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Who Stands Out on Nebraska’s Defensive Line in Year Two?

Nebraska defensive line

In his Tuesday press conference, Nebraska defensive line coach Terrance Knighton said that his position group is full of players who can attack in waves. It’s something that is a continuation of what the Huskers built in year one. But now that the program has more depth at the position, it’s time for the young players to be leaders. Who will fulfill the task for the Blackshirts this year? Let’s break it down.

James Williams

In one season, the sophomore from Missouri switched from a redshirt on the scout team to a Blackshirt as a pass rusher in Tony White’s defense. And he was able to thrive in his new role. He had four tackles and he got to the quarterback against Michigan State and Northwestern. But to become an even greater force on the outside, he still has work to do. Knighton sees this as more of a physical issue, commenting that “he needs to gain a little bit more weight in order to become stronger.” This should be an easy goal for him to attain. The Cornhuskers have already gone through mat drills. And in the months since, they have had to report for more conditioning with strength coach Corey Campbell. In that time, he’s sharpened his skills and gotten stronger. Will the new muscle make him a candidate for playing time in the spring?  Or will the coaching staff elect to wait until UTEP? Either way, it will be interesting to catch up with him after a stellar first season.

Read more about the walk-on and his impact on the defensive line in How The Cornhuskers Fared on National Signing Day

Cam Lenhardt

In his four starts last season,  the former IMG Academy product recorded sixteen tackles and three sacks for NU. And after the season, his play was enough to earn him All-American honors alongside his teammate in Princewill Umanmielien. This is an impressive start for a young player inside the program. But the true freshman still has some “goals in mind that he is working hard for” in year two. In his comments on Tuesday, his high motor will allow him to “be more cleaner with his moves” when it comes to getting off his blocks. However, the sophomore also knows that he has to avoid a slump. In that regard,  he wants to prepare for each opponent’s alignment on the field.  No doubt this will provide clarity at his position. But there are still some major concerns heading into the spring game. Will he regress in some areas?  Or will the All-American wreak havoc alongside his teammate once again?

Elijah Jeudy

In 11 games last season with the Cornhuskers, the transfer from Texas A&M  was able to record eight tackles at his position. Furthermore, the freshman was also effective on special teams. This would manifest itself when he was able to block one of Purdue’s field goal attempts which ended up in a Quinton Newsome score. But now that he is in his sophomore year,  can he continue to make similar plays? Knighton thinks so. In fact, he has the potential to be one of the Huskers’ “wild cards” up front. Specifically, he notes that he has the ability to be a dynamic pass rusher on third downs. Or he might become part of the coach’s strategy on first and second down. Whatever the case may be, expect the 280-pound defensive lineman to carve out his own role in the Cornhuskers defense.

Riley Van Poppel

The freshman from the Lone Star State contributed a handful of minutes for the Cornhuskers last season. However, they were filled with quality play. All told, he finished the season with five tackles and a sack. The hardest part for the sophomore? He has to continue to execute at a high level. Now that Keona Wilhite is enrolled, it’s something that is going to be harder to accomplish. But in year two, Knighton says that it’s more likely that “things will move a lot slower for him.” And that’s one of the reasons that Knighton thinks that he will  “play fast” in his second year.


Nebraska defensive line
Photo courtesy: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports


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