Over the last few seasons, one of the most talked about position groups for Nebraska has been the defensive backs. The talk has not been good. Last season, Nebraska finished 11th in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game, last in opposing quarterback rating, last in yards per attempt and last in opponent completion percentage.
The man now in charge of finding a fix for the secondary woes is former nine-year NFL vet, Travis Fisher. Coaching runs in the family for Fisher as he has a brother coaching at Illinois. So what can Husker fans and more importantly, players expect from Fisher’s coaching style? We found out on Wednesday at the pre-spring availability with the new staff.
“I’m smart, I’m aggressive. I’m going to have some guys that fly around and throw that body around. It’s going to be more of that type of play," Fisher said. "I’m not quiet. I seem to be quiet when people judge me but I’m not quiet. I get on my guys. I’m not complacent or laid back. When I’m on the field I’m pretty upbeat and locked in.
"I’m going to have aggressive guys. Guys that will strike you. The physical part of the game will be there and we’ll have guys that will go get the ball. I did it at UCF. I had some guys at the beginning that wouldn’t stick their nose in there. They either need to stick it in there the next practice or they are gone. Those guys had to make a 24-hour decision. Here coming up on the first pad day, there will probably be some guys that make some 24-hour decisions, too. You have to hit or you’re out."
Fisher being just two years removed from rebuilding a secondary unit at UCF will certainly help him do the same at Nebraska. Having just coached a potential NFL first-round cornerback, Mike Hughes, his words will carry weight with his new team. With a clear goal of making his unit more physical and aggressive, just how does he go about cultivating and growing that culture in his group?
“A lot of that comes from me and my demeanor on the field," Fisher said. "A lot of the DBs probably thought when I was first hired 'former NFL guy, laid back,' but won’t be that guy that still gets fired up. I still get the hair standing on my skin when I’m on the field. I still got that. They feed off me because I got that.
"So I’m not going to let you turn down that tackle like I watched on film when I first got here. I’m not going to watch you see a guy wiggle around and you not try to get an extra hit on him. I’m just not. I’m going to watch it in practice. It won’t slide in practice with me. I think with my demeanor obviously they will catch on pretty quick. That’s how I did it at UCF. Everyone has a little dog in them, you just have to bring it out.”
Making the struggles in the secondary worse, the team has had problems in recent years bringing in the number of defensive backs necessary on the recruiting trail, despite having many high-profile visitors over the last three years. So, what exactly is Fisher looking for when he is out on the road searching for Blackshirt defensive backs?
“I’m going to find that guy that might be fast, throw that body around and hit you, but may have a little bad technique and that’s the guy I want. He might not be that 4-star that has every school on him because of his size. If he won’t throw it around or won’t bust a grape, I don’t want that guy. I want the guy I see on film that’s coming at running backs and receivers like he’s a linebacker. He’s trying to really hit them, trying to pop that ball loose. When the balls in the air, he’s got great ball skills. He might be 5-11. He might be 175 pounds, but that’s why I’m at Nebraska.
"With the resources we have, the training table, we can put 20 pounds on a kid in a month. The, 'you don’t have to teach the heart,' he’s already got it. That’s one of the problems. You can teach the technique, but you can’t teach the heart. The guys I brought in (in the 2018 recruiting class), have the heart. They definitely have that.”
It will take time to get the secondary playing the way that Fisher wants and he will have the spotlight on his recruiting results for the 2019 class. Defensive back is likely only behind offensive tackle in terms of needs for this recruiting cycle. However, don’t be surprised if one day you look up and the Husker secondary has taken on the traits of their leader: smart and aggressive.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.