What the depth chart in the secondary will look like isn’t quite clear yet for Nebraska football.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and defensive backs coach Travis Fisher are confident about the talent in the room, but with three starters from last year’s unit gone, it hasn’t been easy to determine who will fill out each spot.
At Friday’s press conference, Fisher said that he’s been impressed by everybody in the room, and that there isn’t really a top group that has separated themselves.
“There’s so many DBs that I have available right now,” he said. “There’s so much talent in all the groups, so there’s a lot of guys that are impressing me every day.”
Defensive back Marques Buford Jr. echoed his head coach, saying “nobody” has a spot locked up right now. He’s one player looking to work his way into the lineup at the safety spot. He played in every game last year, but mostly appeared in punt coverage.
As a safety, he’s happy with getting physical, and said he sees himself being put in positions often where he’s in the box or closer to the line of scrimmage. At 5-foot-11, he’s one of the shorter players on the defensive side and in the defensive backs room, but he won’t let that be a deterrent.
“People see me, they say, ‘Ah, you’re a little small guy,'” Buford Jr. said. “I’m one of those guys, you got to show me that I’m small. Like you go out to bully me, and even if you do, I’m coming right back. You got to do it again. So I don’t really have a problem getting my hands dirty, getting down in the box, making tackles, any of that stuff. I love it, honestly.”
That versatility is something Buford values. While he’s been strictly playing at safety since the spring, he said he’s been taking “mental reps” at other positions just in case he needs to step in.
“Anything can happen at any given moment, so just keeping myself ready and staying on my toes,” he said.
Fisher wants depth in his unit for that same reason. The hope is always to get through the season healthy, but he said he wants nine to 10 players available just in case.
Last season, Myles Farmer was a player who was called to step up due to injuries. Starting safety Deontai Williams missed the final four games of the year due to injury, and Farmer filled in for the rest of the year. As a result, only Quinton Newsome has started more games for the Huskers among the current defensive backs.
Newsome and Farmer have been leaders in the defensive backs room this offseason, according to Chinander.
“Not that there wasn’t others that stepped up as well, but I thought Myles and Q did a great job leading that group, and they’ve taken it upon themselves to have a little extra film study when I can’t be around or not allowed to be around,” he said. “Myles is doing a great job right now communicating, helping the young guys. Obviously you can’t do that until you’re getting your job done, and right now he’s getting his job done.”
He added that they bring a somewhat different leadership style than Williams and Cam Taylor-Britt brought last season. Taylor-Britt was an energetic leader, while Williams was more “speak softly and carry a big stick,” Chinander said. Newsome and Farmer fall in between that.
As practice goes on, those two and the rest of the room will look to keep competing for a chance to start or otherwise see the field. Soon the team will begin tackling and hold a scrimmage, which Chinander said will “separate the men from the boys.”
“There’s great competition everywhere and I think we’ve got very, very competent bodies everywhere,” he said. “Guys that are going to compete. And I think it’s going to be probably very hard for Coach Fisher and myself to pick that starting four or five.”