For Nebraska to solidify the interior of its defensive line and contain the best running backs the Huskers will face this season, sophomore Mick Stoltenberg will have to play a big part – both figuratively and literally. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury during Nebraska’s bowl preparations last season which caused him to miss spring practice. The good news is that he’s back and better than ever.
The 6-5 290-pound Gretna, Nebraska, native has all the makings of a proper lineman. New defensive line coach John Parrella can mold him into a potential starter. With the first few practices of fall camp under his belt, he’s feeling pretty good about his prospects.
“Obviously, just shaking a little bit of rust off,” Stoltenberg told reporters how he felt following the Huskers’ practice on August 6.
That day marked the first back-and-forth between the offensive and the defensive lines, his first chance to get back in the groove since last December:
“As far as that goes, I feel like next week will be when I really get back into it. When we really start getting into more engagement periods with the offensive line, but right now my knee feels great and my body feels pretty good, too.”
Nebraska lost four defensive tackles with remaining eligibility. Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine both took their talents to the NFL, being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, respectively. Graduate transfer Kevin Williams is now a member of the Michigan State Spartans, and Greg McMullen, a player Nebraska was depending on this season, decided to hang up his cleats and work with youth.
The Huskers will face four running backs that topped 1,000 yards rushing last year: Brian Hill (Wyoming), Royce Freeman (Oregon), Justin Jackson (Northwestern) and Devine Redding (Indiana). Freeman set the Ducks’ single-season record for rushing yards in 2015, and the Wisconsin Badgers will regain the services of Corey Clement, a dangerous weapon when healthy.
Nebraska has linebackers that can help the front four. However, it’s clear that if the Huskers are going to force the opposition to become one-dimensional – or at least nudge it into having to take the occasional chance – players such as Stoltenberg must find a nasty streak… and quickly.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do, especially after missing the spring, so I know nothing’s just out there to take. I’ve got to go get it. Obviously, I’ve got to work really hard and work with the guys in the (film) room, but we’ve got a good mindset going into the fall,” the tackle said.
When asked about Parrella’s message for him, Stoltenberg said he’ll be looked to quite a bit, either in a starting role or to play significant minutes. That said, the sophomore isn’t walking into practice every day with the mindset that he’s No. 1 on the depth chart.
Don’t be surprised if that’s where he eventually ends up, though. While he’s only in his second full year of official competition, he can make a big impact if he and his cohorts can shut down some of the fleet-footed runners mentioned above.