There are a lot of open spots on Nebraska's depth chart right now, especially on defense. The battle for two starting spots at one position is particularly intense: inside linebacker. The outside linebacker battle is raging, too.
However, if the defense is going to surprise this season, it will need to be strong and steady up the middle. Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud wants a sense of urgency every single day with his group. He believes when the players develop the same sense of urgency as modeled by the coaching staff, the unit and team will be in a good place.
One player Nebraska hopes will realize his potential sooner rather than later is Avery Roberts. A former 4-star recruit, Roberts came to Lincoln with a lot of fanfare. However, he has yet to really flash his full potential.
Ruud and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander were blunt in their assessment of Roberts during the spring, noting where he needed to improve. So, did Ruud see that improvement play out over the summer?
“He’s improved," Ruud said following Monday's practice. "He took it to heart, he’d probably tell you he’s not where he needs to be yet but he’s made a lot of progress in spring. I think he’s on the right track. It’s going to take him some time but he’s going to continue to work and get better. He took it to heart, so that’s good.
“He always had a decent understanding of the defense but physically he’s improved compared to where he was in the spring. I don’t think he was ready to play in the spring. Now with the offseason workout program, he really did get in better shape.”
Ahead of Roberts on the depth chart is a combination of Dedrick Young, Mohamed Barry and Will Honas. All three are capable players for the two starting inside linebacker spots.
Many have thought Young may be above everyone else, locking down the No. 1 spot. Not so fast, according to Ruud.
“I think it’s fluid with everyone. I don’t want to start saying ‘this guy is the one and this guy is the two’. I think there is a daily competition out there," Ruud said. "I want to see guys show up every day and be as dependable as it gets. Whoever I can trust, will be out there. I hope I’m able to put more than two guys out there.
“In our defense, we will play 90 snaps a game. So, I’m looking for a lot of guys I can trust. Depth chart wise, I’m not there yet but I think we have a number of guys that are doing a good job.”
Barry said Monday that he worked hard over the summer and feels the best he has ever felt going into a season. He is focused less on the competition and more on just getting better.
“I’m really focused on being the best I can be at my position and my craft," Barry said. "I want to take care of the stuff I can control. Whether that is pass rush, pass coverage, zone coverage, run stopping, I’m working on being the best at my position in the nation.
"Everyone is just competiing to be the best at their craft.”
That is likely music to Ruud’s ears. It's also a good sign in the competition for a key spot on Nebraska's defense.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.