For Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
Cornerback is one of the biggest question marks on the team following Chris Jones’ injury, and Diaco said there won’t be any answers until the bullets start to fly.
“They’re going to need to play in the games,” Diaco said after Tuesday’s practice. “You only get markedly better when you play in the games. Really, none of those guys have played in the games.”
“There’s just a difference to games that can’t be simulated at any other time,” Diaco continued. “We do the best job we can preparing at game speed and also maintaining safe drills and proper drills through the grind of a camp and the preseason camp. The entrée is the season and the games in the season, so the objective would be to get the players to the season, to participate in the season, and the preparation leading up to that we want to be as realistic as possible, but there’s nothing like playing in the games. Players make the biggest gains when they get an opportunity to participate.”
One player who could factor into that conversation is redshirt freshman Tony Butler, although where exactly is still to be determined.
“Tony Butler is a guy that started playing corner in high school, then he played safety for us and now we’re able to see some of his skills help us on the outside,” safeties coach Scott Booker said. “He’s a guy that we feel like can play safety, corner, maybe even move inside. He’s doing a good job so far.”
>> The Huskers let loose a little bit with an 86-play scrimmage during Saturday’s practice, and while he was pleased with the effort and progress the team showed, Diaco said they still have only just begun.
“Guys were working hard, guys were trying hard, there’s a higher understanding of what we’re asking them to do, and we’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Diaco said. “We’re a work in progress and it’s going to take time, and it will take game time.”
>> Nebraska still has a lot of positions in the two-deep to sort out at this stage of camp, but Diaco said plenty of guys will have a chance to see the field this year.
“We play a lot of players,” Diaco said. “We typically play a lot of players in front in particular. So we believe in participation patterns that are functional based on their ability to give effort, and as the situations arise, the players that can play better in that situation than the others. So we try to create a real plan, a functional plan, going into games for participation.”
>> The defensive staff has a youthful vibe to it with the likes of Trent Bray, Donte Williams and Scott Booker out on the field during practice, but Diaco said the staff has done a good job of combining both energy and experience.
“I think we’re energetic,” Diaco said. “Coach [John] Parrella played here, built himself from a walk-on to a scholarship to an all-conference player, played in the NFL for a dozen years I think; he’s been around the block a few times. I started coaching in 1996, so last I checked I think that was 21 years ago. Coach Bray played at a high level, coached at a high level, was the son of a dynamic defensive coach. So we’ve got a lot of experience and we’re very energetic also. We’re enjoying the players, we love the players, we’re feeding off each other and that won’t stop.”
>> Outside linebacker Luke Gifford said Diaco’s teaching method has allowed the players to grasp the new defense fairly well in a short amount of time.
“I think one of the big reasons is the way Coach Diaco teaches the defense and kind of compartmentalizes things together and things carry over from coverage to coverage and blitz package to blitz package,” Gifford said. “It makes it easy, once you get one thing down you can kind of start picking up the rest of it too. There are a lot of similarities in what we do, different packages and stuff like that, so I think that’s helped a lot.
>> One player chomping at the bit to get on the field is redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Mohamed Barry.
“I am ready,” Barry said. “I am so ready. I am ready. When I put my flavor into it, it’s going to be good. I just have to listen to my coaches and learn day by day, play by play, and then I’ll be good.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.