August 1, 2008

LB fall camp preview: Plenty of new faces

&prThe Nebraska football team will open up fall camp in less than a week when they take the practice field on Aug. 4. As the countdown to practice begins, will breakdown each position heading into camp with in-depth position analysis. This afternoon we breakdown the linebackers, as the Huskers will turn to a cast of first-time starters to replace four departed fixtures at the position.

Biggest question: How much will inexperience be a factor?
For the first time since 2001, there won't be a Ruud at linebacker for Nebraska. For that matter, there won't be a McKeon, Brandenburgh or Octavien either. With the departure of four mainstays at the position, the Huskers' linebacking corps will take on a completely new look this season. There will be familiar faces in players like junior Phillip Dillard and senior Cody Glenn, who switched over from running back this spring, but as far as starting experience goes, NU is starting from over scratch. The Huskers' linebackers have a combined three starts between them, all of which by Dillard. However, the lack of experience doesn't mean a lack of talent. Dillard has overcome a 2005 knee injury to establish himself as the leader of unit, and even dropped 20 pounds down to 235 to improve his speed and endurance. The outside spots are the most inexperienced, but Glenn and senior Tyler Wortman both had impressive springs in new head coach Bo Pelini's defensive system.

What we know right now: The starters aren't set yet

At the moment, Glenn (WILL) and Wortman (BUCK) are listed atop the Huskers' depth chart at their respective positions, but those are hardly set in stone. Glenn has hit the ground running since moving to linebacker, but sophomore LaTravis Washington is a phenomenal athlete destined to push heavily for playing time all season. Things are even tighter on the other side, as sophomore Blake Lawrence could easily claim the No. 1 spot at BUCK linebacker over Wortman by the time fall camp is done. And that's not even the end of it, as NU has 14 true and redshirt freshmen on its roster eager to establish themselves. Junior Colton Koehler is currently listed as the No. 2 MIKE linebacker, and though he has yet to see game action, he made quite the impression on NU coaches to ascend up the depth chart. Sophomore Thomas Grove could also see some time at WILL linebacker.

Fresh fall camp faces: Will Compton, Sean Fisher, Alonzo Whaley, and Micah Kreikemeier

With the dearth of experience the Huskers have at linebacker, don't be surprised if at least one true freshman makes an immediate impact this season. The leading candidates to do so coming into fall camp are Will Compton and Sean Fisher. A four-star recruit by, Compton enters as one of the most highly-touted freshmen of the 2008 class. Fisher was a two-time all-state performer at Millard (Neb.) North High, and possess great athleticism for his size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds). Alonzo Whaley racked up an impressive 162 tackles last year as a senior at Madisonville (Texas) High to earn Texas Class 3A all-state honors. Micah Kreikemeier was the first commit under Pelini, and he tallied 125 tackles and three sacks for West Point (Neb.) Central Catholic last year.

Early camp prediction

There are certainly two sides to this year's group of linebackers. On one, they severely lack experience, especially at the outside spots. On the other, the athleticism the unit has as a whole in unquestionable, and that could make up for the inexperience by itself. My guess is that this will be a learning year for the group, and there will likely be a few bumps along the way, specifically in coverage. Dillard is the only player who's seen significant snaps in game situations, and Glenn could find himself lost trying to keep up with the speedy receivers and tight ends of the Big 12. Luckily they'll have a strong defensive line in front of them to help out with the run and pass rush, but things will still likely be a little rough, at least starting off.

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