August 5, 2009

LB camp preview: Many questions left to answer

Despite a wealth of potential and young talent, no position on Nebraska's roster is carrying more question marks and uncertainty heading into fall camp than linebacker.

With just one returning starter who was demoted to third string during the spring and a cast of newcomers ready to make their official Husker debuts this season, no one really knows exactly what to expect from the unit. In our next fall camp position preview, breaks down NU's linebacker position.

Other fall camp previews: QB l RB l WR/TE l OL l DL

Biggest question: Which Phillip Dillard will show up?

One of the most surprising events to come out of spring practice was the unexpected fall of senior linebacker [/db]Phillip Dillard[/db] down Nebraska's depth chart. Previously the vocal leader and defensive quarterback on the field prior to suffering an late-season injury, Dillard was demoted as far down as third string during the spring. At some points during spring practice, he wasn't even in the same practice facility as the first- and second-string defenses. The general assumption why was that it was due to the coaching staff's displeasure with Dillard's work ethic and that he showed up to spring ball out of shape and unmotivated. So what Phillip Dillard will show up on Saturday? From what we've been hearing, a switch flipped with Dillard this summer, and the Oklahoma native is in close to the best shape of his career. Apparently the message NU's coaches were trying to send to him was heard loud and clear.

What we know right now: There's a lot we don't know

When you think about it, there really aren't many certainties regarding Nebraska's linebacker corps. They're young and inexperienced, but much has been made of their potential talent going back even to last season. The Huskers have some linebackers that showed some flashes last year in sophomore Matthew May and senior Colton Koehler, and redshirt freshmen Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley enter the fall with fairly big expectations. The Huskers also lost promising sophomore Matt Holt for the year with an injury, leaving them with just four players at the position that saw playing time on defense in 2008 (excluding Fisher). Junior Blake Lawrence returns as the most experienced in the unit, as he played in 10 games last season.

Fresh fall camp faces

This is where the Huskers are hoping to get some big help at linebacker this year, as they bring in six true freshmen to the position to go along with their seven redshirt freshmen. The most notable newcomers this fall will be true freshmen Chris Williams and Eric Martin. Williams comes in as one of the most decorated members of NU's latest recruiting class, regarded as one of the top-12 linebackers in the country by Martin will help provide depth behind Dillard at MIKE linebacker, especially after Dillard and Koehler graduate after this year. Of course, the trio of Compton, Fisher and Whaley will arguably have the biggest impact of any newcomers on the roster.
Early camp prediction

It's pretty hard to predict anything with this position at the moment, as really nothing was cleared up during the spring to help give a gauge of what to expect. In fact, the spring probably made things even more confusing. Still, I would expect Dillard to return to his spot as the No. 1 MIKE, with Lawrence and Whaley splitting time at WILL and Fisher getting most of the reps at BUCK. This, however, is definitely subject to change over the course of the next few weeks. Another aspect to consider is just how much the position's roles have changed the past few years with the prominence of pass-heavy spread offenses in the Big 12 Conference. In reality, the BUCK linebacker may hardly ever be on the field against some opponents, and many times NU will feature defensive packages featuring just one linebacker. This makes guys like May, who have the speed and quickness to keep up with wide receivers in coverage, far more valuable than the big, run-stopper linebackers of the past.

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