The starting secondary appears to be set for the Huskers and looks like potentially one of the strongest units on the team with Chris Jones and Lamar Jackson at corner and Aaron Williams and Joshua Kalu at safety.
However, the competition to be next man up is fierce and Eric Lee Jr. looks to be the player who has taken the lead at this stage.
“Eric Lee is having a really nice spring,” Bob Diaco said. “He’s working himself into a position where he doesn’t look out of place with the group and he’s productive, he’s got good football intelligence, and he’s showing some tangible and intangible traits that we covet in equal participation. We’re trying to find a role for him to see if he can rise to the occasion.”
Currently, that role appears to be as the slot corner in the nickel defense. Kalu and Williams, the two players who have filled that role under Mike Riley’s staff, look to be sticking at safety which means someone new has to step up.
One potential sub-package look the Huskers could have used would have been for Williams or Kalu to slide back to the nickel with sophomore JoJo Domann stepping in at safety, but Domann’s season-ending injury took that option off the table.
“It could be a huge opportunity for me just because it’s a big role in this defense and it’s just something that I’m going to try to master over the summer and obviously in fall camp and try to lock that position up if I’m able to,” Lee said.
Lee said the biggest difference between playing in the slot and on the outside is the options the receiver has.
“That slot receiver definitely has a two-way go, so you just have to be disciplined in your footwork and make sure that you take away a certain leverage that Coach asks you to,” Lee said.
Lee is also working at boundary corner behind Jackson and is getting plenty of reps in practice, and the reviews from the coaches have been positive.
“I just tried to show the coaches that I’m versatile and I can help the team in any way that I’m needed,” Lee said.
Lee said safety Kieron Williams — who started several games in 2016 — is also getting a look in the slot in the nickel package.
Lee redshirted during his first year on campus and played in eight games last season, recording two tackles including one for loss.
This spring, Lee said his overall grasp of the defense has made a big difference in his ability to perform when he hears his name called.
“At first I just kind of focused on knowing my part, but once you know everyone else’s part it slows the game down a tremendous amount just because you know I don’t have to work as hard to take this away,” Lee said.
Lee said he knows what the coaches are looking for from the defensive backs:
“Technique, that you apply what we take in the practice applies to the scrimmages and the drills and whatnot, then just effort, just make sure that you give full effort every play and if you need to take a play off you can sub somebody else in,” Lee said.
The season is still a long way off, but Eric Lee Jr.’s work during the spring has put him in a strong position to earn playing time come the fall.
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.