Following the expected departures of second-team All-Big Ten corner Cam Taylor-Britt and safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke, Nebraska’s defensive backfield was always going to look different in 2022. That trio combined to play in over 120 career games and had 75-plus starts since 2017.
But it’s a new era of college football, and the transfer portal provides an opportunity for quick-fix solutions. And the Huskers, who are venturing closer to spring practices and a make-or-break 2022 season, are serious about fielding the best defensive backfield they can. So serious, in fact, that they are giving the defensive back room a complete makeover.
A whopping seven new faces will join defensive backs coach Travis Fisher’s room. As of Sunday morning, the Huskers have 16 scholarship defensive backs, which is a lot. Once spring practice starts, it wouldn’t be surprising to see attrition from those who project to be low on the depth chart. Of the seven newbies, four are transfers in Omar Brown, Tommi Hill, DeShon Singleton and Javier Morton. Three are high school recruits in the 2022 class: Jaeden Gould, Jalil Martin and Malcolm Hartzog.
The new guys will join a room that includes two players who already have Power Five starting experience in Quinton Newsome and Myles Farmer. Newsome started all 12 games at field corner opposite Taylor-Britt last season and had a career-high 57 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and four pass breakups. Farmer played in every game at safety and started the final four following what turned out to be a season-ending injury for Williams at Minnesota. The Atlanta native racked up a career-high 30 tackles with one interception.
Though Newsome and Farmer played well in 2021, it’s clear that Nebraska’s staff isn’t messing around. There will be competition galore at multiple position groups, and the DBs are no exception.
After a solid 2021, Newsome may have positioned himself well to be a starter next season. But what about the other corner? Saturday saw the commitment from Brown, the 2019 FCS Freshman of the Year at Northern Iowa. Like another high-profile transfer the Huskers grabbed from the portal, quarterback Casey Thompson from Texas, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Brown looks the part of a Big Ten defensive back and will be viewed as one of the favorites to win a starting corner job. The Huskers now have two former Panthers on the roster, the other being backup linebacker Chris Kolarevic.
But don’t forget about the long and lanky 6-4 Braxton Clark, who is entering his fifth year in the program. He played in every game in 2021, but has yet to crack the starting lineup outside of one spot start in 2019. There’s also former Ohio State five-star recruit Tyreke Johnson, special teams maven Marques Buford and third-year player Tamon Lynum.
And what about Hill and Morton?
Hill is the Arizona State transfer who had nine tackles last season as a true freshman in Tempe. He’s a former four-star prospect in the 2021 class according to the 247Sports Composite who chose the Sun Devils over offers from everywhere, including Alabama. Morton comes to Lincoln after playing for Garden City (Kan.) Community College where he had 20 tackles and one sack. The Atlanta native is a former Alabama commit from the 2020 class.
Both Hill, at 6 feet and 205 pounds, and Morton, at 6-2 and 185, fit the mold of the sturdy and well-built defensive back that Fisher seems to favor. That’s true for all four transfers that Fisher has brought in—their average height and weight is 6-1 and 198 pounds.
The biggest of the transfers is Singleton at 6-3 and 205 pounds—he’s a strong candidate to land a starting safety role. On his highlight tape, the Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College transfer shows an ability to provide strong run support from the safety position. Singleton comes to Lincoln after one season at Hutchinson, where he had 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and two pass breakups in 2021.
Like the corner position, safety has options who have been in the program like Noa Pola-Gates and Koby Bretz, though those two don’t have the college playing experience or size that Singleton provides. The 6-foot, 180-pound Pola-Gates will be entering his fourth year on campus and for the first time won’t be behind Williams and Dismuke. Can the former four-star recruit from Arizona take advantage? If not this year, when?
Although it’s unlikely, could there be a true freshman that sees the field? If we were to entertain that question, the favorite of that group would be the top-rated recruit in the 2022 class, Gould. A four-star prospect from fellow Husker Rahmir Johnson’s alma mater, Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey, Gould held an offer from Alabama and was once a USC commit before flipping to Big Red. Gould’s frame is already close to Big Ten-ready at 6-2 and 190 pounds. Could he be a candidate for safety, too?
There’s also the nickel role in Erik Chinander’s defense. All-American JoJo Domann won’t be patrolling the field anymore as a hybrid linebacker/safety. Isaac Gifford filled in admirably last season after Domann’s season ended with a hand injury. Gifford could be the one who keeps growing into the nickel role, though, depending on his health, Javin Wright is a dynamic and intriguing athlete at 6-4, 220 pounds who may fit what that position demands, too.
Immediately following every college football season, it’s tradition for media outlets to post their Way-Too-Early-Top-25 lists. But what about a Way-Too-Early-Starting-Defensive-Backfield list for the Huskers? Here’s one:
Corner: Quinton Newsome
Safety: Myles Farmer
Safety: DeShon Singleton
Corner: Omar Brown
That list might not be too ground-breaking, but at least on paper, it looks to be a solid one. Will the new additions pan out? That’s the million-dollar question.
Competition is the name of the game for the Huskers’ offseason. That may be true for the defensive backfield most of all.