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Can Nebraska become the new D-Line U


jluk
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Of all the good things to come out of the win over Oklahoma last Saturday, none of them may have been better than this quote from recruit Jay Guy: "I don't know if you watched the game, but the Nebraska defensive line is ridiculous. I think Nebraska can take me to the next level as a player."

At face value that may not mean much. Most high school football players at this level are basing their choice on the school they think best answers that question, "who can take me to the next level?" But when you consider that Guy's commitment represents the fifth defensive lineman to sign on for 2010, then throw in the heaps of praise Suh and Crick have brought Carl Pelini's unit this season, and then remember the long history of dominant d-lineman Nebraska already has you have to wonder: Could the Huskers forge a new identity under Bo Pelini as D-Line U?

This whole notion of "Position U" is hardly a static designation. Penn State is known as Linebacker U but in a 2006 reevaluation of recent NFL drafts by Scout.com, they gave that title to Miami. USC used to be Tailback U, now they're Quarterback U. Regardless of how a school's draft picks cluster together over any period of time and how inherently tenuous that connection may be, you can be sure that schools are going to capitalize on whatever perceptions are out there if they help in recruiting, be they past or present. Depending on which recruit they're trying to reach, USC can claim the tradition or the recent results, both work.

Nebraska's had it's share of dominant defensive linemen throughout their history and a lot of notable names at the skill positions, but if forced to slap a historical label on Nebraska football you would have to go with O-Line U. Of the 16 Huskers to have their jersey retired, half of them are offensive linemen and nearly 18% of NU's total draft picks since 1962 have been o-linemen. But the problem with claiming you're an o-line pipeline to the pros is that it's easy to overlook those guys. They never get the glory. Just ask them.

Not the case with defensive linemen. That's a money position and Nebraska sits pretty well there too.

Since 1998 the Huskers have had 18 defensive linemen drafted in the first or second rounds. Suh will be the next one and, if we're to believe the early scout scuttlebutt, Crick is headed that way too. The lasting impact of the d-line at Nebraska, however, is this: In most cases, these guys aren't merely draft picks, they stick.

Defensively, Nebraska's had fewer defensive linemen (17) drafted than linebackers (20) or defensive backs (22) since 1990 but of the 17 Blackshirts on current NFL rosters, seven of them played on the line at Nebraska, including full-time starters Kyle Vanden Bosch and Chris Kelsay. Three out of the Huskers last four first rounders have been defensive linemen as well.

Those are the kind of results that speak to potential recruits. Glenn Dorsey did wonders for Pelini's reputation as a d-line guru and Carl Pelini looks to be carrying that torch nicely. When Suh almost certainly takes home at least one major award this season, it'll be another feather in the cap for Nebraska. But enough about recruiting appeal, what about the ultimate fan concern, wins?

You don't have to look far to see how a good defensive line can dictate the outcome of a season. Last year the d-line was the defensive foundation for Nebraska's 9-4 record in what was essentially a rebuilding year for the Blackshirts in a new scheme. The last time Nebraska won the Big 12 North was the year they had Adam Carriker and Jay Moore wrecking things up front, two of four seniors on the line who had 19 sacks combined. In the trenches is where you stop the run, almost always the surest sign of a good defense, but it's also where you free up the rest of your unit to play great pass defense.

When asked how important a strong front four was to a defense, Pelini had this to say at his Tuesday press conference:

“It allows you to do a lot of different things. It allows you to play two high safeties when you want. It allows you to be very multiple in what you do. If you’re not good up front and you have to be committing defensive backs and safeties down in the box all the time, then you’re very limited in what your options are. When you’re good up front and you are controlling the line of scrimmage, you can give different looks. You can be more multiple. Fortunately for me, that’s a luxury I’ve had over my coaching career. You have to develop your guys up front. I think that was the case with all the good defenses I’ve been around. It allows you to do a lot more things in the passing game. It gives you a lot more options.”

More importantly, perhaps, it looks like a luxury that could continue at Nebraska with five future Huskers coming in as linemen and guys like Jason Ankrah, Cameron Meredith, Josh Williams, Baker Steinkuhler and Terrence Moore waiting in the wings.

After Pelini won a title at LSU as defensive coordinator, Glenn Dorsey proclaimed LSU "D-Line U" and he was probably right. But if Nebraska keeps up at this place we might find that the title belongs to Pelini and Huskers going forward.

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