Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Recruiting: Intriguing Shift Brewing in Huskers’ Defensive Recruiting?

September 15, 2021

Recruiting never stops and it’s easy to miss the top stories day-to-day. Recruiting analyst Greg Smith recaps all things Nebraska recruiting news, analysis and more so you never miss a thing.


We hadn’t seen a depth chart under coach Scott Frost until the season opener this year. There was a lot of attention on starters, top line back-ups and who had the “OR” designation as a result. The last time we saw a depth chart from the Huskers prior to this season was 2019. Something happened with Nebraska’s depth chart that may have flown under-the-radar.

The Huskers no longer list any outside linebackers. Garrett Nelson, Damian Jackson, Caleb Tannor, Pheldarius Payne and Jimari Butler are listed as defensive ends. JoJo Domann and Isaac Gifford are listed as ‘nickel.’ When Nebraska is on the field, the roles fit the depth chart. You notice those players listed as defensive ends with their hands in the dirt more than ever. Domann plays in coverage a lot now and so did Gifford when he got action this season.

Frost’s staff came to Lincoln wanting to recruit hybrid outside linebackers that could play in space. On the other side of the field would be a more traditional base 3-4 outside linebacker. A few seasons into coaching at Nebraska, are we seeing a shift? Nebraska has had better luck on the recruiting trail bringing in players that are Nelson’s size (6-2, 245) that are better suited to play with a hand in the dirt versus in space. Leaning into that shift makes sense. Blaise Gunnerson (6-5, 255) makes sense as a next man up getting groomed for that role.

Tannor and Payne are in more of that hybrid role now rushing off the edge of the defense. The pair also play as traditional defensive ends more than ever. Alabama freshman Jimari Butler (6-5, 235) is similar to Tannor’s body type. He appears to be getting groomed for that role.

Has the program prioritized recruiting these defensive end roles and nickel outside linebackers? Something else makes this intriguing to me. It widens the net of potential players for Nebraska to recruit defensively. Nebraska would not rule out as many prospects based on not fitting measurables. That’s important for a program that has to go national to recruit. A traditional outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense is 6-4, 250 pounds and can play in space.

There are two players that fit into this discussion on Nebraska’s 2022 commit list. Defensive end Hayden Schwartz (6-4, 250) and Jake Appleget (6-4, 210) fit this potential new mold. Schwartz fits nicely into the role that Nelson and Jackson currently play. Appleget also stars at wide receiver for Lincoln Southeast. He has the athleticism to play the Domann/Gifford role.

Nebraska going this route also cements an identity on the recruiting trail. It’s a solid pitch to approach athletic high school safeties and show them film of how Domann is used in the defense. Telling a prospect that he can blitz, play in the box and cover puts a spotlight on the position. Prospects will gravitate toward that.

More time is needed to see for certain that Nebraska has made this shift. It’s a wise move to make if they have done this on purpose.

Recruit Watch

>> Lincoln Southeast outside linebacker Teitum Tuioti picked up a cool honor on Tuesday night.

>> Texas 2023 defensive lineman Kaleb James posted his early season highlights.

ICYMI

>> The Huskers fell in four at Stanford with four freshmen in the lineup.

>> In the latest Mind Your Own podcast, Erin Sorensen and Sausha Durkan explain why representation still matters.

>> It might be time to give the Blackshirts the first crack at the Sooners as Steve Marik writes.

>> The Hail Varsity staff is back to answer questions in the mailbag including memories on the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry.

>> Jacob Padilla explores rivalries, readiness and common sense in Padding the Stats.

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