As Nebraska has readied freshman defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice to play this season, assistant coach Rick Kaczenski says they have gotten the full-blown crash course since the start of fall camp.
In that way, it’s been a little bit different than how NU prepared defensive tackle Aaron Curry and defensive end Avery Moss last August.
Kaczenski said Collins and Maurice are “probably a little bit ahead, just because they’ve been thrown into the fire a lot quicker.” That has had to do with the Huskers’ situation at tackle, where the top returnees are a senior who has been nagged by knee trouble (Thad Randle), a senior who is a former walk-on and former offensive lineman (Brodrick Nickens), a sophomore (Curry) and a redshirt freshman (Vincent Valentine).
After proving they could handle the load, Collins and Maurice are both expected to play this season as Nebraska kicks off Saturday night against Wyoming.
“We kind of decided these guys are going to play with us, and we’ve got to go full steam ahead,” Kaczenski said.
“These guys, they’ve put the time in, they’ve learned it, they’ve earned our trust during fall camp. We knew they were physically mature, it was going to be a battle of how they handled things mentally. And they’ve really done a good job.”
Both Curry and Moss played as true freshmen last season, albeit in limited action. But NU also had Baker Steinkuhler, Chase Rome and Kevin Williams available at tackle, as well as Cameron Meredith, Eric Martin and Joe Carter at defensive end.
“Last year, I don’t know necessarily if we were counting on Aaron and Avery, they just continued to show up,” Kaczenski said. “There probably wasn’t as much pressure on Aaron and Avery to play for us, where there is pressure for these guys. Last year we felt pretty good about our defensive tackles and defensive ends until the start of the season.”
Collins is a 6-foot-2, 285-pounder from Kansas City, Mo. Maurice is a 6-3, 270-pounder from Orlando.
Curry said both have handled the situation well as the Huskers have hurried to get them ready.
“They’re good players,” Curry said. “They’ve thrown a lot of scenarios at them since day one because they want them to be ready. For us, it wasn’t always that, because you had older guys, a lot of seniors, that had played a lot.”