The first week of spring practice gave Erik Chinander and his defense an opportunity to install Nebraska’s base defense. Monday’s practice was geared more toward handling third-down situations.
Chinander, as well as defensive backs coach Travis Fisher and linebacker Chris Kolarevic and defensive back Marquis Buford Jr., met with the media inside Memorial Stadium on Monday morning to detail how the first week of practices went.
“Moving through that first week we’re teaching the new guys the system, getting a big chunk of install in, and I know there’s a big chunk, we threw it at them pretty heavy,” Chinander said. “For some of the guys, it’s no big deal, it’s old hat. But for a lot of these new guys, they’re swimming a little bit. So we want to get everything in and then we’ll dial it back and detail everything.”
Communication is the biggest thing Chinander wants to see from his players at this stage. Are the linebackers talking to the defensive line after they get lined up? Are the safeties communicating to each other, then to the corners and outside linebackers?
There’s really two groups on the defense right now, Chinander said. They include the older guys and the first-year players, including true freshmen, transfers and junior-college additions. Those first-year players are understandably a little behind as far as knowing the scheme.
“To me, we’ll catch them up with that, I just want to see them move around, I want to see them go hard and not be afraid to make a mistake right now,” Chinander said. “So they have a little bit of catching up to do, but we’ll get there.”
One of the most intriguing spring storylines on the defensive side of the ball is Chinander’s nickel position, which has a new face in the room: Chris Kolarevic.
“It’s been really nice to see him being out there in space and being fluid,” Chinander said, “and I think we’ll get a little more man coverage in as we keep moving through the install and we’ll see how he does with some man coverage, but everything else he’s done a really good job so far.”
Kolarevic, who was playing at middle linebacker behind Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich last year, joins a nickel room that includes other contenders like Isaac Gifford and Javin Wright. Gifford, a Lincoln Southeast High School product, replaced JoJo Domann last season after Domann’s season ended early with a hand injury. Wright’s year came to an end sooner than he expected when a second blood clot was discovered. The Arizona native has been limited to start spring, but will continue to progress.
More news and notes
— If players want to get on the field, they better be prepared and excited to play on special teams, Fisher said. “If you aren’t playing special teams, we probably aren’t talking too much about defense,” the coach said. “That’s just the culture in the room. If you’re not contributing on special teams, it’s going to be very hard for you to play defense for me or these coaches here that I work for in coach Frost.
— Buford is a name that has emerged as someone who’s been impressing the coaching staff, especially his position coach, Fisher. Buford was a gunner on the punt coverage unit last season, which was his first in Lincoln.
— Braxton Clark is a long and rangy 6-foot-4 corner for the Huskers who will be entering his fifth season. What’s the next step that Clark has to take to see a starter’s amount of reps on Saturdays? “What’s inside? What’s inside of him,” Fisher said of Clark. “That’s the next thing, what’s inside of him. Knows the technique, knows the playbook. What’s inside of him? Are you that guy who sprints out there when it’s time for kickoff? Are you a guy who just wants to wait for defense? Not saying that’s Braxton Clark, but that’s what I mean by what’s inside of him.”