Corey McKeon wants a defense full of brash players. Guys who are loud, guys with personality, guys who get in players’ faces. Guys like, well, McKeon.
This isn’t one of McKeon’s obnoxious, humorous spiels, either. He’s serious. In fact, he labeled the lack of loud, brash players on Nebraska’s defense as one of his concerns entering the 2007 season.
“For us to be the fast, dominant defense I think we can be, we’ve got to get people down on the ground, we’ve got to hit hard, and we’ve got to let ’em know we’re hitting ’em hard,” said McKeon, the Husker senior middle linebacker.
“We’ve got to see that emerge this fall. We need louder guys that are more willing to be an idiot.”
McKeon’s been more than willing (and able) to play the part throughout most of his Husker career. Thing is, that career is nearing a close, and McKeon wants this team to succeed with a breakthrough season in Bill Callahan’s fourth year as head coach.
“We say this is the year,” McKeon said. “We’ve been knocking on the door, banging around with the big guys, big dogs. Now this is the year we start beating them.”
Fall camp began on Monday for Nebraska, ranked 19th in the preseason coaches’ poll and picked to finish second in the Big 12 Conference’s North Division. The Blackshirts return five starters from a unit that ranked 56th last season in total defense.
McKeon believes developing an overall tougher attitude is a key to improvement.
“You’ve got to be in guys’ faces,” he said. “(Ndamukong) Suh’s this big, tough guy, and everyone knows he’s tough, and he’ll just snap you in two if he has to. But he’s not a guy that’s going to get pumped up. He’s going to be a guy that stays to himself and dominates his own way.
“We need guys that are loud and entertaining that can get in people’s face. I expect (Steve) Octavien to do that. I expect (Phillip) Dillard to do that. Lance (Brandenburgh) and Bo (Ruud) are more quiet guys. They’re talking, but they’re not brash and loud.”
Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove smiled when he talked about loving McKeon’s energy. There’s a time for work, he says, and a time for fun, and McKeon brings a little of both.
“Corey’s always going to be that type of guy that keeps everybody going,” Cosgrove said, “and loosens things up in tense times.”
He’s not the only one, though.
“I think we have a few guys,” Cosgrove said. “I don’t want to say anybody specific, but we have more than one. You need that. You need personality on your defense, and we have quite a bit of personality.”
McKeon said freshmen cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Anthony Blue are newcomers “with a lot of personality.”
The fact they’re freshmen doesn’t bother McKeon. If you can be loud and make plays, age shouldn’t matter, he said.
“Prince especially,” McKeon said when referring to brash newcomers. “First thing he tells me is, ‘I bet I can run faster than you.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about, kid?’
“I respect that out of him.”
McKeon said the Blackshirts should be improved from an Xs and Os standpoint, too. He talked of how the 3-4 defense is “definitely in the package,” and how the Huskers will use personnel to match up with offenses and be able to better adapt.
“Coach Coz has done a lot of film studying in the offseason and learned a lot of new things and wants to integrate a lot of new stuff, different formations,” McKeon said. “He really wants guys to come into their own, move guys around, play those guys a lot of different positions.”
Cosgrove said having adequate depth is allowing coaches to introduce a variety of concepts and expand what they do defensively.
Octavien, for instance, will come off the edge in Nebraska’s nickel package. Another linebacker, Dillard, might move up to play nose guard in some passing situations. Clayton Sievers is a “hybrid” linebacker who will play up front. Defensive linemen, in general, will be versatile.
“We’re going to try to utilize our personnel the best we can,” Cosgrove said. “There’s going to be times we want as much speed on the field as we can, then there’s going to be times we’re going to need to be bigger and stronger, more physical.”
And, if McKeon has his say, louder.
Offensive lineman Andy Christensen (tweaked hamstring) missed Monday’s practice, while Carl Nicks left with full body cramps but returned … In addition to Amukamara and Blue playing cornerback, Callahan said newcomers Eric Hagg will play safety and Latravis Washington will play WILL linebacker. … The 15 freshmen who took summer classes finished with a combined GPA of 3.7.
Reach Brian Rosenthal at 473-7436 or email@example.com.