2023 Preview: Defensive Line

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Scholarship Returning: Ty Robinson, Nash Hutmacher, Ru’Quan Buckley, Blaise Gunnerson, AJ Rollins, Brodie Tagaloa

Scholarship Lost: Devin Drew (graduated), Stephon Wynn Jr (Ole Miss), Mosai Newsom (retired), Marquis Black (Western Kentucky), Jailen Weaver (retired), Colton Feist (retired)

Scholarship Gained: Elijah Jeudy (Texas A&M), Kai Wallin (JUCO), Vincent Carroll-Jackson, Riley Van Poppel, Cameron Lenhardt, Sua Lefotu, Jason Maciejczak, Prince Umanmielen, Mason Goldman

Phil Steele B1G Position Ranking:
Ohio State
Penn State
Michigan State

This position group is one of the most intriguing for me heading into the 2023 season. If you look above, Nebraska is actually ranked tied for last at 11th with Maryland, Northwestern, and Indiana for our DL according to Phil Steele. But I’m not as down on this group as that ranking shows. Another way for me to put it… with how much our defense is playing in the backfield of our offense at practice, I pray to God we aren’t the worst DL in the league. That could mean disaster for our offense in 2023.

What intrigues me about this spot is ever since we let go of Mark Banker who ran a spill defense out of his 4-3, we have been a “sit and hold the line” type of defense to keep our LBs free to run and make plays. I am so pumped for this new change. Not to go off on a tangent, but besides 2021, Bankers 2016 defense is the best we’ve had in quite some time, and I firmly believe that’s because our guys could be aggressive. I never understood just sitting there and letting the offense dictate to you what is going to happen. Why not knife up field and try to dictate to them where they have to cut up field or when they need to let go of the ball.

With this change, you have our old guard of guys like Hutmacher, Robinson, Gunnerson, and maybe even Buckley that were brought in to just be massive humans and hold the line. You see a definite flip in the types of DL that we are bringing in as guys like Lenhardt and Umanmielen are explosive and quick players that can shoot gaps and disrupt things behind the LOS. I also think this will make it much easier to recruit players to our defense. Our pitch changes from “hold up the linemen so the LBs can make a play” to “go up field and get a tackle for loss on your own.” I’m all about a team player, but I know which one sounds better to 99% of recruits.

We lost quite a bit from last year, as Devin Drew moved on with his life, Stephon Wynn Jr was not guaranteed a starting spot so he took off to Ole Miss, and Colton Feist who I italicized up top because he’s a former walk-on that gained a scholarship decided to stop playing football and go into insurance. While Drew couldn’t have came back, Wynn Jr and Feist would have been a nice bolster to our depth. However, i’m not sure those guys move the needle all that much for me for 2023 anyway.

What does move the needle is how we are reshaping our position room. I could argue with you that Knighton did the best job recruiting in this 2023 class as we grabbed a transfer in Jeudy who will play, a JUCO DE that had the only sack of the spring game in Wallin, and then 7 true freshmen along the line to help bolster depth. While only a couple will make an impact this season, the ability to redshirt a majority of them and get experience with the others is going to make the 2024 DL a massive strength for the team, as the entire DL group could return for that season. That’s a huge plus.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been pretty bad here for awhile in my opinion, I just think the future is really bright, and I think we could see some of that positivity starting this year. Let’s get into it…

Ty Robinson – Coming back off a shoulder injury that had him out this spring, Robinson is the leader of this room, as he by far has the most experience of all the players on the DL. A former four star recruit, he hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations. Robinson started every game in 2022, and recorded 24 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, and 2 sacks. I’m very anxious to see if this new defensive philosophy i’ve mentioned turns him into a monster or if it’s “not really for him”. Robinson and Hutmacher have been doing some cross-training work at DE and NG, so you can see him over the tackle or over the center.

Nash Hutmacher – A 2020 recruit, I got a lot of flack at the old message board for telling people it was going to be a couple years before he played. He chose Nebraska over the Badgers (who also ran a 3-4 at the time and were a top 10 defense) and people expected immediate help from him due to his wrestling background. He ended up only playing one game as a freshman, and in 2021 it was more of the same which was not much. However, in 2022 he started to figure out just how to use his strength against the OL and ended up starting in 2 games for us. Let’s be real, he morphed his body into what the old staff wanted and got stiff and too big. Per his position coach, Hutmacher actually lost weight this offseason and has become more flexible and quick, something i’ve been wanting to see since he arrived. I think he’s poised for a year like what Robinson had last year. 20-some tackles, and a few plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Blaise Gunnerson – This one is so weird to type, we’ve had expectations for him since he signed. The rumor going around is that he had issues with his hips out of high school, and that’s why we were able to snag him up. He has struggled with injuries while in Lincoln, but did garner Defensive Scout Team MVP in 2021. For 2022, he graduated from scout team and appeared in 12 games last year, and gained his first tackle of his collegiate career against his home-state school Iowa in the last game of the year. Gunnerson is projected to start at one of the DE spots for us against Minnesota. While I need to see it with my eyes before I think he can be an impact player for us, him being healthy and in the conversation is a good start.

Elijah Jeudy – Jeudy transferred from Texas A&M, where he saw limited action for the Aggies. In 2021 he played in one game and was able to preserve his redshirt, and in 2022 he played in November games, ultimately deciding to transfer. Jeudy was a victim of the “NIL Recruiting Class” at A&M where boosters paid top dollars for big time prospects, and the Aggies pulled in the #1 2022 DL recruiting class according to many. With that many resources poured towards the incoming freshmen, i’m not worried about his lack of playing time down there. Jeudy had five tackles in the spring game and even forced a fumble that resulted in a touchdown for the defense. Jeudy is the father of a new baby boy, and now it’s time to show out this fall.

Ru’Quann Buckley – This one is very interesting to me. I think Knighton knows they need some help from Buckley as he is one of the older guys in the room. However, he just hasn’t been able to make any impact on games. In 2021 he played against Fordham, as pretty much everyone did. 2022 he did not see action in any games. I would expect that if there are any returning guys that may be passed over for younger guys, Buckley could be it. He certainly hasn’t flashed like what Lenhardt or others have. But if the goal is to preserve redshirts, he could play a valuable role, especially if injury comes to others. I’m not as high on Buckley as Knighton is, and I could see a mutual parting of ways at the end of the season. However, if your position coach is high on you it’s probably better than some bloggers opinion, so there is that.

Kai Wallin – I was a bit worried about this guy when we recruited him as I wasn’t sure if they wanted him as a Jack/Edge guy which I thought he wouldn’t be able to unseat guys like Butler, Borders, and Sherman, and at 235 he was too light to help us on the DL. But Wallin is up to 255 pounds now and making an impact to help out along the line. I actually think we may see him more than a guy like Buckley, a very good pickup by this staff.

AJ Rollins – This one is interesting to me. Rollins started as a TE under Frost and once Rhule showed up, he immediately looked at Rollins and believed he could thrive on the DL. I will be interested to see if he can make some waves here, as he has some of the same skillsets as our true freshmen. Or do they gravitate towards younger guys? Rollins had four tackles in the spring game, so he does have the ability to get around the ball.

Brodie Tagaloa – Tagaloa unfortunately suffered an injury in a car accident during the summer and is out for the year

Vincent Carroll-Jackson – Carroll-Jackson was committed to former DC Tony White’s Syracuse squad before flipping to Nebraska on national signing day. VCJ did not play football until his senior year of high school, but joins teammate Rahmir Johnson coming to Lincoln. His success in only one season means he has a ton of upside for what he’s already established, and could be a major contributor down the road. Teams like Florida were looking at him on the OL, but we have him along the defensive side.

Riley Van Poppel – RVP was committed to the former staff, and when Rhule and company got here he basically said “don’t worry about me, i’ll be in Lincoln.” He wants to be at Nebraska, which is a breath of fresh air. Van Poppel appears to have the build to contribute right away if we are needing to gain some experience with other true freshmen, but he fascinates me in the fact that he is more of a Ty Robinson DL as opposed to a Lenhardt. Will they start grooming him to take over NG once Nash leaves?

Cameron Lenhardt – Lenhart graduated early and came to Lincoln for spring ball, where he had 4 tackles and a pass breakup. One of the staffers pointed him out to me as “that guys gonna be a player.” He is the “new” type of recruit I mention on the DL where he is quick and can knife up field in a hurry. I expect him to burn his redshirt this year and give us some depth.

Prince Umanmiellen – Prince is the other guy I lump into the category of “new” DL as they are just so explosive. Arguably had the best spring game of all true freshmen with three tackles for a loss and a sack, he was constantly in the backfield. Lenhardt comes from IMG Academy which would be great to get a pipeline into, where he had 65 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 8 sacks. Nothing to scoff at there. I would not be shocked if somewhere down the road Prince or Cameron overtake one of the starting DEs.

Sua Lefotu – This one will be interesting to me… He didn’t start for his high school team so his stats are underwhelming. But he played for a team that many regard as the best team in the nation, so their backups could come to Nebraska and more than likely play for a state title. More than 40 players for St John Bosco (who he played for) hold Division 1 offers. That’s crazy, we get excited that Bellevue West has 5 players with D1 offers.

Jason Maciejczak – He was banged up early in fall camp but is now back. The staff wrestled with putting him at offense or defense, and finally settled on the defensive line. I expect a redshrit here. We flipped him from North Dakota.

Mason Goldman – A Gretna native, again this is a kid that they weren’t sure if he would be on the OL or DL, but settled on defense. I also expect a redshirt here.


Again, this position is going to be so fun to watch develop over the next few years. It almost reminds of when we had guys like Avery Moss, Akinmoladun, Valentine, and Collins as freshmen and you could just see the potential. They made plays but also made mistakes, and eventually a couple years down the road the position was a strength of the team. If we can have the DL be one of our strengths during the Rhule era, that can mean nothing but positive things. Rhule and staff have committed 15 scholarships to the DL that only starts 3 players, second most on the team behind DB who has 17 players and play 5 guys at a time. I believe Rhule knew they needed to get help in here in a hurry, and when guys like Lenhardt, Umanmielen, Van Poppel, and others are jumping on board, you make room.

I am so excited to see what happens when our DL starts getting upfield and creating havoc. We just weren’t good enough to play the “Suh” game and hold people at the line of scrimmage then shuck them aside, we need to get the guys like we are seeing being recruited now that can be quick and get upfield.

While I type this preview, I don’t think there’s anyway that Nebraska is tied for dead last in the conference at this position. Frankly, I can see the DL being a strength of this team come November. They are playing in the backfield a ton during practice, and this is exactly how I would want a position group to be built on my team. Two guys with starts returning, you graduate a different starter and backfill with the scout team MVP, have a transfer from A&M and a JUCO to help with depth, and then a ton of options from your recruiting class. Knighton has to love where he’s at right now, I know I do.

Join us Friday when we go over the ‘Edge’ position.

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4 thoughts on “2023 Preview: Defensive Line

  1. Also interested to see if Robinson will take a leap. Agree he hasn’t lived up to recruiting expectations (which can happen to any player regardless of coaching staff/team).

    But based off our prior S&C, scheme, and coaching, I wouldn’t expect that he would live up to his capabilities. Saw him some in high school, always thought he was best suited to a 3-4 DE type role, and already had the weight just needed to shift his weight a little, and get more explosive vs. adding strength/weight. Hopefully new scheme/staff/S&C will unlock him this year.

    Also, not up-to-date on all the freshmen, but is Maverick Noonan expected to be more of the JACK LB position vs DE?

    1. Ya, I was hoping the old staff would get Robinson in and just try to reshape his body rather than put weight on him. He was a bit overweight coming in.

      Noonan is playing Jack/Edge but is out for the year unfortunately.

  2. To get to 6 wins the defense may have to carry this team. LB position makes me very nervous as mentioned the other day.

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