Red Report: Husker defensive depth chart clearing up

2013-08-27T20:45:00Z 2013-08-28T09:36:07Z Red Report: Husker defensive depth chart clearing upBy the Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

The defensive starters Nebraska rolls out Saturday might not be the same in October, or Week 2 for that matter.

But Nebraska's opening day lineup against Wyoming began to clear up Tuesday, as defensive coordinator John Papuchis addressed the various position battles.

Perhaps the biggest news: Papuchis said redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine would be the likely starter at the defensive tackle spot next to Thad Randle if a game were played tomorrow. That duo would work on the front four along with defensive ends Jason Ankrah and either Avery Moss or Randy Gregory.

"We want to be that group to bring back the Blackshirt D-line, and be that group that every offensive coordinator has to watch out for," Moss said.

The 6-foot-3, 325-pound Valentine made his push to be in that top group this August after getting himself in much better playing condition than in the spring.

"The thing that held Vincent back in the spring was he wasn't in great shape and it's hard to get a good evaluation on a guy when he's sucking wind," Papuchis said. "So he's in much better shape, and that's allowed him to play better."

Husker coach Bo Pelini seemed to provide a bit of a challenge to his big defensive tackle at Big Ten media days this summer.

“Vincent has to learn how to work and how to push through,” Pelini said then.

Papuchis said he didn't know if Valentine had heard those words, "but he's much improved from where he was in the spring."

Behind the front four, Papuchis said sophomore David Santos would start at MIKE linebacker.

The second linebacker is likely to often be a dime backer this week against Wyoming's spread. Dime backer candidates are Mohammed Seisay, Nathan Gerry and Zaire Anderson.

"So it kind of depends on what we're seeing," Papuchis said. "If there's a tight end in the game, you're going to see more true backers. If there's four wide, you'll probably see more DBs."

Ciante Evans will play at nickel. The top corners joining Evans are Josh Mitchell and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, according to Papuchis.

The top three safeties are Corey Cooper, Harvey Jackson and Andrew Green, though Papuchis wasn't ready to name which two might start.

* REDSHIRT POSSIBLE FOR RUNNING BACK: While Terrell Newby will certainly play this season, another true freshman running back, Adam Taylor, is contemplating a redshirt, his position coach said.

A decision isn’t imminent.

“I’m kind of leaving it up to him and his family,” Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said. “I know one thing: It’s possible that we may need him for the season. It’s a long season, and it’s the toughest run defense conference in the country. We’ll see what happens.”

Junior Ameer Abdullah will start Saturday’s season opener against Wyoming, but Brown said he’s not decided on a backup rotation. Sophomore Imani Cross is the only other scholarship running back with playing experience.

“I feel like we’ve got three or four guys who can go and can play pretty regularly, but I don’t have a set format,” Brown said. “I’m going to see how it all fits, the kind of plays we’re running. I think we’ve got guys that are good in certain situations, some better than others in certain situations, and some plays it doesn’t really matter.”

While Brown’s concerned about hot temperatures forecast for Saturday, he’s not concerned about the conditioning of his group. He said he’s not had one player miss any portion of practice time this fall.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Brown said. “These young guys, they had their bumps and bruises and soreness and everything, but everybody was there for everything.”

* BURTCH IN ROTATION: You know the big three among Nebraska’s receivers -- Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner.

When the Huskers go with four wideouts, the fourth receiver likely will be walk-on Sam Burtch of Murdock, Turner said.

Burtch, a 6-3, 195-pound sophomore, jumped some scholarship guys in part because of old-fashioned elbow grease.

“His blocking is ridiculous,” Turner said. “Also, it’s the way he approaches practice — the energy he brings. He’s grown so much. … He runs great routes. He blocks hard on the perimeter. He’s a great wide receiver. You will see him playing out there (Saturday), I promise you.”

You’ll see a very deep Husker wideout crew.

“We have a lot of guys who have been working hard,” Turner said. “We have so many guys who can come out and play. They’ve worked their tails off.”

* PELINI RISES: Junior Mark Pelini and senior Cole Pensick have been splitting practice repetitions at center, and it’s unclear who will start Saturday.

The 6-foot, 295-pound Pelini, a walk-on, was the No. 2 center last season, seeing action in seven games. He said he’s improved his strength since last season.

“Physicality is something I need to work on all the time,” he said. “It’s something I emphasized.”

He said he may not learn who is starting at center until Saturday. He doesn’t mind at all.

“I just do what the coaches tell me to do,” he said.

 — Brian Christopherson, Steven M. Sipple and Brian Rosenthal

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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