Well, why don’t we just stick with the theme of being positive about a position group like we were with our last preview of the Edge/Nick positions. Let’s just move past the DL preview we put out there.
When we talk about position groups that return the most talent, ILB has to be one of the top groups for Nebraska in 2022, if not #1. Returning are your 2 starters from last year in Nick Henrich (Omaha Burke) and Luke Reimer (Lincoln Northstar). With those two returning, you also return the Blackshirts 2 top tacklers from a year ago, where Reimer tallied 108 and Henrich with 99. It really doesn’t get any better than that as far as what to expect from a position group. It takes away the unknowns and lets you focus on development.
The losses from last year can’t really even be counted as such. Chris Kolarevic moved to the Nick spot, so he’s still actually here but counts as a “loss” for this position group. And while Will Honas was 2nd on our team in tackles for 2020 behind Domann and 2nd in 2019 behind Mo Barry, he was injured the entirety of 2021 before transferring to Kansas State once we found out just how good Henrich and Reimer can be. You also had Wynden Ho’ohuli who we were playing at both ILB and OLB and transferred back to Hawaii. Last but not least of the guys that moved on is Jackson Hannah, a four star that never really got on the field for us and transferred to Tennessee this season. You lose the #1 ILB recruit from JUCO and a four star, and you get really worried. After all, we saw how those transfers can decimate other rooms, but we still have two studs here with plenty of star power learning the scheme behind them.
As you can see, not a lot to worry about leaving. Honas I could make the argument would be good depth, but when you return two starters it’s tough to get too upset about that move. I only have three issues with ILBs and who is returning for this year. The first is that Reimer and Henrich both had over 700 snaps on the field last year, that is a ton. Even Coach Ruud has said publicly he wants to develop more depth, he knows he needs to work on that and I appreciate a coach who verbally says what he needs to work on.
Lack of rotation led to not a lot of depth created as well as injuries for those guys. We need to find a way to get them into the 500-600 range. They both have been injury-prone (Reimer out all spring), so keeping them healthy is worry #2 for me. The last and final point, is without a dominant DL in front of them, how will they do? That’s nothing they can control and they just have to deal with it, but will production drop a little? Will they get “beat up” a bit more?
So we talked about depth, who is behind these starters? Garrett Snodgrass had 26 snaps last year and I would say is poised to play on a ton of special teams and get some breaks to our starters. He is a coaches son that will be in the right spot all the time. I wonder if he can hold off some of the guys i’m about to mention though. Opposite of him is Eteva Mauga-Clements, a 4 star JUCO transfer that had 5 snaps all of last year, but led his JUCO league in sacks the year prior. He shows a ton of upside. What I worry about with him is how he is growing into the scheme. Can he make his reads and go to the correct spot. If we get to a situation where he is in the game and we just have to blitz him, we are in trouble. Further, he had times where in spring games or otherwise he just flat out wasn’t where he was supposed to be, and with offenses the way they are now that spells disaster.
Randolph Kpai and Mikal Gbayor are both coming off of their redshirts with a ton of upside. However, as Nebraska does, they both had to sit out much of their freshman year with blown shoulders which stunted their development. They are only redshirt freshmen now, but it will be important for them to get reps and start to develop if they have hopes to take over for Henrich and Reimer when they need a break or graduate. Seth Malcom was an 8 man football player in the same class as these two, so he has a big learning curve as well, but you see glimpses of why we went after him recruiting.
A big “surprise” is Ernest Hausmann, a true freshman that arrived in the spring who took advantage of the reps that Gbayor and Kpai were supposed to have since he was healthy, and he did not disappoint. It’s easy to see why the kid had schools from across the country offering him in Columbus, Nebraska. While he needs to learn the ILB position a bit, he’s someone Nebraska fans should be pretty excited about for the coming years. I actually think you may see him on special teams and not redshirting this year, but they need to figure out if he’s someone that will get significant reps if they are going to burn that. You could argue he is ahead of Gbayor or Kpai right now just from the experience he gained.
There’s a lot to like in this ILB room. Ruud even while losing four stars Hannah, Honas and Ho’ohuli still has 3 to choose from for his 2 spots while having the luxury of a walk-on like Reimer already locking down a spot. I’m not sure how it happens, but every year Ruud seems to pull in a guy that will no doubt contribute and play. And his room is potentially the deepest of any on the entire team. Nothing to be worried about at ILB in my opinion unless one of these starters misses extended time. The real issue is going to be can our DL keep offensive linemen off of them. Henrich and Reimer are a bit “undersized” but extremely athletic, and in our scheme they are responsible for the C gap as opposed to A or B like in traditional fronts for the ILB. If there are linemen climbing up to them where they have to get physical instead of run, that could be an issue.
Tune in Monday for our look at the defensive back room. Also next week we will have my season preview and prediction. as well as a quick preview of Northwestern.
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