd ask him to lose weight, get back down to his billed weight of 255, and let him be one of those outside guys and get after the quarterback. He's the one guy that I look at right now, without seeing a whole lot of spring practices yet, that I see has a possibility to be a really good elite pass rusher in this defense. He's going to get the opportunity, and I think it's good they kept Carlos Davis at end because he's a little bit more athletic, and this nose guard and this 3-4 defense, you're double-teamed like every play. Every once in a while, everyone gets double-teamed on the defensive line of a 3-4 defense, but every once in a while these defensive ends will get a one-on-one pass rush opportunity. I'm glad Carlos is going to continue to get that opportunity as a defensive end, and Freedom will as well (I'm assuming they're going to ask him to put on a little bit more weight). I look at this defensive line, and they are extremely athletic. You've got a guy who is a former tight end in Freedom, a defensive end in Mick, and Carlos who may be the most athletic (I don't know – Freedom is up there too); extremely athletic defensive line.

I think about when I was in DC with the Redskins, we had the lightest offensive line in the league. Our center would weigh in every week at 280, and then he'd lie and tell the strength coach 290. If they ran the old Nebraska power football, power option, double-team offense, even being an NFL line, I don't think they'd do that great in the mid-90s, because that just doesn't fit them. They were ready to run the zone scheme, right/left, and spread you out. If you took that great offensive line from the mid-90s when Nebraska and asked them to run that zone scheme, as great as they are, they wouldn't be very good. Here's my point: while our defensive line is athletic, you need to be able to take on those double-teams. You need to be a immoveable object so the linebackers can run around and make all these tackles and plays. This is a linebacker's dream, this 3-4 defense. I'm curious to see how these athletic defensive linemen fit into this very physical 3-4 defensive scheme under Bob Diaco. That's going to be fun to watch.

Part of me wanted Freedom to move outside because you've got guys like DaiShon Neal, Peyton Newell – they're 6'3", 290; 6'7" 270 – big frame to add more weight. I want to see how they could do at defensive end. I'm going to let the Freedom thing go. When you look at Bob Diaco, the highest paid assistant coach in Nebraska football history, I'm pretty sure he knows what he wants to do within his defense and his 3-4 scheme, so I'm going to trust Bob. I think he knows what he's doing.

The other thing that stood out to me right away was Mick Stoltenberg moving to nose guard. Clearly he's got the work ethic, clearly he's been able to put on the weight and from what I understand, it's a good weight. The thing that stood out was him being 6'5". I played nose guard in a 4-3 defense my first four years in the league and I did all right; won an award or two in there. You look at Alan Branch who has just won a couple of Super Bowls being a 6'6" nose guard with the Patriots two of the past three seasons, so it can be done. But those are kind of outliers. Like Vince Wilfork, he's billed at 330 but he's really like 370. That's a lie at 330! But he's like 6'2", that's a little bit tall. Casey Hampton, the great nose guard for the Steelers, was 6'1" or 6 foot, 360. So that's what your typical 3-4 nose guard is like but it doesn't have to be that way as long as Stoltenberg can bend, get low, and play with leverage he should be all right, I have all the confidence in the world. I'm excited to see how he does, to be honest with you. Damion Daniels: don't forget about him. True freshman, going to be reporting this fall camp. Hopefully he can get in the rotation; you never know what you're going to get out of a true freshman. Hopefully he can form that rotation and maybe be the starter here in the next couple three years.

Your whole front seven; this is what it's going to look like day one of spring ball: Carlos Davis, defensive end; Freedom Akinmoladun, defensive end; Mick Stoltenberg, nose guard. I'm projecting Chris Weber, middle linebacker, and then the battle for the outside linebacker position is on. I'm kinda thinking they're going to want Avery Roberts (who's not going to be running with the ones day one of practice); in the back of their minds hoping that he eventually takes over that middle linebacker position, maybe once fall camp gets here, that other middle linebacker position maybe somewhere during the season where he's so talented, but he's going to have to earn that.

Lamar Jackson: 6'3", 195 pounds, highly recruited defensive back, going to be a sophomore. Keep your eyes out him; I'm excited to see what he and Elijah Blades can do when Elijah gets here and these guys grow together in this defense. Spring ball is not going to be boring, ladies and gentlemen. You've got the quarterback battle, the running back battle, the offensive line, the young wide receivers, the 3-4 defense. I'm excited, if you couldn't tell.

I've got to share with you this one thing that I've found. It was on HuskerMax, in the BBS forums, it was posted by Husker6, and it's a tweet by Nick Gregath (I hope I'm saying that somewhat right). His Twitter handle is @husker_nick. This was the tweet: "Husker's story: Secretaries get the offensive and defensive graduate assistants cupcakes for Valentine's Day. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco threw them away, and said 'my defensive graduate assistants don't eat cupcakes.'" I thought that was awesome! The title of this is "New Black Shirt Attitude." I thought that was awesome. The only thing I might've changed, if I was Diaco, I might've said 'not only do we eat cupcakes, we eat 'em for breakfast! You don't even want to know what we eat for lunch" and then you could insert like a Happy Gilmore joke or something like that, I don't know if it'd be appropriate, ha ha, but it'd be kinda funny.

On Friday, I was going to give you my five predictions for spring ball, just like today I was going to give you five things to watch in spring ball. Here's what I want you to do: you fans at home, you tell me what you want to hear. You want to hear five predictions, you want to hear five things to watch, you want to hear spring ball stories from Adam Carriker, you want to hear a random joke that I just make up on the spot? You tell me. This is the people's show, ladies and gentlemen, so you tell me what you want to hear.

Real quick, before you quit watching this video today, I gotta give you another reminder. We're trying to make it nice, quick, and easy for you folks at home: email notifications. Right below where you clicked on to watch this show today on the HuskerMax webpage is a little link that says, "new: email notifications." It takes five seconds; insert your email, absolutely free. Every time there's a new Carriker Chronicles, three times a week, you get an email, you got the Carriker Chronicles right at your fingertips. Who wouldn't want that?

Until Fast Friday, Husker Nation, GO BIG RED, and always remember to THROW THE BONES!