Nebraska’s preseason camp is almost over. The Huskers wrapped an 11th day of football on Friday morning and head into an organized scrimmage on Saturday. Players and coaches will then be able to check out of the Selleck dorms and get back in their own beds.
Most of the players like that last part. Jimari Butler, Bryce Benhardt, Alex Bullock, plenty more spoke earlier this week about how they longed for their own beds again. They also enjoy that an especially grueling camp is near its end. With days consistently melting away between now and the August 31 season opener against Minnesota, coaches are still stressing constant improvement as proper fall practices near.
“I’m looking for the guys to get 1% better each day, that’s what we’ve been talking about,” linebacker coach Rob Dvoracek said on Friday through a hoarse throat. “Being relentless and being disciplined about what we’re doing and being violent. That’s, honestly, what I’m looking for. If we can do that and get 1% better, we’re headed in the right direction.”
Three linebackers spoke with media following Friday’s practice. Chief Borders and Jimari Butler, both Jack linebackers, and John Bullock, a fluid Sam and Will linebacker, all answered questions with Dvoracek and defensive coordinator Tony White. Both coaches complimented growth within the linebacker group this fall. Nick Henrich is back from injury and functioning as a leader. Luke Reimer earned a single-digit jersey as voted on by teammates. MJ Sherman spoke about his growth earlier in camp. Overall, Dvoracek is encouraged by what he’s seen out of his group.
“The room is really competitive,” he said. “They’re competitive in nature, they’re there for each other, they’re encouraging each other, they’re helping each other, they’re in meetings helping each other. It’s really a good group of young men and I’m proud of the way they’ve been working.”
Each linebacker brings their own unique skillset and circumstances into the fall. The previous coaching staff talked to Bullock about a possible move to linebacker that never came to fruition. The new staff made the move in two weeks. He’s now gained 15 pounds without sacrificing speed. Butler is confident in his new identity as a Jack linebacker within White’s 3-3-5 defense. On Friday, Butler said he can get to the ball now in ways he couldn’t imagine before.
Borders is now working exclusively at the Jack spot as well. A favorite among fans and teammates alike, the Florida transfer sees notable differences in preseason camp.
“We’re definitely working on having deliberate practices,” Borders said. “We’re applying what we preach. One better and what’s next. You can mess up on one play but the next one you’ve got to make sure you’re making every rep count.”
The Florida transfer, originally from Chicago, said the room is coming together because of constructive criticism. They point things out to each other, learning and teaching interchangeably, so they collectively rise. Strike hands, keep the edge and rush the quarterback. It sounds simple but in White’s aggressive 3-3-5 defense, it’s unpredictable.
Butler called Borders “my guy” on Friday, mentioning how much they enjoy working off each other at Jack. The returning linebacker said he’s more explosive than he’s ever been before. He likened his approach to pass rushing to “a car with no brakes.” White’s defense plays into Butler’s strengths while allowing him to work on his weaknesses. The returning linebacker enjoys that.
Then there’s Bullock. The native Nebraskan clawed his way onto scholarship. Day by day, he’s now fighting his way onto the field. Coaches told the entire team that preseason camp is a grind—embrace it. That’s what he’s doing.
“I’m able to fly around, make plays, get downhill and hit, which I like doing,” Bullock said. “I’m able to communicate on defense too, which I like doing.”
He’s never played a down on defense at Nebraska. Every bit of game experience he has so far is on special teams. That will likely change at the end of the month.