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Spring Football Mid-Term Exam: The Defense

Time for these boys to flex some muscle

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of no spring practice. Therefore, there are no practice articles, tweets or reports coming out of One Memorial Stadium Drive.

As the schedule is set up this season, we are currently in the middle of a small break for the players during spring ball. Practice is scheduled to start back up on March 25th.

I reread many of the reports and articles coming out of the first half of spring practice, particularly from Nebraska 247 and Hail Varsity. If it was behind a pay-wall, I did not use that information.

Some of the information I gleamed from twitter and other sources as well.

Here is what I believe we have learned from the first half of spring practice on the defensive side of the ball.

I took notes on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. It could be just me or the defensive coaches play a little closer to the vest when it comes to divulging information. Not as many specifics when compared to the offensive side of the ball. we go.

Defensive Line

New defensive line coach, Tony Tuioti, tweeted out a picture of the Nebraska defensive linemen at the beginning of spring ball with the well known Hawaiian greeting, “Aloha.”

According to Wikipedia “Aloha” is a the Hawaiian word for love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy.

Well love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy might have to take a back seat as the words being thrown around spring ball by the defensive coaches are “disruption” and “violence.”

Well if Nebraska wants to be able to embrace “disruption” and “violence” it is going to have to depend on it’s defensive line. A good thing for the Huskers is that it is the best group on the entire defense.

It starts with Darrion Daniels. The transfer from Oklahoma State. He is huge. Then add his “little” brother, Damion Daniels and those are two large human beings up front. Coach Tuioti called the Daniels brothers “alpha males.”

Luckily it does not stop there. Carlos and Khalil Davis (another set of brothers) are looking to take a step forward. Khalil was the defensive lineman of the year for Nebraska in 2018. Then add Ben Stille who is reportedly up to 288 pounds.

Damian Jackson, a sophomore, has taken on a greater leadership role on the team. I am interested to see if he consistently sees the field this year. It would be a great story. It might be just me but in all of the weightlifting videos that Zach Duval has tweeted out in the past year it always seems like Damian is the one doing the spotting.

Currently there are six upperclassmen, two sophomores and some upcoming freshmen. One of those freshmen is Casey Rogers who was named a couple of times by the coaches as an up and comer but needs to get faster. You get the feeling that once he is comfortable with the scheme that the speed will come.

Another name to look out for is Deontre Thomas. He was on the field in the fourth quarter against Oregon his freshman year. The talent is there and I think he might be a surprise contributor this coming season.

Ty Robinson will be showing up in the fall to compete for playing time as well.

One thing I learned is that while we all know that in a 3-4, there is a nose tackle and two defensive ends. The coaching staff is hoping to merely just have the best three down linemen on the field. So they will be asking Darrion Daniels to possibly play the DE position so they can have his brother play the nose. The same goes for the Davis brothers. It is unlikely we will see Stille play inside, but they want the best three down linemen regardless of position.

I am excited to see what Coach Tuioti brings to this defense. Last year Cal ranked 24th in the country in rushing yards her attempt, while Nebraska ranked 107th. Maybe we could meeting somewhere in the middle in 2019.

Summary: If Nebraska is hoping to take steps forward on defense this year, they could do a lot worse than leaning on their defensive line. Darrion Daniels might prove to be the biggest addition in the off-season.

Inside Linebackers

Well my current favorite player on the team is Mohamed Barry. He appears to be the unquestioned leader of the defense and he has not hesitated to embrace that role. We have heard he has not been shy about letting some of his teammates know that they aren’t doing the right things. Some of you may remember some of his replies to Breon Dixon on twitter last year during the season.

I expect Barry to be an all-conference first or second team performer in his senior year. Now what about the other inside linebacker position?

We are still trying to figure that out. There currently four scholarship inside linebackers on the roster. Barry, of course. Then Will Honas who tore his ACL last season and is still recovering. Then there is Collin Miller who is a converted defensive end from a couple years ago. The fourth scholarship is an early enrollee in Nick Henrich.

Starting with Will Honas. While linebackers coach, Barrett Ruud did mentioned that Honas is ahead of schedule with the knee rehab. However, he has not participated in the team practices this spring. He has spent time doing individual work but not full contact drills or scrimmages.

Collin Miller did not see much time on the field last year in their base defense. He was productive at times in some of their other packages. He plays with a ton of enthusiasm and with Honas not practicing this spring it really will give Miller many opportunities to impress the coaches.

At this point unless you merely need to have Henrich on the field, I assume he is going to redshirt this coming season to get bigger. That doesn't’ mean he doesn’t play his four games, but I think he could put on some weight. I’d be happy to be wrong. I think he’s going to be special.

Summary: Barry is the man, myth and legend. Unless Jackson Hannah comes into fall camp with his hair on fire I expect Collin Miller to hold down the other inside linebacker position for 2019.

Outside Linebackers

Not much has been said about the outside linebackers except that there is not a lot of depth at that position. Which is probably why they decided to keep JoJo Domann at OLB instead of moving him back to safety.

Luckily, at OLB Domann simply made plays. Coach Frost said that the coaches can do everything they can to put players in position to make plays, but in the end it is up to the players to actually make the play.

Domann did just that last year and it sounds like he hasn’t stopped during spring ball. He is up to 230 pounds. The coaching staff plans on taking advantage of his versatility and he will be all over the field. He has spent some time with the safeties this spring but his main home will be at OLB.

So what about the other OLB? It is likely between Caleb Tannor and Tyrin Ferguson. Ferguson was extremely productive last year when he was healthy. Tannor likely has more talent but we did not see that production from him last year.

Then there is Breon Dixon.

Summary: The clear need of depth at the OLB position makes it necessary for JoJo Domann to move down from his safety position. I am comfortable that Ferguson will hold down the other side while Tannor could become a pass rushing specialist in 2019.

I’m not sure about Breon.

Defensive Backs

Dare I say this is the most confident group on the defense? If that is a true statement then it shows how far they have come after last season.

Lets begin with Lamar Jackson. I had to do a double-take after seeing that he is a senior. Did I black-out a large chunk of time? So that was a surprise.

The once crown jewel of his recruiting class was benched last year against Purdue after talking junk to the opponents sideline. He could have left, and even thought about leaving but he didn’t. Ever since that moment he has been playing the be football of his career at Nebraska.

Coach Fisher said that Lamar Jackson is “a done pancake, that is ready to be flipped.” I’m still not entirely sure what that means but I think it’s good. He also said something about needing some more oil for the pancake. So anyways...

Jackson appears to have taken on a leadership role for the defensive backs. There is that word again. Leadership. It has pervaded throughout the offensive staff and the defensive staff. Lamar appears to be the alpha dog.

Well that would be nice to have another capable corner on the other...oh ya DiCaprio Bootle! He was not mentioned too much, except that he is also learning some safety as well. He was a stud last year and I think he could even better this year if he can get his hands on some passes.

So it appears your starting corners can be penciled in, Jackson and Bootle. Now what about the safeties? That does appear not to be as clear.

After losing three senior safeties it appears that Marquel Dismuke is the front runner for a starting safety spot. The coaches said Dismuke has transformed his body in the weight room and has been a leader in the film room.

The High Flying Hammer of Thor, Deontai Williams, is the leader for the other safety position. Coach Fisher said Deontai could have made a run for that last year but felt it was better for the safety room that Williams earned that spot. Which is what he appears to be doing this spring.

So that leaves us with a few more players who seem to be competing for playing time for any of the defensive back positions. The one who I think is going to make a huge jump this year is Cam Taylor. He has the ability to play both the cornerback and safety positions, and that versatility is very important to this coaching staff.

Next is Cam’ron Jones. Sounds like he has made quite a few strides after sitting out most of last year with injuries. He was one of the crown jewels of his recruiting class. Do not forget about senior Avery Anderson. He will be getting opportunities this spring. CJ Smith is still recovering from last years injury so we likely will not see him until the fall.

There’s also Noa-Pola Gates who will be here in the fall.

Summary: It sounds like the wide receivers have been having some issues with this defensive back group. Even J.D. Spielman admitted as much. Hopefully they can be a headache to opposing teams in the fall.