November 5, 2008

Inexperienced linebackers take on challenges

Cody Glenn knew it would be a challenge switching from running back to linebacker this offseason, but he had no idea things would end up like this.

Because of injuries and the spread-out offenses of the Big 12 Conference, Nebraska has been forced to use a number of relatively inexperienced linebackers to handle major responsibilities for the defense.

Players like Glenn and walk-ons Tyler Wortman, Matt Holt and Colton Koehler have all seen a significant increase in their respective roles this season.

As a result, all four have had to learn through trial and error. Unfortunately for the Huskers, those errors often times have been put front and center via big plays by opposing offenses.

"It hasn't been too good," Glenn said. "We've had too many busted assignments. Everyone is not on the same page. Everyone is not communicating. Just overall, it hasn't been good. It has to pick up for this team and the defense to be successful."

The Huskers suffered a major blow when junior MIKE linebacker Phillip Dillard went down with an ankle injury two weeks ago against Baylor. Dillard had been the quarterback of sorts of the defense, making all the pre-snap adjustments and audibles.

With his injury, Glenn, Wortman and Holt have all had to take on the responsibility of running the defense on the field, despite the fact that none of the trio had started a single game heading into the season.

Glenn said the linebackers have had to try and quickly develop chemistry within the unit and the rest defense, but admitted replacing Dillard's presence on the field has been a tough task the past two weeks.

Phil is the MLB, so he's more vocal and the guy we look to him for the call," Glenn said. "With him out, it's a big loss."

The Husker coaches have also had to adjust some with their defensive schemes because of the inexperience at linebacker. Head coach Bo Pelini said he's seen plenty of positive signs in the unit's development over the past nine weeks, but knows it still has a long way to go.

"We've been inconsistent there," Pelini said. "We're working. They're doing some good things. There are a lot of things we could do better. Obviously, you take a little bit of a hit when Phil (Dillard) went down. We're not real deep there. It's a work in progress."

Aside from the injuries, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said the variety of complex and talented offenses the Huskers have faced this season has made the linebackers' progress even more difficult.

Because each team's offensive style has been so different from week to week - whether its Virginia Tech's running game, Texas Tech's passing game or Oklahoma's balanced attack - Carl Pelini said his linebackers have essentially had to start from scratch on a weekly basis.

"They're getting better," he said. "They're still making mistakes, but they're getting better and they're starting to get more of a feel for what they need to read. Each offense we've seen has been so different, and that's presented a problem where it's almost like starting over every week.

"They're hanging in there. They're learning every day, and again, a lot of them have been forced to play some different positions, and now those positions are starting to become more comfortable."

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