Caleb Tannor popped up on the top line of the Huskers’ first depth chart at outside linebacker. There’s an “OR” next to his name, and he’s technically a co-starter with junior JoJo Domann, but the younger Tannor is still there on the top line. Maybe “popped up” isn’t the most accurate way to describe it but raise your hand if you expected Tannor to be contending for a starting role in Week 1.
The Georgia native was limited in the spring after a few minor procedures, yet from the time he’s been full-go, he’s made perhaps one of the biggest jumps of anyone on the team. And he’s done it while mostly flying under the radar.
“It’s been really fun to watch him grow this August,” said Jovan Dewitt, Tannor’s position coach. “Now he looks better than ever, bigger, stronger and faster than ever.”
He played in all 12 games as a true freshman but only made nine tackles on defense. Tannor was a little thin, and a little hesitant to commit to the full-speed, no-fear-of-failure thing everyone on the defense is forced to embrace.
“He’s played harder,” coach Scott Frost said Monday. “I think he knows what he’s doing better.”
It may be cliched, but in this case, it’s the truth — the big change is in confidence.
“Coming from high school, playing in college he got a couple games under his belt,” said Alex Davis, the other starter at outside ‘backer. “You can see his confidence is sky high right now. He's a very quick player. A fast player. He's just playing fast and I don't see him thinking too much. In the meeting room we are all focused in. I can see him just laser focused. I feel like he's confident in his play.”
A full year of Big Ten play, a winter of strength coach Zach Duval being in your ear and a second summer of Duval pushing your limits beyond what you thought possible will do that. Inside linebacker Mohamed Barry says “he’s really ripped,” and for a player to have a combination of size (he’s 6-foot-2), the natural athleticism he came in with (that “twitch” coaches love) and now Duval-approved muscle, it’s only natural for confidence to shoot through the roof.
“This guy is really fast, like, extremely fast,” Barry said. “He has that type of speed, he doesn’t get tired of running fast. The speed, the endurance. He can hawk people from the other side of the field. It’s easy for him to come back to the line and do that over and over again.”
And with Domann sidelined early in camp, Tyrin Ferguson being managed a little in the run up to the season and Garrett Nelson just a freshman trying to learn the scheme, Tannor had an opportunity to make a move.
Make a move he did.
“He’s practiced really well,” Dewitt said. “He’s accelerated his learning curve in terms of where he was as a true freshman.”
Him being atop the depth chart is a little based on the match-up with a South Alabama team coming into Memorial Stadium on Saturday with the kind of flexibility on offense that requires versatility on defense. The leading returning receiver had nine rushing touchdowns in 2018, with a bunch of work on sweep stuff from the slot. The returning starter at tailback had 200 receiving yards and two catches a game. The team’s starting quarterback threw 19 times last year and ran it 28 times.
Tannor could see some serious run against the Jags.
The hope is he makes the plays that were there to be made last season.
His teammates have seen him do it in practice. Don’t be surprised if he pops up in the backfield on Saturday.
“He’s going to make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage,” Barry said. “He’s also going to make a lot of effort plays that we need.”
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.