Fall Camp 2022: Defensive Line

The last couple weeks we have been going over the offense and what we have seen in fall camp so far. Now we shift to defense. I was hesitant to start on the defensive line as this is my most critical position for 2022 and our success, but y’all have spoken on the poll on Twitter. You see, for all the questions I have about TE, OL, if we can get the ball to our WRs, if we can create holes, at least Whipple can scheme around that. When you are on defense, an OC and head coach watch film and see your weaknesses and try to exploit them. You don’t get to dictate like offense can.

We are razor thin here in every sense of the word. Nebraska loses Ben Stille, who led our team on the DL in snaps at 560. Damion Daniels was a force at NG for us, third on our team with 365 snaps. Fourth on our team in snaps was Deontre Thomas with 308, he had another year of eligibility but hung up his cleats. Casey Rogers was hurt most of last year, but was sixth on our team in snaps last year with 139, he transferred to Oregon. And seventh on our team last year in snaps was Jordon Riley with 63, who followed Rogers and Tuioti to Oregon as well. That is scary. Nebraska had 1,919 snaps last year from their top 7 DL and we lose 1,333 of those.

I’ve been reading previews for the DL everywhere and it’s crazy to me, everyone just goes over our even front that has 2 edge players like Nelson/Tannor with our 2 DL and it’s almost as if they forget about the fact we play an odd front when we are going against Wisconsin, Iowa, etc. Robinson got 44 snaps against Minnesota, Daniels our NG got 41 against them. Robinson got 55 snaps against Michigan, Daniels got 51. Even against a team like Oklahoma, Robinson got 41 snaps, Daniels got 37. My point is, we played our odd front (only time Daniels is in except goalline) more than people give it credit for. Even further, we were running a 3-4 in the spring against certain formations still just like we always have.

So either we were practicing something in the spring that we won’t do in the fall, or we are going to run it and many media outlets are breezing over how thin we are if we have to run 3 DL out there. It’s bad from depth even when those outlets only have 2 DL on the depth chart preview they do, let alone 3 when we have a NG to put in there. Let me just get into it…

Ty Robinson is the only returner on the DL who has more than 26 snaps playing in our scheme (458 snaps). I actually like Robinson a lot, but he tends to get worn down during a season (as most linemen do) and he is going to have to play a ton of football for us due to our lack of bodies. Robinson is poised to replace Ben Stille as our leading snap man on the DL. We have to protect him… If we are up against North Dakota, Georgia Southern, get him the hell out of there.

With Daniels gone, Nash Hutmacher will take his place at starting NG. The Polar Bear had 26 snaps last year in total, and did not record any tackles or stats. In fact, he would have had even less snaps if Daniels stayed healthy the entire year. If you followed me from the other message board, I got a lot of flack for saying he just wasn’t ready right away as a true freshman during the summer before his true freshman year. I was told how strong he was and how good of a wrestler he was, and just how wrong I was going to be. While it shouldn’t be looked at as surprising that people struggle to play their first two years along the lines, it gets tough when they are thrust into action year 3 with no real “buffer” year to figure it out with live game reps. What I mean by that is even for how good Damion Daniels was for us in 2021, he had Mick Stoltenberg play in 2018, then in 2019 he had his brother Darrion Daniels play in front of him where he could sub those guys in and out. I loved what Damion Daniels did for our football team, he’s exactly what we needed at NG. But he played sparingly his first three years, was named the starter in 2020 (where Chin changed our nickel package to not have him play out of position/as much), and really came into his own in year 5 (2021). Hutmacher is just being forced to accelerate the learning curve. So while I think he will be fine in the long run, there will be growing pains this year with him.

The backup at NG to Hutmacher is Stephon Wynn, a transfer from Alabama. If you go to 247 sports’ top team talent composite, Wynn actually ranks 3rd on Nebraska just ahead of Fidone. But we all know how fickle those ratings can be. Wynn needs to learn our scheme then learn to play in the B1G against a much different style of football. I think he and Hutmacher are kind of a ying and yang, while Wynn is a bit more explosive and Hutmacher is a bit more powerful. It will be interesting to see what Chinander does this year in normal sets by the offense. I made reference that he removed the NG in 2020 during our nickel situations. What are we going to do against 1 and 2 TEs this year, can we get in an even front and remove the NG a bit? We may have to, because we are thrusting NG and SW in the fire in a hurry, but we didn’t this spring. It’s actually what I will be anxious to see from Nortwestern game 1. Do they keep a TE on the field so we have to stay in an odd front with a NG? Or do they spread us out and bail us out?

Let’s go back to DE… we already talked about Robinson, he’s the rock on the DL, but after that it gets worrisome. Yes, after one guy I am worried. And we start two and need backups. On the other side of Robinson, walk-on Colton Feist has been getting the nod to start at DE. He’s a bit undersized compared to Robinson, as he is listed at 275 and Robinson at 310. He is definitely serviceable, but i’m worried between NG and the DE spot opposite Robinson that we will get gashed. If i’m an opposing coach I go right at that all day.

After that it’s a ton of unknown. I’m sure you are all wondering if I forgot about Texas Tech transfer Devin Drew. I didn’t, he just didn’t get here til Wednesday of last week and i’m not sure he even had full pads on until yesterday. That basically gives him about 2 weeks to learn the defense, get in game shape, and be ready for Ireland. I don’t like that. It’s reminiscent of people waiting for Jahkeem Green to get here and look how that turned out. For the record, Drew will have more snaps after the first few games than Greens entire career but I think you get my point, it takes time.

So then you have to figure out who is backing those 3 up, and even those 3 concern me. Weaver is still needing to get in shape, so that leaves you with Buckley or Newsom to man the other spot. I just don’t know guys.

I would say I feel “good” about those top 3 at DE. But not really that good. Robinson is fine, but what if he goes down? Will Drew get up to speed quick enough? Are teams going to figure out Feist is 275 and run right at him? I mean, what do we do? Last year, Stille, Rogers, Daniels, and Robinson could keep the OL off of our athletic ILBs Henrich and Reimer. This year? I worry about that. A lot. So can Henrich and Reimer have as good of years playing in a bit more traffic?

For those of you that think ok we will just do an even front and only use 2 DL like all of the ‘DL preview’ things you’ve seen at other outlets. Ok, so Feist is too small, so we are putting Nelson, Tannor, or Mathis as 2 of our 4 guys on the line? The biggest guy there is Mathis at 260. When we play massive teams like Wisconsin or Minnesota they will just run right at us. When we play Iowa they’ll figure out they can put a couple TEs there and guys like Mathis and Tannor won’t be able to play in space. It isn’t going to work.

Our DL just doesn’t give us a ton of flexibility in my opinion. And i’m really worried. Northwestern has a really good OL coming back. It’s why when I read practice reports and hear that we were running all over them, it makes sense. I’m sure i’m just worrying too much. When you read what I just typed out, you almost have to go an even front with our edge players 2 of the 4. But it completely changes what we do. The last two years when we went even front, we were in our nickel so guys like Domann and now Gifford/Wright would be on the field. You can’t just get rid of DL and put in 250 pound edge guys and converted safeties as LBs in the B1G. I will get into it in my preview week, but I’ll be curious to see what Chins does, because I don’t think we can do it the same way we have been.

Wednesday we can flip the script and talk about a position I really like, ‘edge’ (we will include the ‘nick’ spot in there as well).


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11 thoughts on “Fall Camp 2022: Defensive Line

  1. Just when I have been drinking the cool aid, I read a dose of reality re the D line:) It does seem we are awful thin here…will be interesting to see what Chin does, because I like the athleticism of our back end, LB’s and Edge players…but not having a run stuffing mountain of men up front is likely to lead to some angst against B1G squads who run it downhill time and time again. This first game against NW is right around the corner…hopefully Drew can get in for at least 10-15 snaps??

    1. I assume Drew will get some snaps for us. Heck, I think he absolutely has to if we want to get anywhere in that game. But our DL scares me. If an opposing team figures out that they put a TE and 2 WRs in the game and we get in our odd front with a NG, we might be in some trouble. Especially later in the year.

  2. As posted in Oline thread, granted this is just one site’s opinions. So NU has to play against 4 out of the Top 5 rated Oline’s in the BIG. On the flip side NU has to play against 3 out of the Top 5 Dline’s. Naturally things could change due to injuries and etc. The defense, for the most part, kept NU in all of the games in 2021. I’m not sure you can expect a repeat in 2022.

    Big Ten Preseason Rankings from College Football News for Oline
    1 Ohio State
    2 Wisconsin
    3 Michigan
    4 Minnesota
    5 Purdue
    6 Maryland
    7 Penn State
    8 Michigan State
    9 Illinois
    10 Iowa
    11 Nebraska
    12 Northwestern
    13 Rutgers
    14 Indiana

    Big Ten Preseason Rankings from College Football News for Dline
    1 Wisconsin
    2 Michigan
    3 Iowa
    4 Michigan State
    5 Penn State
    6 Ohio State
    7 Minnesota
    8 Illinois
    9 Purdue
    10 Nebraska
    11 Northwestern
    12 Rutgers
    13 Maryland
    14 Indiana

  3. This write up is probably a good and needed dose of reality. I hope people don’t assume NW will be a easy W because we throttled them last season. Much different circumstances now. It really does sound like we could struggle against the run and thus clock management during the meat of the B1G season. Hopefully Chins and Dawson can surprise us by then.

    One question for you, SSO. In regards to how we defend the run and manage the clock, do you feel the NW game could be a good barometer on how we can expect the rest of the B1G games could go?

    1. I would think so. Fitzgerald is a good coach and he scares me because Northwestern and Iowa are typically the teams that when no one expects anything out of them they have a good season. While other teams will start to get some film on what is working against us, I think any coach who takes a look at what we lose along the defensive lines will try to run at us. With that said, we also lose 4 out of our starting 5 DBs (if you include Doman in that from the nickel spot). So a coach could think we need to exploit there as well.

      I do think Northwestern is going to be an issue. I have read some social media stuff about how “Northwestern looked like an FCS team last year” and think there’s no way they can play us close. We destroyed Minnesota 50-20 or something like that in Frosts first year than in 2019 lost 34-7. It can happen.

  4. If we run our base defense, there are three spots. And with Drew in the mix, we seem to have five fairly solid guys. Are you concerned five isn’t enough, or that the quality of those five isn’t good enough?

    1. Who are our five fairly solid guys? I would put Robinson as solid, Drew I feel good about once he’s ready but he’s gotta get in shape, but who are the other 3 solid guys???? Even if you come up with 3, that doesn’t even give us a solid 2 deep as we need 6.

      1. I’d add Wynn as solid and think Nash and Feist should be good enough rotationally, but I get that Robinson is really the only one to show us anything in a Husker uniform. Thanks for the reply, it helped me clear up exactly where your concerns are.

      2. There are guys that I think can get there on the DL, if that makes sense. I just struggle to say anyone is solid except Robinson and maybe Drew. Those guys have proved it at this level. Feist and Hutmacher are projected starters with zero total tackles last year, and Wynn had 5 tackles last year where 2 of those came against Mercer. I just worry a lot about our depth.

        If you look at that for 2022 compared to 2021 returning, it’s scary. In 2021 where our defense was pretty dominant in my opinion, we returned Stille (27 tackles), Rogers (25 tackles), Daniels (20 tackles), Robinson (17 tackles). That is a lot of returning tackles across 3 spots. Dive deeper and even guys like Keem Green (3) and Jordon Riley (1) had more tackles returning than what we have.

        Again, I think we can get there. It’s just tough for me to think we are going to be ok against some of the more solid running teams.

  5. Wondering if you can give any insight into how this room got in such bad shape. Daniels was undrafted then waived after the first preseason game. He clearly would have benefitted from
    1 more year here. Thomas walked away from football altogether. The DL coach quit and 2 guys followed him. We signed 0 DL in 2022, 2 projects in 2021 and 2 projects in 2020 (though Nash wasn’t too high risk, just needed time). This didn’t just happen but I’ve seen very little discussion the past couple years about issues in this room and really spring is when people started realizing we have a serious issue. This won’t be fixed in 2023 either even if we make real progress.

    1. I think you spelled it out pretty good. We didn’t really lose Daniels or Thomas early, we had an extra year due to Covid. Stille was gone. But what hurt us was guys like Rogers and Riley deciding to leave. Then you couple that with having to take reaches at DL because we just weren’t getting any traction and you have us in the position we are now. Newsom is graduated already and hasn’t developed like we wanted. Black was a reach in my opinion. Weaver is just struggling to get in shape. Buckley is only a redshirt freshman so I can give him time. But as you said, Hutmacher we stole over Wisconsin who runs the same defense we do. I hate to play the game, but I often wonder if him, Benhart, and some of the others we offered that chose us over the Badgers, how would they be looking if they went to them instead of us? I bet better.

      We just got so bad in a hurry. This should be a pretty good year recruiting because you can point to the depth chart and say look how much room there is to contribute.

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