As promised yesterday, I take a look at who's back with the Blackshirts (and Goldshirts as well). The improvement of the defense will be critical if NU will make a run for a bowl game this year, and was a deciding factor in the hiring of HC Bo Pelini.
NU returns all four starters in the line from a year ago, NT Ndamakong Suh, DT Ty Steinkuhler, Base DE Zach Potter and Open DE Barry Turner. All had their moments, both positive and negative last year, and improved and more consistent play in particular will be needed here for the Huskers to return to their traditional winning ways and go bowling. Potter at least appeared to get better as the season wore along last year, hopefully he will be a true impact end and Turner can return to the success he enjoyed three years ago when he earned All-American Frosh honors. 2nd teamers include seniors tackles Kevin Dixon and Shurkee Barfield, as well as senior converted LB Clayton Sievers and sophmore Pierre Allen at end.
At linebacker, the only player with significant playing time that returns is Mike LB Phil Dillard, who has slimmed down considerably from last year's the 270 lbs playing weight to around 235. Converted RB senior Cody Glenn get the nod at weakside, and fellow senior Tyler Wortman is listed first at the strongside 'Buck' position. Former FB (and former NE Wesleyan player) Junior Colton Koehler makes a somewhat surprise appearance backing up Dilliard, sophmore Blake Lawrence backs up Wortman and highly touted recruit Latravis Washington gets the nod behind Glenn. Depth is a concern up front in general and a lack of experience at LB may be a concern on the defensive unit. Both HC Bo and DC Carl Pelini certainly have their work cut out for them, as well as new LB coach Mike Ekeler.
The secondary returns two starters in LCB Armando Murillo and SS Larry Asante, with new starters RCB Anthony West and FS Ricky Thenarse also having some game experience, particularly on special teams. Sophs Eric Hagg and Prince Amukamara back up at corner, with Major Culbert and senior Matt O'Hanlon at safety. The loss of CB Anthony Blue to a knee injury hurts the depth at that position, it's been reported he may not be ready for the start of fall camp but that he could conceivably return in time for conference play. Amukamara appears to have the early lead in nickel situations.
On special teams, senior punters Dan Titchner and Jake Welsch return, along with soph place kickers Alex Henery and long FG and kicoff man Adi Kunalic. The kicking game should continue to be pretty solid. Speedy scat back Marcus Mendoza is likely to have an impact on the return game, as could WR Niles Paul and (possibly, it's a long shot) athletic frosh WR Tim Marlowe.