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Nebraska 2016 Spring Football: Defensive Backs

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Houston, Lincoln, wherever - we had a serious problem here in 2015. Can it be fixed? Hope springs eternal during spring football, but a second straight season of being torched through the air will cause our alcohol budget to careen so far into the red that even Cobby will applaud.

David McGee

The Nebraska defensive secondary.

(thinking)

A diplomatic way of describing the 2015 Husker secondary would be to say that they often struggled to contain opposition passing games. The opinion more often floated around taverns and tailgates, while varying in vocabulary and volume, was that their pass defense was a shit show.

Blame was placed and excuses were made, but at the end of the day just about everyone but Iowa (who refused to) and Rutgers (who were physically incapable of doing so) lit the Huskers up at will. No one saw this coming since NU returned its DB nucleus from 2014 that was 25th nationally in Passing YPG given up and 3rd in Pass Efficiency Defense.

Cue Mark Banker whose 2015 results called upon the ghosts of Cosgrove and Papuchis and proved to be a continuance of mediocre defensive numbers he culled the last several years in Corvallis, three as their DC.  Add secondary coach Brian Stewart, for whom the Nebraska DB coach job was his latest fall down the coaching ladder from Defensive Coordinator jobs for the Cowboys (2007-8), the Eagles (Spec Asst. 2009), U. of Houston (2010-11), and U. of Maryland (2012-14), the last job ending with the not so subtle "mutual decision" to move on. He supposedly was in the running for the Texas-San Antonio job in the off-season, but to his disappointment and undoubtedly some Husker fans as well, he was passed over.

With that kind of pedigree running the show, the Huskers sank to 78th in Pass Efficiency D and 121st (out of 127 teams total) in Total Passing YPG surrendered. The Huskers were strong against the run, but they faced the 2nd fewest rushing attempts of any defense in the country which lets one know what opposing teams thought of their pass defense. Ouch.

Some pointed at poor offensive play for leaving the defense on the field too long at times, and anyone who watched the Illinois or Purdue games could profanely concur that play calling and scheme were sometimes head-scratchingly odd. But season's end found NU 34th in Total Offense and 43rd in scoring, so too much blame can't be heaped there.

Others went with the popular narrative that poor ol' NU was devoid of talent, but Gerry, Davie, Kalu, Cooper, etc. seemed physically able enough in 2014. Rather than everyone suddenly shrinking and slowing down, they often appeared clueless in coverage with Davie looking especially lost after previously establishing himself as the top cover corner.

But enough with the bad - there were some rays of hope as well. The secondary gave up yards to Connor Cook and Josh Rosen, but did start getting stops when they needed them in those games and the coverage seemed to improve as the LB corps got back to full health. If the defensive line can ably fill the Krispy Kreme-sized donut hole in the middle and the pass defense can rise from godawful to mediocre, the offense should be strong enough to improve on last season's record by 3-4 wins.

Gallery Photo: Nebraska Football vs Miami Hurricanes: Photo Gallery

Gone:

CB Trai Mosley transferring to Central Arkansas

S Byerson Cockrell, CB Daniel Davie, DB Anthony Ridder, CB Jonathan Rose: Graduation

Returning:

No Player Position Height Weight Year Hometown
10 Joshua Kalu CB 6-1 190 Jr. Houston, Texas (Alief Taylor)
4 Avery Anderson DB 6-0 185 RFr. Surprise, Ariz. (Pine Creek (Colorado Springs))
41 Charles Davis DB 5-10 170 Fr. Ashburn, Va. (Fork Union Military Academy)
38 Noah Gabel DB 6-0 185 Jr. Colorado Springs, Colo. (Vista Ridge)
29 Nolan Graham DB 5-11 200 So. Firth, Neb. (Norris)
21 Charles Jackson DB 5-11 180 Sr. Spring, Texas (Klein Collins)
8 Chris Jones DB 6-0 185 Jr. Jacksonville, Fla. (Sandalwood)
11 Boaz Joseph DB 6-1 190 Jr. Weston, Fla. (Cypress Bay)
36 Reid Karel DB 6-3 205 RFr. Seward, Neb. (Seward)
42 Creighton Koley DB 6-0 190 So. Omaha, Neb. (Skutt Catholic)
6 Eric Lee Jr. DB 6-0 190 RFr. Milton, Mass. (Valor Christian (Colorado))
16 Antonio Reed DB 6-2 220 So. Memphis, Tenn. (Southaven (Miss.))
35 Jeremiah Stovall DB 5-11 175 RFr. Omaha, Neb. (Creighton Prep)
33 Tanner Zlab DB 5-10 195 Sr. Wilber, Neb. (Doane) (Wilber-Clatonia)
25 Nate Gerry S 6-2 210 Sr. Sioux Falls, S.D. (Washington)
24 Aaron Williams S 5-11 185 So. Atlanta, Ga. (Carver)
27 Kieron Williams S 6-1 195 Jr. Shreveport, La. (Air Force Prep) (C.E. Byrd)

Newcomers:

Player Position Height Weight Year Hometown
Dicaprio Bootle DB 5-10 180 Fr. Miami, Fla. (Southridge)
Tony Butler DB 6-2 195 Fr. Lakewood, Ohio (St. Edward)
Marquel Dismuke DB 6-2 180 Fr. Calabasas, Calif. (Calabasas)
JoJo Domann DB 6-1 205 Fr. Colorado Springs, Colo. (Pine Creek)
Lamar Jackson DB 6-3 195 Fr. Elk Grove, Calif. (Franklin)
Eli Sullivan DB 6-2 190 Fr. Longmont, Colo. (Longmont)

Looking Ahead To 2016:

The 2016 defensive backfield will be a story of IF's.

-          IF the secondary can maintain the increased confidence with which they finished 2015

-          IF Nate Gerry regains the form which seemed to have him on track to be All B1G after 2014

-          IF Josh Kalu and Chris Jones can keep improving on the corners

-          IF the D-line can put some pressure on opposing QB's

-          IF a couple of the younger players can step up and be the stars they were recruited to be

-          IF Banker & Stewart...oh, never mind

But seriously, IF enough of these IF's come to pass, the defensive backfield should improve enough to stop the aerial assaults that resulted in the Husker offense digging itself out of holes due to what seemed like 300+ passing yards weekly.

So who's going to play? It will be interesting to see what some of the younger players can show in spring ball, but, more often than not, the guys who saw the field most in the previous season are the guys who will be on it this season.

Nate Gerry is entrenched at one safety and Aaron Williams has the inside track at the other with Antonio Reed and maybe Kieron Williams pushing him. Many will be clamoring for incoming freshman Lamar Jackson to have a shot, but that will have to wait until August. With Aaron Williams currently hurt, highly touted redshirt freshman Avery Anderson gets his first shot at punching through as he will play alongside Gerry.
(Update: Antonio Reed is also injured.)

Josh Kalu and Chris Jones are the only returning corners with experience and there appears to be an opening for a nickel back. Barring any surprises from incoming freshmen in the fall, Eric Lee or Boaz Joseph will take their 1st step toward grabbing that spot this spring.

In closing, both of Nate Gerry's targeting ejections last season were utter bullshit and I sincerely hope that the referees who flagged him have contracted shingles and are furiously clawing at their inflamed butt cheek rashes as I type.

Thank you.