Crick keys the 2010 Blackshirts

Defensive tackle Jared Crick had an impressive junior season (73 tackles, 9.5 sacks), and as the Huskers’ leading returning tackler this spring, he’ll be out to prove he can do it again without Ndamukong Suh drawing double and triple teams. Junior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler, who came to Nebraska as ESPNU’s No. 10 offensive tackle, will likely draw the giant task of replacing the Heisman finalist.

At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, Crick is hardly an underdog up front, and received plenty of attention for his efforts last season, even with Suh tossing around ball carriers and collecting trophies. This season could be a tougher task for Crick, who entered 2009 with just three career tackles.

Even without safety Larry Asante, linebacker Phillip Dillard and Suh, Nebraska coaches say the Blackshirts could be just as dominant as they were in 2009. But if the Huskers want to bank on a return to the Big 12 title game, the offense must improve.

If Crick and the rest of the defense can keep giving the offense short fields to work with like they did all last season, they could help accelerate that improvement.