LINCOLN — As other seniors around college football turn their attention to all-star games and pro days and possibly even the NFL Combine, Nebraska defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler is left to go a different route.
It's a detour, however, that shouldn't knock Steinkuhler too far off course, says NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
Steinkuhler will spend the next few months rehabbing the right knee that he injured Nov. 23 at Iowa. It not only forced the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder to miss the Huskers' two postseason games but likely will have at least some effect on his NFL draft status.
“The thing about Baker is he was a three-year starter for us,” Papuchis said Tuesday. “His film and what he's been able to do over the last couple of years speaks for itself. I don't know if he needs to play in an all-star game for exposure.
“I think that scouts know all about him, and that's a pretty good résumé that he's put together.”
Steinkuhler will be in Omaha on Thursday night as one of three Husker seniors to be honored at the Outland Trophy banquet. The Lincoln Southwest graduate will receive the Cletus Fischer Native Son Award, joining I-back Rex Burkhead (Guy Chamberlin Trophy) and linebacker Sean Fisher (Tom Novak Trophy) at the Downtown DoubleTree.
Taking part in the Outland banquet will have added meaning for Steinkuhler. His father, former Nebraska lineman Dean Steinkuhler, was the 1983 Outland winner and was brought back for the 2002 banquet in Omaha to receive his trophy.
Dean went on to be the No. 2 overall pick in the 1984 NFL draft and played eight seasons with the Houston Oilers. The future isn't quite so clear with Baker, who was a Parade All-American coming out of high school.
“He's going to have some work ahead of him, but one thing about Baker is that he's tough and determined and as strong-willed of a guy as I know,” Papuchis said. “If a guy's going to come back, Baker would be the kind of guy.”
Scott Wright of NFL Draft Countdown has Steinkuhler ranked as the No. 14 defensive tackle. NFLDraftScout.com had Steinkuhler as the No. 9 defensive tackle immediately after the 2012 season, but now just at No. 30.
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Steinkuhler made 47 tackles this season (6˝ for losses) and finished with 150 tackles and eight sacks in 51 career games (38 starts). He was named second-team All-Big Ten as a senior by league coaches.
He appeared to be playing at his highest level during the Huskers' six-game winning streak, making six tackles apiece against Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State.
“I thought he played really well the second half of the year,” Papuchis said. “He kind of started to get momentum in terms of interest from scouts, and I hope the injury doesn't change any of that.”
Papuchis said Steinkuhler is “long and tall” and moves well, but still with a big body. He could see Steinkuhler being able to handle either an inside role in a 4-3 scheme or play defensive end in a 3-4.
Or, with his versatility, he could even go over to the other side of the ball.
“He was a great defensive lineman for us, but I think he could have been a really good offensive lineman as well,” Papuchis said. “I don't know how NFL guys might look at it, but they'd see a guy who's hard working and has a great frame, and that might not be a bad transition.”
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