The word kept surfacing Friday. Both defensive ends kept coming back to it when asked about the new guy.
If you want a nice and tidy description of what first-year Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski is asking of his guys, his players will sum it up with that word.
“His philosophy is attack,” said junior defensive end Jason Ankrah. “Everything is attacking. Everything is you delivering the blow before the O-lineman gives you the blow.”
“Rather than reacting we’re attacking,” said senior end Cameron Meredith.
It’s more complex than that, of course.
But as fall camp sound bytes go, no Husker fan out there is likely to take issue with hearing defensive linemen talk that way, especially since Nebraska ranked 84th nationally in sacks and 112th in tackles for loss last year.
“In the pass game, it’s all about getting vertical, getting those offensive linemen to kick back or getting them out of position, to turn their hips,” said Meredith, who last year was second on the team in sacks with five.
Don’t misunderstand: Nebraska’s defensive philosophy, and the responsibilities of its linemen, has not changed much.
“It’s the same philosophy, but just with different tools to use,” Meredith said.
Kaczenski has made slight changes to things such as lineman’s stances and the way each player comes off the ball, Ankrah said.
And with those teachings come occasional quizzes.
“This spring, every time we had a play, he’d pull you off and ask what you did,” Ankrah said. “He wouldn’t tell you if you did something wrong or something right. He’d ask you, ‘What do you think you did?’ He’ll evaluate you off what your answer is.”
Ankrah thinks it's helped players better understand, and that the new coach has brought “a sense of urgency” to the defensive line.
Urgency is a good thing to have in what is a rather important fall camp for Nebraska’s D-line, which is hoping to prove it has more depth than a season ago.
By the end of last year, in large part because of injuries, Meredith points out that Nebraska was mostly rotating just five players along the front four.
It was tough duty, and the lack of depth seemed costly at times, certainly in the 28-25 loss to Northwestern, when Nebraska’s defensive line looked worn down in the fourth quarter.
But Meredith believes there are more able bodies now. And the Huskers get a lift this fall with the return of Chase Rome, Kevin Williams and Thad Randle, all defensive tackles who sat out during the spring.
“Coach Kaz was talking the other day that if there’s nine guys that can play football here he’s going to rotate nine guys,” Meredith said. “But if there’s only four, he’s only going to play four. It’s whoever he trusts. But for the most part, I think everyone on the defensive line can play here. I think we have really good depth and I think we have a lot of good players.”
While Meredith seems a lock to start at one end spot, Ankrah and senior Eric Martin figure to have a good battle on the other side. Senior Joseph Carter could also factor in for playing time.
Inside, senior Baker Steinkuhler should provide a sturdy presence. But someone will need to answer the bell and show consistency next to him. That’s where the names of Rome, Randle, Williams and Jay Guy come into the conversation.
Another name worth mentioning?
Yes, the two-time All-American and three-time national champion Grant Wistrom stopped by to talk to the team last Thursday.
The former Husker defensive end’s words struck a chord with Ankrah.
A little added inspiration, just in time for fall camp.
“That guy, I see why he was so successful,” Ankrah said. “He has a mentality where the guy across from him is not going to beat him, no matter how big you are, he’s just going to go that much harder preparing, watching film on you. His mentality is the type of mentality that every defensive lineman needs to have.”