Iowa vs. Nebraska, 11.29

Nebraska defensive lineman Ben Stille tackles Iowa running back Tyler Goodson in November at Memorial Stadium. 

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Nebraska spring football consisted of just two practices before it was halted due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, conversations with head coach Scott Frost, several players and almost every assistant coach provided at least some information about every position on the field.

The Journal Star is taking a position-by-position look at the Huskers, what was learned early in March and what to look for whenever NU returns to the field.

Defensive line

Scholarship players (13): Senior Ben Stille (14 starts); juniors Damion Daniels (one start), Keem Green, Chris Walker, Jordon Riley, Deontre Thomas, Pheldarius Payne; sophomores Tate Wildeman, Casey Rogers; redshirt freshmen Mosai Newsom, Ty Robinson; freshmen Marquis Black, Nash Hutmacher.

One storyline

Start with this: who will start? There are 15 total starts spread among 13 scholarship players, with 14 of those starts belonging to Ben Stille. The Ashland native is the only senior among the defensive line group, and one of just two (junior Damion Daniels is the other) who started a game last season.

It’s a large but largely unproven group that will have to replace the production of three players — Carlos and Khalil Davis, and Darrion Daniels — who could very well hear their names called in the NFL Draft.

That’s why it was no surprise to hear second-year defensive line coach Tony Tuioti bring up Stille early and often in a recent interview.

“He’s a done a great job in the offseason, meeting with the guys individually, going through the installs, trying to coach the young guys up,” Tuioti said. “During the player-run practices, he leads that a lot. So he’s a big mouthpiece for us. We’re going to need him to lead us.”

The Huskers will also need their younger players to fill in the gaps. There are five juniors along with Daniels who ooze potential in Green, Riley, Walker, Thomas and Payne. Sophomore Rogers got snaps last season, and Wildeman was a four-star recruit. Newsom and Robinson redshirted.

And don’t forget the freshmen yet to get to campus — Black and Hutmacher.

“I think the biggest thing for me is being able to get these young guys to close the gap in terms of feeling comfortable about what they’re doing within the scheme of the defense, but then knowing how their technique can help them make plays within the scheme of the defense,” Tuioti said.

That’s what makes the current situation all the more daunting on the football side for Nebraska. The young players need reps, and badly, at a key position. Tuioti knows that, and in two practices, he tried to divide things up as evenly as he could.

But it’s hard to get reps when you’re sitting alone in your living room waiting out a pandemic.

“I just try to get as many reps as I can and even it out for all those guys,” Tuioti said. “Because I want to be able to get a good sample size to get them some evaluation in terms of how they can help us and improve.”

One quote

Tuioti is no stranger to the Big Ten from his time at Michigan, but last season served as a good reminder of just what he needs to prepare his group for in conference play after going up against the likes of Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins at running back, and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs on the offensive line.

“It just confirms what I know about the Big Ten. You’ve got big, physical offensive linemen, and you’ve got really, really dynamic running backs. … In this conference we’ve got to be able to stop the run and be physical at the point of attack. So we try to stress that as much as we can to the guys, being solid up front.”

One thought

While there’s plenty to be proven, Tuioti at least has the beginnings of a rotation in mind. Stille, Daniels and Thomas seem to be the lead group. But there are young players close to being ready as well.

“I feel good about Jordon Riley being able to go out and play for us. I feel good about Ty Robinson going out and playing for us. Casey Rogers has come along, too,” Tuioti said. “So I feel good about at least six of the guys right now being able to go out and play for us.

“I’d like to build that and try and get it to eight we feel really good about, but it’s still to be determined from now until we get done with training camp in August.”

Contact the writer at cbasnett@journalstar.com or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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