Nebraska graduates all three starting linebackers from last season. Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher were fifth-year seniors with extensive playing experience and knowledge of Bo Pelini's defense. Unfortunately the result was a linebacker unit that was largely ineffective, unathletic and not to the standards of a Bo Pelini defense.
After recruiting and scheming a defense built for the spread offenses in the Big 12, Bo Pelini found his team ill-equipped at linebacker when the Huskers joined the Big Ten conference. Pelini quickly went to work on the recruiting trail. Nebraska's first two recruiting cycles as members of the Big Ten have resulted in home-run linebacker classes. Despite the dismissal of talented redshirt freshman Thomas Brown, who was expected to contend for a starting job this fall, Nebraska retains plenty of talent at the linebacker position.
Although lacking experience, these linebackers are boiling over with athleticism and potential. Even after losing junior Trevor Roach for the season with a foot injury, the remaining linebackers who are expected to makeup the Husker depth chart represent the most potential of any group Pelini has had at Nebraska. The expected starter at middle linebacker is sophomore David Santos. Santos (6-0, 225) appeared in 13 games with one start last season playing the weakside position. Coaches moved him to the middle during preparations for the Capital One Bowl and continued practicing him there through spring. Santos, who Rivals rated a four-star recruit in 2011, is a very active player who plays with intensity and a high motor. An excellent athlete, Santos uses his agility and fluid hips to operate well in space. A solid tackler with good instincts and a nose for the ball, Santos is very solid in pass coverage as well.
The man who will likely backup Santos in the middle is redshirt freshman Michael Rose (5-11, 230). Rose, considered a four-star recruit by both 247sports and ESPN Scouts Inc., is capable of playing multiple linebacker spots. While practicing a lot at the weakside spot this spring, Rose has the build and mentality of a traditional middle linebacker. A natural leader, Rose plays with a downhill mentality and shows good key and diagnosis skills against both the run and pass. Possessing underrated athleticism and playing speed, Rose shows the ability to change direction and be a factor in pass coverage. Rose has the strength necessary to take on and defeat blockers at the point of attack when defending the run. Intense with a high motor, expect the former Under Armour All-American to make a splash on special teams this season while also seeing time on defense.
Regarded as the top junior-college linebacker prospect last season, junior Zaire Anderson (5-11, 220) is expected to start at the weakside position for Nebraska. Anderson showed tremendous promise in the three games he played last season before it was revealed he was playing on a previously torn ACL. Anderson received a medical redshirt and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, Anderson had a chance to better learn the defense during his rehab. The right knee showed no signs of being a problem as Anderson had an outstanding spring. A prototypical sideline-to-sideline player, Anderson looks poised to have a strong season.
The early favorite for the strongside position is redshirt freshman Jared Afalava (6-3, 230). Both 247sports and ESPN Scouts Inc. rated the Utah standout a four-star prospect in 2012. Physically capable of playing all three linebacker spots, Afalava split first-team reps with the now departed Thomas Brown during spring practices. While Brown began the spring working with the No. 1 unit, by most accounts Afalava began to outperform him by the end of spring. A gifted athlete who gained 15 pounds during his redshirt year, Afalava is a punishing tackler who fills gaps quickly. In high school, Afalava had a knack for creating havoc and making game changing plays. An excellent downhill player, Afalava moves through traffic and shows good sideline-to-sideline ability. Like Rose, Afalava looks to be a good special teams player as well.
Nebraska followed up a tremendous 2012 linebacker haul with arguably a better one in 2013. Army All-American Josh Banderas (6-2, 220), who was a consensus four-star recruit, is capable of playing all three linebacker positions. Possessing outstanding speed and range, Banderas is a punishing, aggressive tackler with good key and diagnosis skills. Banderas shows the playing strength needed to take on and defeat blockers at the point of attack while also being quick and agile enough to avoid blockers and slice through open gaps. Banderas has a nose for the football and plays with very good instincts for the position. A legit candidate to start as a true freshman.
Fellow 2013 recruit Courtney Love (6-1, 230) enrolled in January after graduating early and was able to participate in spring practice, spending most of his time at the weakside position. Love, rated a four-star recruit by both ESPN Scouts Inc. and 247sports, is versatile enough to play any of the linebacker positions and could see time at several spots. Love is a good open-field tackler, showing great balance and agility. Adept at shedding blockers, Love moves through traffic well and has outstanding sideline-to-sideline range. A high-intensity player with good instincts, Love will play to the whistle. An Ohio native, Love chose Nebraska over Ohio State, USC, Florida State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
The third member of the 2013 linebacker collection is Maryland star Marcus Newby (6-1, 210). Newby, who was selected to play in the Semper Fi All-American Bowl, will be a late arrival to campus and is likely looking at a redshirt year because of it. Newby, rated a four-star prospect by 247sports, Rivals and ESPN Scouts Inc., is arguably the best of the bunch. A tough, explosive tackler with impressive playing speed and strength, Newby is equally productive defending both the run and pass and makes plays all over the field. Newby possesses very good initial quickness and an impressive closing burst to the football. With impressive range and makeup speed, Newby uses outstanding instincts to make game-changing, momentum-swinging plays. Newby has tremendous coverage skills for a linebacker and will likely find a home in the Huskers nickel package once he gets acclimated to the defense.
Possible 2013 Depth Chart:
Will: Zaire Anderson (Jr.), Courtney Love (Fr.)
Mike: David Santos (So.), Michael Rose (RFr.)
Buck: Jared Afalava (RFr.), Josh Banderas (Fr.)
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all football website N2FL.com. He served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on recruitment and talent analysis, including the NFL Draft. You can email him at N2FL@hotmail.com.