LINCOLN — Nebraska’s defense may be ahead of schedule after this spring, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said.
“I don’t think we’re ready yet to go play in a College Football Playoff right now, but I’m pleased with where we’re at,” Chinander said.
Maturity and good leadership, Chinander said, personifies NU’s defense. Graduate transfer Darrion Daniels, who plays nose tackle, has been a “grown up” for the defense.
“He was a huge addition to our team,” Chinander said. “Regardless of age, it feels like we’re coaching grown men this year.”
New position for Eric Lee
After spending nearly every snap since 2015 at corner, senior Eric Lee has moved to safety.
He loves it.
“I love coming down there with the big uglies, bumping down into the lineman, coming down, making tackles,” Lee said.
In Chinander’s defense — like most defenses — the safeties are the quarterbacks of the Blackshirts. So Lee said he’s still getting used to putting the 10 other guys on the field in the right spots and trying to remember where he’s getting help on certain coverages.
“It forces me to keep thinking on every play. It’s like a puzzle trying to get everyone lined up together,” Lee said.
But he’s enduring it, and accepting it, in part because Lee really hasn’t seen the field a lot in recent years. He appeared in six games as a sophomore and nine as a junior. He started in 2018, but only after Lamar Jackson’s benching. Jackson won the spot back two weeks later.
The safety positions are not that deep, and Lee said he wants to open up his options.
“The more versatile you are, the more opportunity you have to play,” Lee said. “So I’m just trying to expand my package.”
‘I’ll do anything’
Cam Taylor plays everything.
The corner/nickelback/safety will be all over the field during the spring game Saturday, and likely in the fall, too.
“Coach doesn’t know where to put me right now,” Taylor said. “And I told him, ‘I’ll do anything that’s best for the team.’ So he knows I wanna play defense and make big plays, and he’s gonna put me on the field to make those plays.”
Taylor, a sophomore, found a role in the nickel spot last year. He said he’s significantly more comfortable with the defense as a whole thanks to 1-on-1 sessions with defensive backs coach Travis Fisher this offseason.
“I’d come in for treatment, go right upstairs and stay in the office with Coach just to talk sometimes or watch film,” Taylor said. “He tells me things that he doesn’t get to express to us as a whole in the meeting room, so I get some 1-on-1 time with him, so that really helped in this offseason and coming into the spring.”
Taylor said he’s playing faster and thinking less.
“I’d say it was a good spring there, got in there, I was very comfortable, I didn’t have any problems, so playing full speed, not slow because I’m confused,” Taylor said. “Playing fast like college football is supposed to be.”
Husker linebacker Nick Henrich will undergo surgery after shoulder injury
Nebraska freshman inside linebacker Nick Henrich will miss the spring game and several months of action after suffering a shoulder injury that will require surgery.
NU coach Scott Frost told reporters Wednesday that Henrich should return in time for fall camp. The four-star recruit from Omaha Burke had been working with the No. 2 defense and figured to back up senior Mohamed Barry.
In Henrich’s absence, redshirt freshman walk-on Joseph Johnson from Gretna may get more snaps in Saturday’s Red-White spring game.
“Joey’s done a nice job picking up the defense,” inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said.
The Huskers have three healthy scholarship inside linebackers on campus: Barry and juniors Colin Miller and Will Honas, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. Jackson Hannah and Garrett Snodgrass arrive this summer.
“There’s still some spots where we wish we had more horses,” Frost said. “That’s got to continue to be developed through recruiting and development of the roster. The guys who are playing there are doing a really good job. We just wish we had more of them.”
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said NU’s walk-ons have to fill the void.
“They’re not walk-ons to me,” Chinander said. “They’re 2s and 3s.”
» Frost said NU’s team grade-point average was over 3.0 for the first semester — the highest since Husker football began tracking it.
» The Huskers will hit the road recruiting Monday, as the NCAA’s contact period begins April 15. NU is allotted 168 evaluation days — spread among all of its assistant coaches — between April 15 and May 31.
» Though NU’s overall head count of football personnel has not changed, Nebraska has rearranged some duties and brought new personnel aboard.
Jessica Stinger, who previously worked at Middle Tennessee State, has now become the Huskers’ Director of On-Campus Recruiting. Orah Garst, who previously worked at Baylor, has become Nebraska’s Director of Football Creative and Engagement.
Former Oregon outside linebacker Tony Washington has become a graduate assistant for NU’s defensive line. Washington, a starter on Oregon’s College Football Playoff team, played briefly in the NFL.
» Nebraska defensive line coach Tony Tuioti asked if the concession stands will be open at the spring game because he wants a red hot dog. He’s already had a Runza — Frost told him to get one upon arriving in Lincoln. Tuioti liked the swiss mushroom Runza.
» Three offensive assistant coaches from Cal were at Nebraska practice Wednesday: offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, O-line coach Steve Greatwood and receivers coach Burl Toler. Tuioti worked with all three at Cal last year before joining the Huskers. Greatwood and Frost were on the same staff at Oregon in the early 2010s.
“During the offseason everyone tries to get some professional development in,” Tuioti said. “So they’re out here just trying to pick up some nuggets and see what we do. It’s a good time to share information, especially on the offensive side.”
» Tuioti said quarterback Adrian Martinez broke loose for a run of “at least 70-80 yards” during a scrimmage portion of practice.
» Defensive linemen playing at a high level include Darrion Daniels, Khalil Davis, Carlos Davis and Deontre Thomas, Tuioti said. That means they are attacking and producing consistently.
If he sees someone who doesn’t rally to the ball?
“He can’t play for the Blackshirts,” Tuioti said.
» Fisher was asked about Martinez, with the reporter acknowledging Martinez wasn’t in his position group.
“What do you mean that’s not my guy?” Fisher said with a smile. “That’s my guy. That’s my guy. That’s everybody’s guy.”
» Of the incoming true freshmen this summer, Fisher said those beginning at cornerback will be Noa Pola-Gates, Myles Farmer and Quinton Newsome.
Husker practice report: Maurice Washington, Wan’Dale Robinson out for spring game
When 80,000 fans show up for a spring practice, Nebraska coach Scott Frost figures he owes it to them to play something resembling a game.
So Nebraska will do just that again, as it always has, in Saturday’s Red-White spring game.
“We’re going to play football,” Frost said Wednesday. They’ll split the teams up — with top players mostly appearing on one of them — and play four quarters as usual. Rosters will be released Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.
Several players — including running back Maurice Washington — will be held out of Saturday’s game. Washington is healthy, but he’s been dealing with criminal charges in California for the last two months. Washington was set to appear in Santa Clara County Court on Wednesday. Washington has been doing well in class and in practice, Frost said.
“Overall, I think Maurice has done a good job trying to stick to the norm and what practice he has done, he’s looked good,” Frost said. Washington has been a limited participant in practice because of those legal issues. “We’re going to sit back and let the process play out and see where it lands.”
Frost said true freshman slot receiver Wan’Dale Robinson — who has turned heads during practices — is likely out for the spring game because of a hamstring injury. Ditto for true freshman inside linebacker Nick Henrich, who suffered a shoulder injury that will require surgery and will be out until fall camp.
Inside linebacker and running back are two positions where Frost said “we wished we had more horses.”
NU’s defensive line, Frost said, “has taken a giant step forward this spring.” He credited new coach Tony Tuioti with picking up in part where former defensive line coach Mike Dawson left off.
Frost said the Husker defense, as a whole, has good leadership.
Nebraska Spring Game
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Radio: B103 (103.1 FM)