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Nebraska Spring Football Previews: Outside Linebackers

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Everyone is back from 2020 and the young guys have another year in the weight room. Time to celebrate?!?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Nebraska at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position Coach: Mike Dawson

Breakdown by class:

  • Seniors (1)
  • Juniors (3)
  • Sophomores (4)
  • Redshirt Freshman (4)
  • Freshman (2)

There are also three players listed as LB on the 2021 roster but I suspect they will factor more into the ILB room than OLB.

Outside linebacker was a position group that worried many Husker fans going into the 2020 season. The biggest concern was the lack of a true pass rusher. The depth behind the established trio of JoJo Domann, Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor was also an unknown.

Fast forward to 2021...has anything changed?

Departures

No one left due to graduation. Niko Cooper transferred to Western Kentucky before the 2020 season, but everyone else from the 2020 roster is still at Nebraska.

The Contributors

One of the most anticipated decisions after the season concluded was that of JoJo Domann. Fortunately for Husker fans, JoJo is coming back for another season and will be the only senior in the OLB room.

JoJo started all eight games and was an honorable mention All Big Ten selection. While Domann is listed as an outside linebacker, he plays a hybrid defensive back/LB role. The two players that will be learning his spot this spring (Isaac Gifford and Javin Wright) are listed as safeties. His stats included 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Garrett Nelson (sophomore) started all eight games in 2020 and registered 30 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Caleb Tannor (junior) started in five games and played all eight. He pulled down 23 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.

Pheldarius Payne (junior) played in every game in his first season out of juco. He contributed 21 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and two pass breakups.

Damian Jackson (junior) missed the first two games of 2020 but played on defense and special teams in the final six games. He notched five tackles.

Simon Otte (sophomore) played on special teams in six games before an injury ended his season. In the Purdue game he recovered a punt on the one yard line to set up a Husker touchdown by the offense.

Which New Faces Will Emerge?

I feel better about the depth at this position than 2020 for sure. Payne and Nelson seemed to improve as the season went on. Otte, as a walk-on, found the field on special teams which could give him a path to playing time on defense. The Huskers also have a slug of young talent toiling in the weight room, schollie and walk-on.

Blaise Gunnerson and Jimari Butler are names that come up quickly when talking about young players that fans are excited about. Both were highly regarded recruits but neither saw the field during their first season at Nebraska. That isn’t surprising for true freshmen who missed out on spring football, plus Gunnerson was trying to get healthy. Big Ten linebackers don’t usually drop onto the field right out of high school and both players have the frame to develop.

David Alston (sophomore) is another schollie player who didn’t get on the field in 2020, but was part of the travel roster for the final game of the season. He showed the coaches something toward the end of the season, or else they wanted him to go through that experience to motivate him for 2021?

The four new linebacker recruits for 2021 are talented group. All four are already on campus and listed on the roster at ILB. Whether any of them are moved around position-wise or cause any other ILBs to be moved outside remains to be seen.

Looking Ahead to 2021

I’m still not sure where the pass rush will come from in 2021. We’ll likely see Erik Chinander focus on complimentary defense to manufacture coverage sacks, call up some blitzes or use his line to push in the pocket up front and force the QB to scramble.

We know what we’re getting with Domann, Nelson, Tannor and Payne returning from 2020. It is nice to have an established and experienced group of players to put on the field. There are some exciting prospects developing behind them. Whether they live up to the hype or if the Huskers unearth any walk-on gems remains to be seen. It is nice to have development occurring and not an expectation the young guys have to be good ‘right now’ because they WILL be on the field, ready or not.

Outside Linebrackers

# Name Height Weight Year Hometown
# Name Height Weight Year Hometown
2 Caleb Tannor 6-2 230 Jr. Stone Mountain, Ga. / Miller Grove
13 JoJo Domann 6-1 230 Sr. Colorado Springs, Colo. / Pine Creek
24 Blaise Gunnerson 6-6 245 Fr. Carroll, Iowa / Kuemper Catholic
34 Simon Otte 6-1 205 So. York, Neb. / York
35 Jimari Butler 6-5 230 Fr. Mobile, Ala. / Murphy
38 Damian Jackson 6-2 275 Jr. Las Vegas, Nev. / Shadow Ridge
44 Garrett Nelson 6-3 240 So. Scottsbluff, Neb. / Scottsbluff
45 David Alston 6-4 235 So. Saint Paul, Minn. / Woodbury
49 Pheldarius Payne 6-3 260 Jr. Suffolk, Va. / Nansemond River HS/Lackawanna CC
54 Ryan Schommer 6-4 260 So. Norfolk, Neb. / Norfolk
81 Nick Leader 6-1 205 R-Fr. Lincoln, Neb. / Southwest
83 Sam Shurtleff 6-3 220 R-Fr. Watkinsville, Ga. / Oconee County
84 Eli Richter 6-4 240 R-Fr. Kearney, Neb. / Kearney Catholic
85 John Bullock 6-1 215 R-Fr. Omaha, Neb. / Creighton Prep