The number 98 seems ideal for a great defensive lineman. The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ Vincent Valentine may have found the perfect jersey to compliment his uniform.
Just watching Valentine’s high school film, it was clear that the he was one of the beasts Bo Pelini wants in his defensive interior. A player that frustrates his opponent to the point of anger and personal fouls.
The next great Blackshirt? Let’s not go that far, but as I often say about several recruits, he has a toolbox full of potential. Much like tools, whether that potential is properly used makes or breaks a player.
The difference between Valentine and other recruits is that he doesn’t have a standard toolbox. He has one of those big $1,500 lithium-ion cordless 12-piece combo kits.
His development over the course of the 2013 season should give Husker fans more than hope for the defensive interior. With the likes of Maliek Collins, Aaron Curry, Kevin Williams and the like able to shuffle in next to him, 2014 looks far more promising, at least on paper.
It’s not just the interior cogs that gives the Nebraska Cornhuskers the opportunity to present one of the better defensive tackle depth charts during Pelini’s tenure. “I think we can be a dominant defensive line,” Valentine told the Lincoln Journal Star.
“Look at us,” Valentine says. “We’re big. We’re physical. We have Randy (Gregory), the All-American pass-rusher. I come in and stop the middle. Maliek can do both (rush the passer and plug the middle). Greg is real big and physical. Those are all the tools we need. We just have to get that chemistry going, and we have to play hard.”
There’s that word again. Even No. 98 knows that the tools are already there. “I had a good end of the year,” he continued. “But the middle of the season, it was a roller coaster. I feel I could’ve done a few things differently. Worked a little harder. Got in the playbook more.”
That’s as accurate of an assessment you’ll get of his freshman experience at Nebraska. Valentine isn’t set up to have a sophomore slump, though. He and his compatriots are looking for more of a second-year slaughter.
When Nebraska was dominating defensively under Charlie McBride, players held each other accountable. Maybe, just maybe there’s a part of that psyche in the 2014 Big Red defensive line. There needs to be. If there isn’t, offensive coordinators will continue to find ways to exploit the middle, get defensive ends out of place and pick up four yards per snap on the ground.
However, true leadership is born when players like Valentine and Randy Gregory step up, put the tools in their teammates’ hands regardless of class and force them to be used. Not on the practice field in plain sight, but behind the scenes.
Nuts and bolts are being lined up and worked with as we speak. Leading the charge is a man who’s a boy in age and total life experience only. His task is leadership and that doesn’t seem to phase him. Not far into the 2014 season, he may very well be the measuring stick for the Huskers’ defensive effort.
Nebraska Cornhuskers fans loved what Gregory did last year. The rest of the Big Ten hated it.
Wait until they all get a load of Big Vince: Year Two.
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