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2023 Nebraska Football Position Preview: Defensive Backs

They’ll pick a part your passing game.

Indiana v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

“Salutations Husker Nation”!

The three words that greeted the Husker faithful every time he appeared on the starting lineup video.

A quick tribute to the freshly retired Prince Amukamara and his great NFL career. It was fun to watch him play when I was in college, but also fun to watch the likes of Mike Brown, Ralph Brown, Keyuo Craver, Dejuan Groce, Mike Minter, Josh and Daniel Bullocks when I was growing up. Guys who were arguably the best athletes (or most self-assured) of the entire team.

Playing defensive back has a panache to it, a real sense of “I’m better than you and I know it”. That works in two forms as a defensive back, one is the hard-hitting variety (a la John Lynch, Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, Ed Reed) and the other is the shutdown variety (a la Darelle Revis, Rod Woodson, Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib).

Let’s take a look at this year’s secondary.

Omar Brown, Malcolm Hartzog, Quinton Newsome, Ashton Hausmann, Issac Gifford, Marques Buford Jr, Javier Morton, Koby Bretz, DeShon Singleton, Tommi Hill, Corey Collier Jr, Blake Closman, Phalen Sanford, Tamon Lynum, Derek Branch, Dwight Bootle II, Syncere Safeeullah, D’Andre Barnes, Mason Jones, Ethan Nation and Rahmir Stewart.

This is easily the second most experienced position group of the team, and only just behind the linebackers. Plenty returns in the forms of Brown, Hartzog, Newsome, Hausmann, Gifford, and Buford, but plenty of experience in transfers like Hill, Sanford and Collier as well. Having this experience is imperative in the 3-3-5 scheme, especially if all 5 are true DBs in passing situations.

Gifford is easily thought of as a potential hybrid, coming down to help out at linebacker. Currently Gifford is the only single digit number of the group, instilling leadership to the younger guys who will get an opportunity. In this particular situation, this style of defense puts him along the role JoJo Domann had, with his combination of size and power used to great effect. Look for him to be used frequently as a blitzer and covering the slot receiver/tight end.

Hartzog, Newsome and Buford could easily take up 3 of the 4 remaining spots, but the real question is does Tony White use 3 safeties and 2 corners, or 3 corners and 2 safeties? A lot has to be said about the likes of Hill and Nation coming in and vying for a starting role, which leaves Buford as a safety in my opinion, but then who plays the other? Probably Newsome, which means my starting five would be Gifford as a rover, Hartzog and Hill at corner, with Newsome and Buford at safety.

Collier could easily slot in at the safety spot, with Nation and Sanford getting some decent time at the corner position. Look for Bootle to possibly get some time early as well, particularly against pass heavy offenses, with Gifford subsequently dropping into the box to help out the linebackers.

All of this is purely hypothetical on my part, but I’ll be honest, I’m having fun trying to figure this out. Versatility is crucial to this defense, and if the pure athleticism takes over then it will be up to the players to learn multiple positions. It will be a tremendous way of getting the younger players involved, while still possibly keeping their redshirts.

We are less than a week out. Let that sink in.

Update: The depth chart has come out.

The starting secondary is Quinton Newsome, Issac Gifford, Omar Brown, DeShon Singleton and Malcom Hartzog.

Go Big Red!