Mike Dawson has his work cut out for him in 2020. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said so earlier this week.
But Dawson—who is in his second stint with the Huskers but now coaching outside linebackers—feels good about what he has available. Sure, only fifth-year senior JoJo Domann really has a proven track record for this defense—he had 52 tackles and 11 tackles in 2019—but he’s enough of a “Swiss Army Knife” for Dawson. If Domann can play a big part though, who joins him?
Keep an eye on Caleb Tannor. The junior produced 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 12 games last season, but the timing might be right for a breakout season in 2020.
“Caleb is a guy we’ve talked about not being a flash guy,” Dawson said during an interview with Husker Sports Nightly on Thursday. “You’re going to be a guy who’s a play-in, play-out, every down guy. He’s got the tools, he’s got great length, he’s got good athleticism, he’s a guy who can go forward and rush the quarterback, he can also do a little bit in coverage . . .
“He’s just got to tie it all in. He’s played as a young guy and hopefully that experience over the past two years leads to something that’s pretty good for us this year.”
Dawson is also excited about sophomore Garrett Nelson, crediting his passion and physicality, but looking forward to what time and experience will do for him. After Nelson, the position is open. Guys like Javin Wright, who moved to outside linebacker from defensive back, Jamin Graham and Niko Cooper could all be factors in 2020. Dawson especially likes Cooper’s height, length and hand size.
“He’ll be able to put his hands on people and be physical and strike,” Dawson said. “He’ll do a good job in the run game for us and, with that, flip the switch and be able to go rush the quarterback. It’s going to be a lot of fun getting to work with Niko.”
Dawson wasn’t the only coach to join Sports Nightly on Thursday. Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud also spent a little time talking about his position group and provided a few updates.
One of those notes was on redshirt freshman Nick Henrich. Now more than a year past knee surgery, Henrich is settling into the type of player Ruud wants. Henrich has put on 25 pounds since arriving at Nebraska and has “all the tools to be a really, really good football player.”
Ruud is also high on sophomore walk-on Luke Reimer. After playing on special teams in 2019, Ruud expects him to make a move on the depth chart in 2020.
“I think he’s found a home for us here at inside linebacker and I really think he’s got the potential to be a big-time player,” Ruud said. “Not just at Nebraska, but around the conference as well.”
As for those with experience, Ruud is working with fifth-year seniors Will Honas and Collin Miller. He also said that Honas—who is now two seasons removed from knee surgery—is “100% healthy.” As for Miller, he’s grown into one of the leaders of the defense and that his physicality can now match the verbal side of his game. Ruud expects both to have strong senior seasons.
Other names that came up during Ruud’s time were redshirt freshmen Garrett Snodgrass and Jackson Hannah, incoming freshman Keyshawn Greene and junior college transfer Eteva Mauga-Clements. Ruud had high praise for all four but wishes he could have seen more from Mauga-Clements this spring.
“I wish he would have had a full spring to see what he can do with pads on,” Ruud said. “But I think he’s got a good future here.”
Other news and notes:
>> Nebraska can start working with players for six hours a week in walk-through practices. After losing most of spring practices, the Huskers are ready to get back at it. Dawson wants his group to really appreciate it.
“Each rep they get is like a piece of gold,” Dawson said “They’ve got to take that rep as seriously as they can.”
>> This is Ruud’s third year coaching inside linebackers at Nebraska, and he feels good about it.
“It’s probably the first year we really feel good about not just your first group you throw out there, but the second and possibly third group as well,” Ruud said. “As far as the overall room, it’s definitely the most comfortable I’ve been.”