- Associated Press - Thursday, September 2, 2010

LINCOLN, NEB. (AP) - Nebraska’s Jared Crick put up big numbers last season because opposing offenses were so preoccupied with trying to contain Ndamukong Suh.

The popular argument is that Crick can validate his 9 1/2-sack season only by doing it again this year without Suh at his side.

Coach Bo Pelini disagrees, saying game films show that opponents schemed against Crick as much as they did against Suh.

“I don’t think he has anything to prove,” Pelini said. “The only thing he has to prove is that he can get better. You can also say the argument that Suh benefited from having Crick next to him. It’s a two-way street.”

Suh, a high-profile rookie with the Detroit Lions, and Crick teamed up to make the Huskers hard to handle in the middle last season.

With Crick as the anchor and more seasoned players available, Pelini predicts the defense can be even better than the 2009 group that allowed a nation-best 10.4 points a game and ranked among the top 10 in stopping the run and total defense.

An All-Big 12 first-team pick a year ago, Crick comes into his junior season as a preseason All-American and conference co-defensive player of the year.

“If at the end of the season I have the same credibility or same hype as at the beginning,” he said, “then I did my job.”

The Crick hype is fueled by eye-popping statistics for an interior lineman, including: 73 tackles, 15 for loss, 16 quarterback hurries. And don’t forget the 9 1/2 sacks.

A school-record five came against Baylor, the top single-game sack total in the nation last year.

Pelini said he doesn’t want Crick to feel pressure to produce similar numbers.

“It’s about playing well within the scheme,” Pelini said. “Sometimes you’re going to get stats, tackles for losses. Sometimes that’s not going to happen but you can play a really good football game.

“If he keeps it in perspective, plays within the scheme and does the things he’s been taught to do and improve on what he did last year, he’s going to have a great year. How that measures up to expectations outside, that’s not something he needs to concern himself with.”

Even with Suh gone, Crick should get more help this year. Baker Steinkuhler is the front-runner to start alongside Crick, with Terrence Moore and Thaddeus Randle joining them in a rotation.

The Huskers also like their depth on the ends. Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith are backed up by Josh Williams and Jason Ankrah.

“We’re going to be fresher and healthier, and they’re all going to contribute,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “You may not see one guy with those kinds of stats, but I expect our defensive line as a whole to not have any drop-off.”

Crick flourished early last season while offenses double- and triple-teamed Suh.

“That just gave me the freedom to rush one-on-one with the blocker,” Crick said, “and every time I won, I either made a play or helped the defense out in some way.”

The stats bear that out. In the first eight games, Crick had 8 1/2 of his sacks, 49 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. In the final six games, when he drew more attention, he was credited with half a sack two times, 24 tackles and two tackles for loss.

Crick said he has improved his strength since last season, which should enhance his game.

“Last year I used my speed to my advantage more than anything else,” he said. “This year I feel stronger. I’m still going to use my speed, but being stronger is going to intensify my game and help me out in other ways.”

Whether Crick clogs the middle and funnels traffic to the outside, or whether he piles up another stellar number of sacks and tackles, the 6-foot-6, 286-pounder from rural Cozad won’t disappoint, Allen said.

“He dominated a lot of guys one-on-one and in double teams, and you can credit some of it to Suh because Suh is who he is and they had to triple-team him sometimes,” Allen said. “I don’t think Suh being gone is going to make Crick fall off at all. If anything, I think he’ll have a better year than he did last year.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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