It seemed that many of the reporters at this week's Big 12 Media Days had a hard time buying into the notion that Nebraska's defense, which ended as one of the best in the country last season, could possibly be even better this year.
Especially with the loss of players like all-everything defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, linebacker Phillip Dillard and safety Larry Asante to the NFL, how the Huskers could actually boast an even stingier defensive unit this season was a question Pelini and his players tried to answer the best they could.
"You'd like to say you've just got to work harder, but we worked pretty hard last year," junior defensive tackle Jared Crick said. "How you improve, you've just got to do the same thing you do every day and maybe execute a little better. That's easier said than done, but that's what we practice every single day."
Talent wise, one could argue that aside from Suh, the Huskers are stronger across the board than they were a year ago, and all the youth that saw playing time last season is now more experienced and battle tested.
Altogether, the Blackshirts return seven starters and nine players who made at least five starts from a unit that led the nation in scoring defense and gave up less than 100 rushing yards per game in 2009.
It also allowed just 44 points in five games against ranked opponents.
However, replacing the leadership lost from last season may prove more difficult task. Two guys that have made it a point to fill those roles have been Crick and senior defensive end Pierre Allen, who both said they realized the need to step up and provide vocal leadership and lead by example.
In fact, Allen says he felt like he was one of the team leaders last year, and that role will only carry over and continue to grow this season.
"They were obviously the senior leaders, but I saw myself as being a starter and as a leader (last year) too," Allen said. "I knew I had to step into that role, so I've made sure to be there as a vocal leader and show the younger guys how to do it on the field."
Not only do the latest version of the Blackshirts seemingly have the talent and the leadership to equal or surpass last season's success, they have something more important than anything - a true belief in head coach Bo Pelini's defensive scheme and all that goes along with it.
"Everyone has bought into the scheme more than anything," Allen said. "The scheme is great. It doesn't allow for great individual statistics, but team statistics is all we're worried about.
"We bought into that and know that if all 11 players do their jobs, we're destined for great things."
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