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August 2, 2011

Fall camp preview: Defensive end

There's a lot for Nebraska to be excited about at defensive end this season, but there are also some big questions left to answer before the opener kicks off on Sept. 3. The Huskers return some top talent on the edges, but will all that talent translate into success on game day?

Here's an early look how things might shake out at the defensive end position when the Huskers open up fall camp on Saturday.

Biggest question: Who will start opposite Meredith?
The Huskers are set at the left defensive spot with junior Cameron Meredith, who earned second-team All-Big 12 Conference honors after racking up 64 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries as a sophomore. The big question now is who will get the starting job on the right side? The three leading candidates for the job right now look to be junior Josh Williams, sophomore Jason Ankrah and junior Eric Martin, who just moved to end from linebacker this spring. Ankrah and Williams both saw solid playing time last season behind Meredith and Pierre Allen, respectively. Martin is really the wild card at the position. He had a great spring and could be a beast off he edge once he fully acclimates to the position.
What we know right now: Plenty will play
Because of all the competition Nebraska has going on at defensive end, it's given the Huskers the luxury of having some good depth at the position. Over the past couple years, head coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini have made it a point to rotate their ends often to help keep fresh bodies in the game. This year should be no different, and the Huskers look to have more than enough weapons for a fairly deep rotation. Along with Meredith, Williams, Ankrah and Martin, guys like junior Kevin Thomsen, who played in last year's win over Missouri, and redshirt freshmen Donovan Vestal, Tobi Okuyemi and Walker Ashburn could all work their way into the mix. Ashburn could be the sleeper of the bunch, as he played his way into the top four of the rotation by the end of spring ball.
Fresh fall camp faces: Joseph Carter
As long as he can pick up the defense quickly enough, there's a chance that junior All-American transfer Joseph Carter could jump everyone and land the starting spot opposite Meredith when all is said and done. At 6-5, 250, Carter comes in physically ready to make an immediate impact for the Huskers this season. Then you add his speed off the snap and his natural instincts in both in pursuit and getting to the quarterback, and Carter looks primed to seriously contend for playing time from Day 1. Carter was ranked the No. 29 overall junior college player by Rivals.com and was widely regarded as one of the best juco pass rushers in the country.
Early camp prediction
Once again, I expect a number of guys to see the field at defensive end this season. While Carter should end up near the top of the rotation at some point, look for Nebraska to use a lot of situational personnel at both end spot. Meredith, Ankrah and Williams could handle the bulk of the early downs with guys like Martin, Carter and Ashburn coming in on third-and-long passing situations. However, if Martin (who's bulked up to 260 pounds) keeps progressing like he has since making the move to end and Carter shows up as good as advertised, they cold eventually emerge from the pack.

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