Blackshirts Look to Lead NU

By NU Athletic Communications
All eyes will be focused on first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
All eyes will be focused on first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Lincoln -- New defensive coordinator Bo Pelini hopes to help Nebraska?s defense return to its normal dominating ways. The Husker defense is far more experienced than heading into last season, as it returns eight regular starters and 10 players who started five games or more in 2002.

Nebraska graduated just six players with significant playing experience, but each of those players earned four letters as a Husker. Rush end Chris Kelsay and cornerback DeJuan Groce earned all-conference honors last season, while linebacker Scott Shanle, defensive tackle Jon Clanton and rush ends Demoine Adams and Justin Smith also made significant contributions.

Nose tackle Ryan Bighman earned honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors in 2002.

Eight Lettermen Return Up Front to Set Defensive Tone
Nebraska was hit hard by graduation at defensive end with the loss of Kelsay, Adams and Smith, who combined for 55 career starts. Clanton graduated at tackle, but the interior remains one of Nebraska?s deepest positions with the return of five lettermen.

Three seniors who have combined for 35 career starts set the tone for the Huskers. Nose tackle Ryon Bingham (6-3, 290) earned honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors last season and is poised for a big senior season after starting all 14 games a year ago. He finished the year with 67 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and is penciled in at the No. 1 spot at nose tackle. Bingham is a strong run stopper and one of the Huskers? most-dedicated workers in the weight room. The Utah native is a four-time finalist for Nebraska?s Lifter-of-the-Year Award.

Fellow senior Patrick Kabongo (6-6, 320) started half of the Huskers? games last season and finished just behind Bingham with 62 tackles. Kabongo, a native of Canada, notched a career-high 15 tackles at Iowa State, a performance that moved him into the starting lineup. He has shifted from defensive tackle to nose tackle and is listed second behind Bingham heading into fall drills.

Jason Lohr (6-2, 285) is entering his third senior season in 2003, and his sixth season overall in the Husker program. A significant contributor each of his first three years at Nebraska, Lohr has seen each of the last two years end with knee injuries. He played three games in 2001 before being injured, then tore the ACL in his other knee in fall camp last year and missed the entire season. The NCAA has granted Lohr an extension of his five-year clock, and he went through part of spring drills. He has made 15 career tackles for loss and will push for playing time at one of the Huskers? two tackle spots.

Sophomore Jared Helming (6-3, 290) and redshirt freshman Brandon Greeson (6-3, 315) are also both coming off injuries last season. Helming tore his left ACL on his only snap of last season, while Greeson underwent shoulder surgery while redshirting. Both are listed as reserves at nose tackle heading into fall.

A pair of sophomores are atop the depth chart at defensive tackle.

Le Kevin Smith fought through two knee surgeries of his own and hit the field last fall. Smith (6-2, 305) saw significant playing time last season and finished the year with 42 stops, including six tackles for loss. He showed the ability to be a dominant player in the future and earned first-team freshman All-Big 12 honors. He continued to make big strides in the spring and enters the fall No. 1 at defensive tackle.

Seppo Evwaraye (6-5, 320) missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, but showed the ability to be a factor during impressive springs each of the past two years. A native of Finland, Evwaraye is back at full speed, and enters the fall listed second behind Smith at defensive tackle.

Defensive end is much more unsettled, and position coach Jeff Jamrog will count on big strides from several players this fall. Senior Trevor Johnson (6-4, 255) is Nebraska?s most experienced player at the position and is penciled in as the starter on the right side. Johnson showed flashes of becoming a dominant force in nine starts last season. He recorded 54 tackles, and was tied for third on the team with 11 tackles for loss. Johnson got off to a great start in the Independence Bowl with a pair of first half sacks, but missed the second half with a concussion.

Johnson continued his progress in the off-season. His outstanding work in the weight room earned him Nebraska?s Lifter-of-the-Year Award, and he showed excellent improvement during spring practice.

Redshirt freshman Adam Carriker is listed second behind Johnson on the right side. Carriker (6-6, 260) was a high school quarterback, but has turned his attention to harrassing signal callers at Nebraska. In spring practice, he made a strong impression by recording four sacks in two spring scrimmages.

Junior Benard Thomas was a valuable reserve in 2000 and 2001, but sat out last season as a redshirt with ample depth at the position. Thomas possesses the size (6-4, 265) and ability to be a dominant player at the position, and began to tap his potential during spring practice. He enters the fall listed No. 1 on the left side opposite Johnson.

Nebraska?s depth at the tackle positions allowed sophomore Titus Adams to move to defensive end in the spring. Adams recorded 21 tackles in 13 games and exhibited excellent pass-rushing ability. Adams (6-3, 290) is unusually large for the defensive end position, but showed the speed to play outside in limited work at the spot in 2002.

Juniors Tyler Toline (6-2, 240) and Jeff McBride (6-4, 245) have both seen limited action as reserves in their Husker careers and will provide depth again this season. Redshirt freshman Jay Moore (6-4, 265) had a good off-season in the weight room and could also push for playing time this fall.

Jamrog will also take a look at a couple of signees in the fall. Freshman Brandon Teamer (6-5, 265) was regarded as one of the top players in Nebraska and could provide immediate help at tackle. Junior college transfer Wali Muhammad (6-2, 245) and freshman Chris Patrick (6-6, 245) could each push for playing time at end.

Demorrio Williams led the Huskers with 92 tackles, including six TFLs.

Linebacking Corps Boasts Talent, Depth and Experience
New linebackers coach Jimmy Williams lost the services of Scott Shanle, but welcomes back eight lettermen for 2003. Much of spring practice was spent trying to get the returnees set at either the Mike, Will or Buck (formerly Sam) linebacker spots, but the versatility of several of the players will allow them to play multiple positions.

Junior Barrett Ruud appears set as the starter in the middle. Ruud (6-2, 240) started all 14 games last season despite battling knee and thumb injuries. He was second on the team with 91 tackles. He also finished second with 12 tackles for loss and registered 14 quarterback hurries. Ruud earned second-team freshman All-America honors two seasons ago, and in 2002 received honorable-mention all-conference accolades. With a year of starting experience under his belt, Husker coaches expect Ruud to take another step forward this fall.

The Huskers? other returning starter in the linebacking corps is senior Demorrio Williams (6-1, 210). Williams made 11 starts at Will linebacker last season and led the team with 92 tackles, including six tackles for loss. Williams, who joined the Nebraska program from the junior college ranks, has the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline, and the coaching staff is expecting big things from the native Texan this fall.

Senior T.J. Hollowell shared time with Williams last season at the Will spot, but both are expected to be in the starting lineup in 2003. Hollowell (6-0, 230) moved to the new Buck linebacker position in the spring and sits atop the depth chart entering the fall. A three-year letterman, Hollowell started just two games, but made 60 tackles and nine quarterback hurries on the year.

Junior Ira Cooper (6-2, 230) has seen action as a reserve to Shanle and on special teams the past two seasons. Cooper earned his first career start in the Independence Bowl and responded with five tackles. Cooper?s versatility was evident in the spring when he spent time at all three positions. The Omaha native enters fall camp listed as the top backup at the Buck position and could see action at any of the three linebacker spots.

Lannie Hopkins (6-2, 220) has played the past two seasons in the Nebraska secondary at rover. Last season, Hopkins was mainly called on as a pass rushing specialist in NU?s pass defense packages. His ability to pressure the passer led Husker coaches to move him to linebacker. He missed much of spring ball with an injury, but will be counted on for significant action in the fall. He enters camp listed second behind Williams at Will linebacker and co-No. 2 with Cooper at Buck.

Junior Chad Sievers (6-3, 230) battled injuries throughout his sophomore season, but played in nine games and made 37 tackles as Ruud?s backup at Mike linebacker. Sievers tried his hand at defensive end for part of spring ball, before moving back to linebacker. He is listed second at Mike linebacker, but could also play a role at the Buck spot.

Senior Steve Safranek (6-1, 240) has provided depth each of the past two seasons as a reserve at Mike linebacker, and enters fall camp listed third at the position. Redshirt freshman Stewart Bradley (6-4, 260) made several bone-jarring hits during spring practice and in the Red-White game and could push for playing time.

Senior Chad Buller (5-11, 215) is No. 3 at Will entering fall after a good spring. Buller is also one of Nebraska?s top players on special teams. Senior Curt Tomasevicz (6-0, 220) is a standout in the weight room and provides depth in the linebacking corps, as does sophomore Adam Ickes (6-2, 225) at the Buck position.

Josh Bullocks is one of seven prospects in the Husker secondary.

Huskers to Feature Young, But Deep Secondary
Nebraska must fill the big shoes of four-year letterman and all-conference pick DeJuan Groce at right corner. However, first-year secondary coach Marvin Sanders returns the services of six players with at least five career starts and ample talent to choose from.

Sophomore cornerback Fabian Washington (5-11, 175) started 11 games last season opposite Groce on the left side and holds down the No. 1 spot at that position this season. Washington led the Huskers with 13 pass breakups and tied for the team lead with four interceptions, both Nebraska freshman records. A ball-hawking defender, Washington also caused two fumbles and recovered one,while making 49 tackles.

Washington earned second-team freshman All-America honors and could push for more honors this fall. He has good coverage skills and possesses great speed, closing winter conditioning with a 4.47 electronic 40-yard dash time.

Senior Terrell Butler (5-10, 190) has provided valuable depth the past two seasons, and enters fall camp listed second behind Washington on the left side. Redshirt freshman Andrew Shanle (6-1, 200) excelled during spring drills and enters the fall listed No. 3 at the position.

The battle to replace Groce on the right side will continue into fall camp. Senior Pat Ricketts (5-11, 180) and junior Lornell McPherson (5-9, 175) both have extensive starting experience in Nebraska's nickel and dime packages in their Husker careers. The duo enters the fall listed as co-No. 1 at right corner.

Ricketts began last season as the starter on the left side before giving way to Washington. On the season, the Omaha native started eight games and led all cornerbacks with 56 tackles, while recording 10 pass breakups. Ricketts missed the second half of spring practice with a hamstring pull, but should be at full strength by fall.

McPherson had a standout freshman season two years ago with six pass breakups, and continued to be a key reserve last season with 17 tackles. He made big strides during spring camp and will be counted on heavily in the fall.

Junior Willie Amos (6-0, 185) was Nebraska's starter two seasons ago at free safety. He moved to corner in the spring of 2002, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-April. He has had a long comeback off the injury and went through non-contact work in the spring. He is hopeful of returning to full speed in the fall and is listed as the No. 3 right cornerback. Junior Kellen Huston (5-11, 200) saw action on special teams last season and will also be a reserve at cornerback.

Nebraska has similar experience at the two safety spots heading into 2003. Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks (6-1, 195) started five games last season and continued to improve throughout the season. He finished the year with 48 tackles, including 34 in the final seven games, and had an interception and three breakups. Bullocks showed a nose for the football, by causing a fumble and recovering another. Husker coaches were pleased with his progress in the spring and expect Bullocks to be a difference-maker in the fall.

Three-year letterman Jerrell Pippens (6-2, 195) also returns at free safety. A special teams standout, Pippens made 33 tackles in his junior season and enters fall camp listed second behind Bullocks. Junior Dan Burrow (5-10, 185) provides depth at the position.

Junior Philip Bland (5-11, 205) is a hard-hitting safety who ranked third on the team last season with 84 tackles. Bland started 13 games a year ago, while splitting time between free safety and rover, a position now called strong safety. Bland earned honorable-mention all-conference honors in 2002, but missed the Independence Bowl with an injury. Bland was also out of action in the spring after off-season shoulder surgery, but is expected to be at full strength for the fall.

Bland will be pushed for the starting job at strong safety by sophomore Daniel Bullocks, Josh?s twin brother. Bullocks started one game and had 16 tackles last season, and made a strong move during Bland?s absence this spring. Bullocks (6-1, 200) has great athleticism and the ability to provide excellent run support.

Sophomore Shane Siegel saw reserve time at corner last season, but has moved to strong safety. Siegel (6-2, 220) posted the team's best Performance Index during testing following winter conditioning, and will look to get on the field not only in the secondary, but also on special teams.

The Huskers stressed the secondary during the recruiting season, signing four defensive backs who will get looks in fall camp. Junior college cornerback Donald DeFrand (6-2, 180) is expected to get the longest look and could get into the mix for significant playing time.


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