Now in it’s third year as a summer series, we’re looking at Huskers who could be major swing factors in Nebraska’s upcoming season. One a week, working from the bottom up.
No. 7: Ty Robinson
At the end of January, I wrote this:
Redshirting Robinson in 2019 made sense with three seniors and a junior comprising the top four men on the depth chart, but now, there’s no reason not to cut the youngster loose and see if he can make good on that promise sooner rather than later.
That promise being the thing everyone in Memorial Stadium talks about when the 6-foot-6, 315-pound redshirt freshman gets brought up. The Arizona native is someone Husker coaches are extremely high on as a flexible defensive lineman with long-term upside.
How much can NU get out of Robinson in 2020 will be one of the bigger questions for the entire defense if he wins a job.
“I think Ty has position flex and I think he has a really bright future before it’s all said and done,” defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said this past fall. “He can play nose [and] he can play end for us. He can play 3-technique. I can put him in front of a center. He’s got size, he’s got speed and he’s got athleticism.”
At his spring press conference, head coach Scott Frost acknowledged the Husker defensive line was going to need its young guys to take sizable individual steps forward if the unit as a whole was going to avoid taking a step back. The Huskers lost three senior starters off last year’s d-line.
But, “a couple of young guys were in the program last year that we have high hopes for,” Frost added. And one of them is Robinson. A former 4-star recruiting win, a high school All-American, a mountain of a man.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander saw Robinson swimming a bit at times during the season. That’s to be expected with young players, and the talent was still plenty visible, but Robinson didn’t always know where he needed to be.
Nebraska ramped up his workload late, and Robinson got double-digit snaps for his season debut against Wisconsin in November 2019. He then played both of Nebraska’s final two games against Maryland and Iowa. The plan all along was to redshirt him, add some definition, and let him learn behind what was a veteran top line.
“In particular, his growth has been pretty rapid,” said Ben Stille.
Now, Robinson could absolutely be in line for a starting role.
His competition in the fall will include Stille, a vet in his own right, and then a big collection of guys with minor to seriously minor to no in-game experience in Damion Daniels, Keem Green, Jordon Riley, Deontre Thomas, Casey Rogers, Pheldarius Payne and Tate Wildeman.
Could a summer arrival like Nash Hutmacher come in as a true freshman and play right away? Perhaps. He’s certainly got a clearer path to playing time than Robinson did last season. Does Nebraska really want a true freshman in the trenches of Big Ten play when there are other options elsewhere, though? Probably not.
Working in Robinson’s favor is the fact Tuioti can play him at all three positions with few reservations. Robinson’s huge. Not necessarily Darrion Daniels size in physical maturity, but still huge. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said their “wealth of young talent” on the d-line gives the group a chance to be just as good as last year’s front line.
“He has a chance to be a special player,” Tuioti added of Robinson specifically. “He’s very business-like and tries to learn as much as he can.”
All this talk so far is in future what-ifs. There’s so little tape of the guy, and no spring practice to work from, to know just what Nebraska could even hope to get from him during his redshirt freshman season. Nebraska needs growth, though.
In spite of all that experience up front a year ago, Nebraska was once again handled at the line of scrimmage by opposing offenses.
Teams ran for 4.82 yards a carry. Nebraska was tied nationally in that category with San Jose State for 102nd. It has been a bottom-30 run defense in each of the last three years.
Of the 73 tackles for loss the Husker defense generated last year (an improvement over the previous season, but still tied for 72nd nationally), the three departed starters were the only defensive linemen with at least two to their name.
Advanced metrics were once again unfavorable to the Huskers, who ranked 78th in stuff rate (percentage of carries stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage) and 99th in opportunity rate (percentage of carries when four yards are available that gain at least four yards) and 127th in power success rate (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown).
Big Ten success starts on the ground. Nebraska is running out of excuses for missing bowl games; a young front seven being the reason Nebraska gets run over again in the conference would still be a tough pill to swallow.
If Stille anchors one side, Nebraska needs a few of its young pieces to step up.
Robinson has center stage.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.