LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Playing mostly on raw ability, Randy Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks and was named all-conference in his first season at Nebraska.
Imagine what he could accomplish now that he actually knows what he's doing.
"Randy Gregory hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's going to become, what he's going to be," coach Bo Pelini said after Wednesday's practice. "He's a lot better football player these first three days than he was a year ago."
Gregory starred at Arizona Western Community College in 2011 and didn't play in 2012 because of a broken leg. He showed up in Lincoln not long before the start of preseason practice last year, and by the end of the season he was so impressive that there was speculation he would declare for the NFL draft.
He said it was an easy decision to come back. His knack for fighting off blockers and his remarkable closing speed allowed him to make 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. But he needs polish, and more size, to be an effective run stopper.
NFL scouts like his potential, and he's widely considered the top defensive end prospect for the 2015 draft.
"I love Nebraska. I expect big things from the team and individually," Gregory said Wednesday. "It's going to be real tough for me to decide what I want to do at the end of the season."
Gregory said he already has set season goals for himself, but he declined to disclose them. Linebacker Michael Rose, however, has numbers for Gregory to shoot for.
"I'd say 15, 17 sacks maybe," Rose said. "He can get up there."
If Gregory gets 15 sacks, he'll tie the school record and match 2013's nation-leading number by Stanford's Trent Murphy.
Gregory's priority this spring and summer is to add size to his 6-foot-6 frame. He's generously listed at 245 pounds on the spring roster. He was on a 5,000-calorie diet last summer, but his weight dipped as low as 230 during the season. He doesn't look much more than that now.
"It never ends with me, gaining weight," he said. "That's been the toughest thing for me in the offseason, working on my body and getting it to where I want it."
He knows it will be a challenge for him to reach his target of 250 by August.
"I'm a picky eater," he said. "I don't like pasta. Just strictly chicken, steak, pizza, the basic stuff. It's tough for me to find stuff I like. I like to eat. I just get full real quick."
Gregory's 9.5 sacks came in the last 10 games. He jokingly called himself the "Sackless Wonder" after he failed to get to the quarterback the first three games.
"I think I did a pretty good job as far as finishing out conference play," Gregory said. "I was a little bit disappointed how I did in non-conference. I think part of that was because I just got here and was just getting used to the technique."
He had two sacks against Purdue, including one for a safety, and three of Nebraska's seven sacks against Michigan. He had at least one sack in six of the last seven games.
"He didn't even know what he didn't know last year," Pelini said, "and you see what he was able to do."
Nebraska will have a new starter at left defensive end, and opponents this fall will put an emphasis on keeping Gregory out of the backfield. He's been getting tested this spring by new offensive tackle Alex Lewis, who started 12 games for Colorado in 2012, and he's been facing double-teams regularly.
"He's going to see that until we can get another established pass-rusher on the other side," Rose said. "He understands what he's going to get."
As Gregory has become more comfortable in Pelini's 4-3 system, his leadership has begun to emerge. Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine said he could tell Gregory would be a "monster" when he showed up on campus in July. Gregory's statistics proved Valentine right and gave him credibility.
"He's the guy everybody is basically looking up to on the D-line," Valentine said.