Maliek Collins is a Dallas Cowboy, blowing up a play 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage on Sunday Night Football. Vincent Valentine is a New England Patriot, playing critical snaps in the trenches for Bill Belichick.

And, yet, this Husker defensive line is sort of holding its own through four games, isn't it?

"We're all gas, no brakes," said redshirt freshman defensive end DaiShon Neal.

Then, without prompting, he brings up the coach of that D-line, John Parrella. He calls him a great man. Neal talks about how the coach supports him mentally and spiritually.

"I love Coach Parrella to death," Neal said.

What's been the connecting point? Why is Parrella reaching them? Neal pauses to answer because he really wants to give the right answer.

"Off the experiences he's had, there's a lot that you can learn from this man. I mean, really a lot," Neal said. "The one thing he really talks about a lot is the Navy SEALs, and the mindset and the mentality that the Navy SEALs had, because he had a lot of friends that were in the Navy SEALs."

Not the same stakes on a football field, of course. Nothing close to that. But the go-hard-and-then-go-harder-yet approach of the SEALs is what Neal knows the coach is illustrating to his players.

Neal likes that thinking.

"So there's nothing that we can't accomplish on the football field, no workout that's hard, we should always sprint to the ball. We hold each other accountable to do the right thing, be the best," Neal said.

Parrella is also holding his players to high standards in the classroom. Neal notes that the coach also wants his D-linemen to have at least a 3.0 GPA. Neal likes that too.

"Speaking for me and my class, we have more of a connection with him as a man outside of football than what we did last year," Neal said.

Parrella, a former Husker and 12-year player in the NFL, came aboard in February after Husker head coach Mike Riley cut ties with former D-line coach Hank Hughes.

A lot of eyes have been watching to see how he'd recruit.

So far, solid. Just last week, Nebraska claimed a commitment from Deiontae Watts, a defensive tackle from Plano, Texas. Of Nebraska's 15 commitments, four are D-line recruits Parrella has courted. The others are defensive ends Guy Thomas (Miami) and Robert Porcher IV (Orlando), and defensive tackle Deontre Thomas (Mustang, Oklahoma).

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"I think he grabs kids in a great way. I think he's one of those guys it's hard to say no to," Riley said. "He works at it real hard, but there's a special uniqueness that you guys already know, because of his background at Nebraska."

Parrella is clearly passionate about Nebraska, but Riley also thinks the D-line coach believes strongly in what this particular staff is about.

"And so he can combine that real well as he recruits," Riley said. "It's a great combination that he brings."

The players already in his room seem to have bought in.

Redshirt freshman Carlos Davis, who has started the past two games at defensive tackle as Mick Stoltenberg works his way fully back from minor knee surgery, thinks the D-linemen have improved at chasing the ball, being physical and playing for each other.

Davis said the defensive line goes into each game with two goals. One is always related to the run game, and the other changes weekly.

Against Northwestern, one of the goals was to limit running back Justin Jackson to 2.5 yards per attempt. Tough goal. Didn't quite happen. But the Huskers did hold Jackson to 79 yards on 20 carries.

Nebraska has also produced 10 sacks. That's not in the highest tier nationally but does rank 37th, which is better than some might have assumed in the preseason with an inexperienced D-line. Seven of those sacks have come from Parrella's guys.

Of late, those guys have been wearing "nWo" shirts, a shoutout to the old New World Order wrestling team that initially consisted of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.

The young defensive linemen have been rocking an old-school look.

"They just showed up one day," Davis said of the shirts. "Coach liked it, and gave us one. That's our thing now."

It appears to be a good thing going. That's what Riley sees at least. A group of players who are engaged with a coach who isn't going to let them ever be totally satisfied.

"I think you see a real vibrant room. I love it," Riley said. "I think these guys stay hungry, they stay on an edge. He doesn't ever let them relax."

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


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