5 Nebraska Juniors to Watch During Spring Ball
Photo Credit: Ryan Loco

5 Nebraska Juniors to Watch During Spring Ball

February 26, 2019

Spring football gets underway on Monday. We’re previewing some storylines to keep track of and players to keep an eye on. Freshmen and sophomores have already gone, so now it’s time for the juniors.

Defensive back Marquel Dismuke

Here’s a guy who has shown the ability to contribute on defense.

During his redshirt freshman season in 2017, Dismuke played in all 12 games for Nebraska and started against Northwestern. He had games of nine tackles (Wisconsin), seven tackles (Northwestern) and six (Ohio State and Minnesota, where five of the six were unassisted). All of his production came in the final seven games. 

He played in seven games in 2018, no small feat considering the depth ahead of him at safety, but made most of his contributions on special teams. He blocked a punt against Illinois that resulted in a safety, Nebraska’s first punt block since 2015.

At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, the Calabasas product is a violent hitter who knows how to throw his weight around. 

Everyone remembers the interception he had on Purdue’s David Blough that was negated by a Lamar Jackson hold. Dismuke recognized the play and jumped in front of Blough’s pass. That’s the good. He can play instinctually and do some really athletic things on a football field. He’s aggressive, but sometimes that aggression needs to be reined in.

On the very next drive of that game, Dismuke leveled a Boilermaker receiver well out of bounds, drawing a flag and turning a 2-yard pickup on second down into a 17-yard gain and first. Frost lit into his team at halftime and during the postgame that afternoon. “I’m tired of playing the guys that keep doing that, because we can’t tell them more times than we have,” he said. Jackson was a target of the frustration, but so was Dismuke.

After not playing in three of the team’s next five games, Dismuke reappeared for the final three of the season. 

With three of last year’s top four safeties graduated and a handful of younger guys either still learning the position or recovering from injuries, this is the spring and summer for Dismuke to make a name for himself. 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record player, four safeties played significant roles last season for defensive backs coach Travis Fisher. Three of those players need replacing. Dismuke has every opportunity in front of him to earn more of a featured role within the secondary. 

Defensive back/outside linebacker JoJo Domann

What to do with JoJo?

Nebraska wants him on the field. From an effort standpoint, a work ethic standpoint, a “point me where you want me, coach” mentality, he’s everything this defensive staff wants. 

Given the defensive production it lost, Nebraska might need him on the field, too. After making the “move” from safety to outside linebacker (read that with some air quotes, he was still playing a little of both), Domann was an instant-impact guy. His strip-sack off the edge against Ohio State in the Shoe changed the game. 

Domann generated 19 tackles in eight games, had the sack of OSU’s Dwayne Haskins, forced two fumbles, recovered one and broke up two passes. A blend of physicality and athleticism allows him to produce exactly the kind of havoc Nebraska needs out of its defense this upcoming season. 

But where’s he gonna play?

Outside linebacker? Where there are options? Nebraska has a senior in Tyrin Ferguson who, if healthy, figures to lead the group. It has a youngster in Caleb Tannor who factors heavily into the defense’s future and needs snaps now. And in the spring, it’ll have a couple of younger guys in David Alston, Breon Dixon and Garrett Nelson with something to prove. 

Nebraska figures to have more of an immediate need at safety, where Domann started, but could end up having some depth concerns at outside linebacker if some of the younger pieces aren’t quite ready for big roles. 

Expect Domann to continue playing in a hybrid role where Nebraska just plugs him in all over the field. It’s more likely than not the Colorado Springs native sees a good deal of snaps in 2019, health permitting. The interesting thing to watch throughout spring ball is simply where he’ll be making the biggest impact from.

Inside linebacker Will Honas

As the top-rated JUCO linebacker in the country in the 2018 class, Honas was viewed as a huge win for the Husker coaching staff. Early on he showed why; against Troy, Honas led the team with eight tackles. But a season-ending knee injury during the Purdue game put him on the shelf. 

Honas could factor heavily into the Huskers’ 2019 defense if he’s able to come back healthy. The main concern with him during his first year on campus was learning the playbook, but when a player is forced out and unable to practice, you usually see them hit the film room harder to make up for it. It’ll be interesting to hear from Nebraska’s coaching staff on how he’s progressing in that regard.

From a physical standpoint, Honas already looked the part of a Big Ten linebacker, and with Dedrick Young graduated, Nebraska needs another one of those to pair with senior leader Mo Barry. 

Depth was a major concern at the inside backer position a year ago — Nebraska even moved Collin Miller inside to compensate — and depending on how fast the two incoming freshmen can pick things up when they get to campus or how willing the coaching staff is to throw them to the fire in Year 1, it might be touch-and-go in 2019 as well. 

Nebraska really needs Honas to be the answer this year. It would allow Miller to ease his way into all the responsibilities inside backer brings and be a primary backup guy. It would also allow Nick Henrich and Jackson Hannah the ability to learn, rather than come into a situation where they’re forced to play above their heads right away. 

Defensive end Ben Stille

During our 2018 season predictions round-up, the Hail Varsity staff was asked who the MVP of the defense would be in Frost’s first season. I said Ben Stille. Here was the reasoning:

That feels strange because the two stars for Chinanders’ last defense were a linebacker and defensive back, but hear me out. Nebraska’s not going to really ask its defensive linemen to be disruptive wrecking crews but rather eat up blocks for linebackers and safeties to bust plays. If Stille takes that next step and turns into a dominant pass-rusher that can cause offenses headaches, that would go such a long way toward helping everything else run smoothly. I think he’s capable of doing it. I think he does it. Therefore, I think he becomes one of the team's most valuable players.

I got part of it right. Each of the top six and eight of the top 10 tacklers on the team last season were defensive backs or linebackers. But I got the main prediction wrong. Stille did not become a dominant pass-rusher and he was not the team’s most valuable player. 

Do I think that potential is still in there? You bet I do. 

Is this go time for him to prove it? You bet it is. 

Stille was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season in 2017. He led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss. But he didn’t take that next step everyone thought he would take last season. He finished 2018 with only five tackles for loss and only one more total tackle than 2017.

Once again, the Huskers struggled to consistently stop the run and didn’t have the same kind of pass-rushing ability anyone wanted to see. The hot position of this recruiting cycle was outside linebacker for that exact reason, but Nebraska’s best path to immediate help isn’t by adding a 4-star freshman. It’s by molding one of your returning talents into the kind of stud you need. 

Stille has learned for three seasons how to play at this level. Granted, he’s done it in two different defensive schemes and is about to learn from his third different defensive line coach, but if the Huskers are going to see immediate improvement in the pass-rushing and run-stopping department, the safest bet isn’t in someone like Ty Robinson to be an all-conference level player right away, it’s in someone like Stille breaking out. 

If that’s on the horizon, the road starts this spring. 

Offensive lineman John Raridon

You need your 4-star offensive linemen to pan out. 

What you can’t have is a fourth-year junior with only four games of playing experience under his belt. 

This is John Raridon’s “Prove It” year. Nebraska graduated Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer, the two guys ahead of Raridon for all of his playing career in Lincoln. It’s not a given Boe Wilson takes one of the two guard spots. It’s not a given Matt Farniok slides inside from tackle to take the other. 

Now, if Bryce Benhart is everything Nebraska hoped he’d be right away and the 6-foot-8 freshman earns the starting right tackle job, great (for Nebraska, not so much for Raridon), but the odds of that happening are pretty slim. And if you don’t think that’s happening, what’s the justification for moving Farniok inside?

Raridon has his first real chance to earn significant playing time this fall. At 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, he has the kind of frame Nebraska needs. 

But there is going to be a ton of competition up and down the offensive line for every last spot on the depth chart. There are new guys who will take Raridon’s place if he lets them. And if it doesn’t happen this year, it might not happen at all. 

This is a big offseason for Raridon. 

Honorable Mention:

  • Safety Deontai Williams: Get on the bandwagon now.
  • Inside linebacker Collin Miller: Maybe Miller is ready to go. Maybe I’ve got it backward. Maybe Miller is on breakout watch and allows Honas to work his way back onto the field.
  • Wide receiver Todd Honas: Keep an eye on the 5-foot-11 walk-on wideout. He’s consistently one of the last players off the practice field and was in the mix for wideout snaps late last year while the Huskers were trying to figure out No. 3.
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