Blue Hen DT Nichols eyes 3-4 challenge in senior year

Bilal Nichols

NEWARK — Time has a way of sneaking up on a guy.

Bilal Nichols can’t believe he’s already heading into his senior football season at Delaware.

“Oh man, it’s unbelievable,” the big defensive tackle said with a laugh. “I still remember the first day of my freshman year. It’s crazy.

“I’m just making sure I kind of take in everything this last year — just appreciate everything that’s going on. These are the days where you’re the most tired and you don’t really feel like doing anything. I just kind of embrace it because there’s going to come a time when I’m going to miss that feeling.”

Besides, there are still plenty of things Nichols wants to accomplish before his career is over.

Mostly, though, he just wants to get the Blue Hens winning again.

Clearly, the 6-foot-4, 290-pounder will have a lot to say about Delaware’s success on defense as the Hens switch to a 3-4 alignment under first-year coach Danny Rocco.

Nichols is the starting nose tackle in that scheme. Now, instead of just worrying about plugging the gap in front of him, the former Hodgson standout has to take the gaps on either side of the center.

“It’s a lot different because you’ve got two gaps,” said Nichols. “Now you’ve got to really anchor the middle. You’ve got to make sure no cutbacks happen. You’ve got to stay square.

“It’s definitely challenging but it’s more fun for me also. I’m enjoying it.”

Rocco thinks Nichols is up for that challenge.

Clearly, the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Bilal Nichols will have a lot to say about Delaware’s success on defense as the Hens switch to a 3-4 alignment under first-year coach Danny Rocco. (UD sports information/Mark Campbell)

An all-Colonial Athletic Association preseason pick, Nichols has played in 33 career games. And he’s on the radar of NFL scouts — there was a Kansas City Chiefs’ representative at Delaware’s scrimmage on Saturday.

“All in all, I think our ‘D’ line has a chance to be really good,” said Rocco. “Bilal probably has the most upside in there — a combination of size, athleticism, power.

“It’s a demanding technique to play, being a two-gap player. (But) it’s very difficult for offensive linemen to get accustomed to blocking a two-gapper. Usually if you are trained to two gaps, you are being trained at a higher level and for a much longer period of time than the guy who’s being trained to block you.”

In other words, with few teams using the 3-4, opposing offenses will only have a week to prepare for Delaware.

The Hens have plenty of experience up front. Going into camp, senior Blaine Woodson and junior Cam Kitchen are slated to start on either side of Nichols with seniors Grant Roberts and John Nassib along with freshman Salvatore Mauro also in the mix.

A year ago, Delaware was 35th nationally in FCS Division I after surrendering 349.7 yards per game. Nichols thinks the Hens are capable of being even better this season.

It’s just a matter of learning the new defense, led by first-year defensive coordinator Chris Cosh.

“We’re not exactly where we want to be but we’re sure as heck not where we were,” said Nichols. “We’re getting better and better at it, day by day.

“We think highly of ourselves this year. We’ve got high expectations. Every player, every coach, we have high standards for ourselves. We feel like there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the most dominant defense in the country. That’s how we approach every day in practice. That’s just how we feel.”

The prospect of playing professionally still seems pretty far off for Nichols. He doesn’t want to lose focus on what he’s doing right now by looking too far ahead.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Nichols said about NFL scouts watching him. “I just come out here and try to go to work every day — try to get better.

“It’s definitely an honor. I definitely appreciate them coming out and looking at me and giving me an opportunity. But I just want to get care of business first with my team. Whether they’re here or not, I want to get better for my team. I feel like I owe it to them.”

Extra points

The Hens are slated to scrimmage in Delaware Stadium again on Saturday from approximately 8:45 a.m.-11 a.m. … Junior linebacker Troy Reeder sat out last Saturday’s scrimmage because of illness. … Junior running back Kareem Williams has been sitting out practice after injuring a finger on his left hand on Saturday. … Potential starting guard Steve Robinson was on crutches on Saturday.

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