FREMONT, Neb. –– In football, like most team sports, communication is key.
Outside of the actual Xs and Os installation, building up that communication was a primary focus for the new Nebraska coaches during spring ball. According to defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, the team isn’t quite there yet but he did see some players start to emerge as communicators.
“You saw like Mick Stoltenberg and Luke Gifford doing it from the sidelines, and you saw some of the safeties trying to communicate the calls to the corners better, the inside linebackers — obviously you’ve got Mo Barry, Dedrick Young and Will Honas — started to make the most strides in communication, the defense was communicating within themselves,” Chinander said. “We saw it develop a little bit. Is it good enough? No, but it definitely got better.”
Communication is a vital part of leadership, and Chinander said the Huskers are coming along in that area as well, though they’ve still got a ways to go.
“Coach [Scott] Frost has a lot of great things he does to develop leadership with the whole team,” Chinander said. “He kind of lets us all have a piece of that. He also brings in some outsiders to develop some leadership which we’ll be working on I think this coming weekend. Bad teams have zero leadership. Good teams are usually led by the coaches. Great teams are led by the players. Are we going to be there yet? No. We’ve got to lead that, we’ve got to do that, he’s [Travis Fisher] got to be that guy in the DB room. I’ve got to be the guy in the defensive room. Eventually we’ll turn it over to those kids and that’s when we’ll really become great again.”
Before players can emerge as leaders and communicators, before they can start to play freely like Chinander wants, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher believes it is important for his players to develop a bond away from the football field.
There were nine defensive backs on scholarship when Fisher arrived including rehabbing safety JoJo Domann, and since then the Huskers have added six scholarship recruits to that room from both the high school and junior college ranks.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think being a great secondary has anything to do, first, with breaking on the football,” Fisher said. “I think the communication and guys actually going to lunch with each other, taking care of each other, I think that’s first, and being really close is first. Every secondary I’ve ever been a part of or coached were very coach, the safeties and corners. I think the first thing I had to do was make sure that group was close. I think for the most part, that’s getting a lot better over the spring.”
Once they become familiar with first each other and then the defense, that’s when communication starts to flow and when the players can really cut it loose and play freely.
“The second deal was the communication part of it and getting those safeties talking to the corners loud,” Fisher said. “That’s where the confidence comes from. Because first when you get the job, they’ll whisper; there’s no confidence in that. When I can yell and scream a call or a check or something like that, that’s where the confidence comes from. It not only just tells who you’re talking to but also puts you in a position where you’re ready for that play. That’s really where it kind of comes from. They got a lot better with that. The next part is actually — they put themselves in a position where ‘I can make that play’, the next step is just no fear of failure, which we talk about every day. Just going to do it. Just have to go try to do it. Where you do it or you don’t, just go try, and that’s just the next phase.”
With spring ball in the books and summer workouts underway, Chinander said these next couple of months will be key for continuing to develop that “no fear of failure” mentality, and it starts in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval.
“Developing some depth, developing some leadership, and then like we talk about, throughout the strength and conditioning program, the biggest value for me and I understand completely how adding body weight, body mass, body strength, speed, how all that translates, but the biggest thing for me is the translation of the confidence they gain within the weight room, because then all of a sudden the DBs start breaking on balls, the linebackers start taking shots in the A-gap, the D-line starts throwing guys because they’re confident that, ‘Oh hey, all of a sudden I can squat 550 pounds, I can bench 315 pounds.’ That gives a lot of confidence, so I think what we see in August is going to be directly related to what’s going on in June and July.”
Whether it be in the lunch room or the weight room, this summer is all about laying the foundation – camaraderie, communication leadership – for Scott Frost's program in Lincoln.
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.