Cam Taylor is playing corner, safety and even a little Cinco linebacker on defense. Meaning in coverage he’s handling all types of receivers. Who stands out amongst the young guys in offensive coordinator/wideout coach Troy Walters’ room? “I’ll give you Darien Chase,” the sophomore said.
Chase, a true freshman from Washington who arrived in the summer, gets called Odell Beckham by his teammates on account of his hair. But Beckham has been accused of being a little too prima donna, and Chase appears to be anything but.
“He’s very physical. I like it. We try and bring it to him every day and he comes right back,” Taylor said. “Even though he may get dogged one play, he’s coming right back and you know that for a fact.”
Walters has been impressed with Chase’s hands, saying he can’t remember a dropped ball yet through 11 fall camp practices. But he agreed the young receiver’s physicality has been a welcome sight.
“He’s a competitor,” Walters said after practice. “He’s not going to win every battle but he gets back up and wants to fight again and that’s always good.”
(We’re going to bounce around a little bit and the flow is going to seem awkward at first but just stick with it. It’ll make sense in a bit.)
Thirty minutes into practice on Wednesday, the Huskers met at the 50-yard-line inside Hawks, offense with their backs to the north end zone and defense with their backs to the south. A running back lined up on the 50 facing east with an offensive lineman in front of him, a tight end at the second level and a wideout after that. The defense put a defensive back over the wideout, a linebacker over the tight end and a lineman up front.
After a few minutes senior wideout Jaron Woodyard got set and Deontai Williams, a junior safety and one of the heaviest hitters on the team, faced him. Williams is the same guy who just last week was told to stop hitting so hard.
Williams did not touch Woodyard’s running back.
Woodyard tackled Williams the first go-through and the safety wasn’t a fan of that; the two jawed at each other through the next rep. Williams wanted Round 2. Woodyard wouldn’t back down. So they waved off the following WR-DB group and went again. Williams dialed things up and Woodyard again kept him from making a play (this time without the tackle).
“We’ve gotten better on the perimeter, tougher, more aggressive,” Walters said. “We’re getting after it. We have to. We have no other options or we’re going to get embarrassed by the secondary and the linebackers who are coming full speed. Our guys understand that and the physicality is there, the want-to is there.”
Clean up some of the technique, he says, and that perimeter screen game that has eluded the Huskers for so long can get off the ground. But it’s a stark contrast from where the group was at this time last year. Just like with Woodyard in a drill not really made for him, there’s no backing down.
Walters mentioned Jaevon McQuitty’s name Wednesday for the first time in a long time. The receiver came to Nebraska in 2017 looking like the kind of perimeter weapon who could play right away. Then he suffered a knee injury and subsequent rehab setback and it cost him his entire first season.
In 2018, he appeared in only six games and didn’t make a single catch.
“Last year he wasn’t very confident, he was more reactionary, and now he goes and makes things happen,” Walters said of the 6-foot, 200-pounder. McQuitty made plays in the team’s first fall scrimmage on Sunday, plays that caused Walters to name him first amongst offensive standouts. The light seems to have finally come on.
“He’s got that confidence,” Walters said. “He just keeps getting better and he has that sense of urgency. He wants it, he wants to be a part of this team and he wants to help contribute to the offense.”
The last part is important, the want to be a part of this team. Because that’s not a given. Football, as linebacker Mohamed Barry told me Tuesday, can break you if you let it. Guys can transfer, thinking a fresh start is needed. McQuitty has gotten up off the mat and made it a point to prove himself here.
No backing down.
Mike Williams started last season after transferring from East Mississippi Community College. He was the third wideout after Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman. Blocking deficiencies cost him that title and he struggled to make a lasting impact. For the second week in a row, he was repping with the ones at wide receiver next to Spielman.
Andre Hunt and Kade Warner have been talked about. Jamie Nance and Demariyon Houston shouldn’t be forgotten about. This is a wideout room that Walters thinks can go seven or eight deep this season not because two guys can’t solidify themselves as stars, but because so many guys are, for one reason or another, playing with a sense of urgency.
“I think we’re going to be a pretty good unit,” he said.
Usually, the reluctance to single out one guy in a room and talk about the collective unit is labeled as coach speak. But in this particular instance, individual guys have been talked about, there are just so many of them.
“We’ve got veteran guys who contributed last year who have made huge strides, we’ve got young guys that came in the spring and even here in the last few months that are strides ahead of where they were and where we were last year,” said third-year quarterback Noah Vedral. “So the whole receiving corps, we’re really excited about. We don’t have drop-off whether we’re repping with the ones, twos or threes. We feel really good about who we’re throwing the ball to.”
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.