Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Huskers Football: Blackshirts' Front Seven Feeds Ache for '14

Hope springs eternal, fans of Huskers football. Players and coaches are looking forward to the 2014 season, too. The biggest reason to be optimistic, you may ask?

The defensive front seven.

Let’s start with the defensive ends. Leading the charge for the Blackshirt defense is 6’6” defensive end Randy Gregory. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

The first-team All-Big Ten player and 2013 Nebraska Defensive MVP returns to anchor a line that’s had its share of struggles, mostly due to youth.

Some (extremely) early 2015 mock drafts have tabbed Gregory as a potential top NFL draft pick. Nearly all have him squarely inside the top 10.

With a talent like that on one side of the front four, it takes major stress off of the other. Sophomore Greg McMullen will step in as a starter and brings plenty of talent to help.

McMullen played a good chunk of last season, so while only a sophomore, he does bring invaluable game experience. He will be key to success up front as much Gregory, but keep an eye out.

He’ll likely be coming free more often than you may think because of the eyes looking at No. 44.

Behind the two likely starters are guys like Jack Gangwish, Joe Keels and A.J. Natter who are talented, but unproven. Key word though: talented.

The interior line looks extremely promising. Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine are large and in charge at the tackle spots as their stock only continues to rise.

Both sophomores, Valentine started nearly half of the games his freshman season while Collins was able to earn his way into the starting lineup of the Gator Bowl.

If you watched closely in 2013, you saw both of the young men show flashes of absolute brilliance at the tackle spots.

They both have the physical capabilities to be terrors in the Big Ten and will put on more consistent performances in 2014 as they continue to mature in Bo Pelini’s system.

Playing behind Collins and Valentine are Aaron Curry and Kevin Williams, both of whom have plenty of experience to spell the starting tackle pair.

It’ll be exciting to see how the coaching staff mixes and matches their talents.

The four men with their hands in the dirt aren’t the only reason to be psyched.

Just recently, Big Ten Network’s Tom Dienhart named the Husker linebacking corps as the conference’s top unit.

That’s high praise considering the returning talent around the league and Nebraska’s issues with missed assignments in seasons past.

For my money, the guy who will lead the Blackshirt linebackers is senior Zaire Anderson. He’s uniquely physically gifted and I believe will be picked fairly early in the NFL draft next year.

He brings leadership and consistency to go along with immense talent.

Joining Anderson as a likely starter and another bright spot is Michael Rose. Rose came on strong as a freshman and was named a Big Ten All-Freshman player by BTN.

He also notched a Nebraska football freshman record of 66 tackles. It’s hard not to be impressed with a player like that coming into only his second year in the program.

This group took some lumps in recent years but now looks primed to excel. Athletic ability and speed abound. – Tom Dienhart,

David Santos, a junior who will likely shift to a more permanent role as an outside linebacker, is seasoned, talented and knows the scheme as well as anyone.

Add guys like Josh Banderas and Trevor Roach to the mix as reserves and you have a fine group of veteran players.

I’m looking forward to seeing two guys who haven’t played a down yet most.

Redshirt freshmen Courtney Love and Marcus Newby will step on the field for the first time this fall with plenty of hype. The word around campus is Love passes the eyeball test.

At 6’1” and 245 pounds, you’d be hard pressed to argue. Look for both to get situational snaps this season and gain valuable experience going forward.

There’s even talk of bringing Newby in pass rush situations with Gregory.

Coach Pelini is working with the most talent in his defensive front seven since perhaps 2010.

The 2014 squad causes plenty of room for optimism and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing 11 men in black throwing the bones over their latest victims this fall.

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Tags: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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