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Stoltenberg and Carlos Davis feel ready to take leadership roles
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Stoltenberg and Carlos Davis feel ready to take leadership roles

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Nebraska vs. Iowa, 11/25

Nebraska defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg (44) sheds a block to tackle Iowa running back Akrum Wadley during the Hawkeyes' 40-10 win on Nov. 25.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The impromptu mini-huddle occurred less than a minute after defeat on a patch of chewed-up grass now worn a little further under the weight of 875 pounds of man.

That's where Mick Stoltenberg put his arms around Carlos and Khalil Davis, then slapped them on the helmets like a game-deciding fourth down was about to transpire.

There was a fiery talk about working every fricking day this offseason. Perhaps it was another word. Heads bobbed.

"I just told them we're going to have to take the reins, and there's no time for hesitation," Stoltenberg explained after Nebraska’s 38-24 loss to Tennessee on Friday.

As Husker faithful back home were no doubt involved in discussions that included words like talent gap and player development, and what to make of this 9-4 season that had ended on a flat note, the mountainous defensive tackle from Gretna was showing something else this team needs in heavy supply to make a jump in 2017 — passion. (See also: disgust in losing.)

No voice carried more of it in the postgame interviews than Stoltenberg's. He's an in-state kid who still has two years of Husker football ahead.

Others may doubt it, but Stoltenberg believes this: "I think we're real close. I'm really optimistic. I know I can speak for a lot of the guys when I say we really do think we have a chance. We just have to get some fresh bodies in and stuff like that.

"We have to develop our depth on the defensive line. We have the guys, and we've got the talent, and I think we've got the workers, too. So I definitely think it's obtainable."

Carlos Davis, who finished his redshirt season with 24 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks, was eager to get into 2017 even after Friday's loss.

"Oh, yeah, it's going to be an exciting year next year," Davis said. "I'm just looking forward to starting the process over again with new guys and kind of being the leader of the next group."

More pieces are needed. Nebraska's loss to Tennessee, as well as the demolitions that occurred at Ohio State and Iowa, should make that clear.

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker talked openly after the game about needing "guys that have the capability to come off the edge and rush the passer."

But the Huskers, while losing Kevin Maurice to graduation, seem to have some promising pieces on the inside of the defensive line with Stoltenberg and the Davis twins, who will be third-year sophomores.

At the end spots, there is junior Freedom Akinmoladun, as well as Alex Davis and Sedrick King, who received key snaps in the bowl game. The growth of DaiShon Neal, who will be a sophomore, is important here.

Stoltenberg wants to have a big voice in that room.

"Definitely," he said. "Especially on that defensive line. I know with Ross (Dzuris), and (Logan) Rath, and K-Mo (Maurice) being gone, we're going to need some guys to step up. I was talking with Freedom after the game, and we're ready to kind of take the reins and get this young group going."

Getting young players, including recruits coming in, is definitely top of mind to Stoltenberg.

"Because depth is … definitely something we need to work on and strengthen," he said.

Friday's game showed all the work, and need for difference-makers, in front of the Huskers as they enter a new year.

The young guy, Carlos Davis, certainly came away from it seeing all that is required.

"I'd say it opened our eyes to some stuff we still need to improve on."

A pep talk immediately after the setback sure can't solve it all, but the leaders for a new season are beginning to pop their heads.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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