Nebraska has had a revolving door of coaches at the defensive backs position over the last several years. From Brian Stewart to Stewart and Mark Banker, to Stewart and Donte Williams, to Williams and Bob Elliott, to Williams and Scott Booker, Nebraska had five different coaching combinations in just three years under Mike Riley.
Eric Lee Jr., who is getting ready for his redshirt junior season, is a veteran at this point in terms of starting fresh.
“After the first two, you kind of know how to wiggle your way around that,” Lee said. “At the end of the day it’s just doing what he tells you to do and making sure you execute all of that.”
Now, it’s Travis Fisher’s group. He’s still getting to know his players and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said that is the first step towards building trust with players that have had to do so all over again every year they’ve been at Nebraska.
“I think you need to get to know these kids as people before we start going too hard on them for errors and all that kind of thing,” Chinander said. “I think our coaching staff is a really good teaching group, I think we’re all so willing to travel with Coach [Scott] Frost anywhere because we believe what he believes and that’s if we make these kids into good dads and good brothers and good sons and good husbands and good people in the community then we’re not going to have to talk about wins and losses very much. So the starting point to that is getting to know these kids as people and then we’ll get into the football real hard.”
However, Lee said Fisher already has their respect.
“It’s been good,” Lee said. “The big thing I like about him is he just wants you to make plays. He’s definitely technique-oriented, but at the same time he doesn’t want you thinking about that all the time, allowing you to make plays whenever you can, just play a little more free.”
Bob Diaco’s defense was more about preventing big plays and Williams was more of a technician as a coach, stressing the fine details on every snap. Chinander’s defense has a different focus and Fisher has a different style of teaching. They want their players to “shoot their shot.”
“It allows everyone to play a little more loose,” Lee said. “A lot more people are making plays on the ball, getting their hands on the ball more. It’s been a good experience overall so far.”
That “shoot your shot” mentality especially applies to the cornerback position. Last year, the Huskers only recorded nine interceptions — none of them by corners. Central Florida tallied 20 picks last season under Chinander and Fisher.
“I think it’s a lot less sitting back and a lot more go make a play, especially from a corner perspective,” Lee said. “There’s a lot more safety help so we expect that safety to be there. If the safety has our back, we have the safety’s back. As long as we play in sync, it’s going to be a good year.”
Coaching styles aside, Lee said the transition from Williams to Fisher hasn’t been too difficult because of their similar personalities. Lee said Fisher “just fits right in.”
Fisher has nine years of NFL playing experience on his résumé, giving him instant credibility. But that’s not the only reason his players already respect him despite all the coaches they’ve cycled through at Nebraska.
“What helps us out is that we all respect him so much because off the field, we’ve hung out so many times just from little voluntary winter meetings and all that stuff,” Lee said. “We already respect what he’s done. We’ve seen him play in the league; we’ve seen some of his highlights so we kind of respect what he’s done because he’s been at that level we strive to get to.”
Lee said that prior to practice on Saturday, Fisher showed his defensive backs clips of a play that kept Fisher’s team from making it to the Super Bowl as a cautionary tale and a bit of teaching tape.
Four practices in, the relationships between Fisher and his defensive backs is just starting to build. However, Nebraska is hoping he’s the coach that can put an end to the constant shuffling at that position.
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.