Steven M. Sipple: Will naysayers' heat melt young Husker defenders?

2013-08-03T23:45:00Z 2013-08-10T13:46:04Z Steven M. Sipple: Will naysayers' heat melt young Husker defenders?By STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Column

Jason Ankrah keeps on trucking.

And scrolling.

Scrolling downward. Past the naysayers.

Say, for example, Ankrah is reading Twitter. If he sees a hint of negativity, feels a bad vibe, gets a whiff of something foul, he skips over it.

He keeps on scrolling.

"I don't even want to entertain it," said the Nebraska senior defensive end.

Easier said than done. Skepticism regarding the Nebraska defense is as thick as pea soup, and rightfully so. For seven-plus months, Husker defenders have heard the questions: How can a defense with so much youth and inexperience possibly help NU capture an elusive conference crown? Should fans expect a repeat of last season's dramatic defensive meltdowns? To what extent is the talent-laden offense going to have to carry the team?

It's easy to imagine a dozen Nebraska freshmen and sophomores contributing significantly to a defense that returns only four starters. A dozen is actually a conservative estimate. It doesn't include junior college transfer Randy Gregory.

Many big-time college players become used to winning big in high school. Few have been in the situation that Husker defenders face, in which the bar is set relatively low — not by those within the program, but by fans and media.

You wonder how much outside skepticism and negativity seeps into the Nebraska defense's collective psyche. The unit could use some early success this season. It's perhaps imperative. The defense needs something to provide a jolt of positive energy. Something to provide assurance that the coaches' encouraging words — that speed and athleticism will make up for inexperience — have substance.

"People are always going to speculate from the outside," Ankrah said. "But they don't know the techniques, fundamentals, the game plan. They don't know any of that. They just see what's on TV."

Which is precisely the problem. The world saw, in high-definition, what happened against UCLA, Ohio State, Wisconsin and, to a lesser extent, Georgia.

Some of the free world still wonders what in the world happened.

"The coaches emphasize for us to not listen to it, to not pay attention to it, to just worry about us," Ankrah said.

Nebraska receiver Jamal Turner agreed, particularly with the "just worry about us" part.

"At the end of the day, we're a team. We know what we have, we know what we don't have," Turner said. "We know our strengths and weaknesses. We're going to bring the young guys up. The older guys will take leadership and teach those guys. Because we can only go as far as the defense takes us.

"If we can't stop no one, we won't beat anyone. They understand that."

Ankrah takes the criticism and skepticism for what it's worth. You wonder about the younger players, though. Message-board criticism, Twitter chatter, talk radio, whatever, it all can be extremely foul.

Especially the message-board postings. Some people seem to revel in tearing apart college kids — 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds. It's pathetic. But it's reality. And it's nearly everywhere. It's just more intense in some programs than others.

Nebraska fans feel a strong sense of ownership in the program. They want to have their say. Bless them. For the most part, the feeling of ownership helps the program sustain. It provides forceful momentum, abundant energy. Sometimes, though, the energy becomes negative. Even toxic.

"The young guys have a tendency to want to react to it, to say something back, and start something," Ankrah said.

He knows younger players watch how veterans react to certain situations.

"It just takes being here for a while (to understand)," Ankrah said.

Of course, there's a way for Nebraska's defense to ward off possible toxicity: consistency.

I don't think Husker fans expect defensive dominance this season. They shouldn't. Too many fresh faces in the mix. Ankrah doesn't even know some of the rookies' names — even ones who may figure prominently. Even so, there's nothing wrong with fans expecting a level of consistency that far exceeds the massive collapses of last season.

Ankrah knows he needs to let his voice be heard, good times and bad. He was vocal this offseason. He enjoyed it, and admits he didn't know he had it in him. Meanwhile, sophomore David Santos, the projected starting middle linebacker, is still learning about himself as well. Can Santos be the vocal presence Nebraska needs in the heart of its defense?

"It's not really an option for me not to be that guy," Santos said with a smile, mindful of the lack of experience in the linebacker corps.

Can Santos withstand the heat from outside the program if things go badly?

"It's important to go with the process — Coach Bo's process," Santos said of head coach Bo Pelini. "Just stay with it. Stay with the main goal. I try to avoid the message boards. …"

"We ain't worried about the outside," Ankrah insisted. "We know what we need to get right.

"We can't hide from everything," he added. "But I'm not afraid of anybody. I'm just going to go on about my life."

Easy for him to say. It's harder for many young guys.

"This is the situation we're in," Santos said. "We have to hold ourselves accountable and step up."

And perhaps keep scrolling downward.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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