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Q&A With Nebraska Freshman Linebacker Caleb Tannor
Photo Credit: Greg Smith

Hot Reads: Which True Freshman Has the Biggest Impact on Defense?

August 06, 2018

Let the fall camp fury really begin. The Nebraska football media will have access to the coaches and players for the first time today following a fall-camp practice. The defensive assistants are the first up, which is fitting because we’re talking defense today anyway.

Last week, we asked in our poll which true freshman would have the biggest impact on Nebraska’s offense. To make it sporting we removed quarterback from that poll (sorry, Adrian Martinez) and it was before running back Maurice Washington had been declared immediately eligible. Each would’ve changed the results, but without either running back/receiver Miles Jones ran away with the vote, garnering 47 percent. Following him was tight end Cameron Jurgens with 22 percent, offensive lineman Will Farniok with 11 percent and wide receiver Justin McGriff with 10 percent (10 percent also selected “Other”).

This week we’ll pose the same question for the defense, which is a trickier proposition. Coming up with a five most-likely to contribute on offense was relatively easy, particularly without Washington in the fold and holding out Martinez. But projecting the best baby Blackshirt is more difficult as the Huskers return multiple starters at all three levels.

Also, five of the eight freshman signees on defense in the 2019 class are slated for the secondary.

“We knew one of the issues when we first got here and examined the roster was our depth in the secondary,” Scott Frost said last week. “I think we’ve done a good job in the offseason putting pieces together to try to improve that. I’m really excited about some of the kids that are here. Several true freshmen, a transfer, a junior college transfer, if those guys are what we think they are I think it’ll help us a bunch.”

Doesn’t make it any easier to select among the true freshmen, however, so our candidate list includes the four top-ranked players in the class, plus one player who I think has to be included based on the frequency of his name coming up. Here’s the list, vote here:

OLB Caleb Tannor: A signing-day win for Nebraska and the top-rated defensive player in 2018 based on our Hail Varsity Rating, Tannor might have the clearest path to immediate playing time. The Huskers have options at outside linebacker and, as Jacob Padilla noted in his position preview yesterday, the group was more disruptive than you may remember. It still feels like there could be a role here for a true freshman who proves particularly adept at getting after the passer.

DB Cam Jones: If Jones sees the field for significant snaps this fall he’ll have certainly earned it as safety might be one of the Huskers deepest positions. Starters Antonio Reed and Aaron Williams return. JoJo Domann is back after missing last year due to injury. Marquel Dismuke had a good spring. And, now, UCF transfer Tre Neal is also in the mix. That’s a lot of players to leap on the depth chart, but Jones was one of the most impressive players in the class in my opinion.

DB CJ Smith: Everything I wrote about Jones above applies to Smith, likely a safety as well. He was the first player to commit to Frost at Nebraska and he had some high-profile SEC offers. Sub packages (nickel, dime) might offer either a guy a way to see the field early. Make a few splash plays there and all of the sudden you’ve got yourself a breakout freshman season.

DE Tate Wildeman: The road isn’t much less rocky for a young defensive end trying to crack the two-deep this season. Nebraska is loaded with upperclassmen at the spot –– some still with much to prove –– so it won’t be a surprise if Nebraska chooses to keep a redshirt on Wildeman. Nor would it be much more of a surprise if he passed some of those second- or third-options to work his way into the rotation.

DB Cam Taylor: This is your write-in candidate, or speak-in in this case. Over the past two weeks veteran Nebraska players have been asked often which newcomers impressed during the offseason. Taylor, an “athlete” from Montgomery, Alabama, has almost always been among the first few mentioned. If he ends up looking more like a corner than a safety, he has an even better chance of earning snaps this fall.

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