Cam Taylor-Britt walked into the Husker defensive back room the summer of 2018 a former high school quarterback. “I liked Cam from day one,” Dicaprio Bootle told me on a podcast recently. Most did. He was a sponge from the moment he landed in Lincoln.
“You come into the DB room, the moment you step foot in that, you’re accepted,” Bootle said. “Now we’re looking after you. The older guys are looking after you and the younger guys are going to stick together. That’s how we rock.
“He had a lot to learn about the position. He had a lot to learn on defense—coming with the playbook, getting your feet right, technique, and then just kind of putting it all together.”
The rule was that if the older guy knew something the younger guy didn’t, and the older guy did nothing to change that, the older guy was doing a disservice to the room. That’s the culture. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said this week Taylor-Britt was “groomed” by the guys that came before him.
That’s Bootle. That’s the safety pairing of Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams that’ll roam the backend of the secondary for one more year together in Lincoln. That’s Lamar Jackson, now a New York Jet.
He sat and learned, asked questions, kept his nose in the playbook. But this guy had it right away. Taylor-Britt played 11 games as a true freshman, making the majority of his tackles on defense.
As a sophomore, he featured more prominently, yoyo-ing between corner and safety as Nebraska managed injuries elsewhere. As a junior in 2020, he blossomed opposite Bootle into an All-Big Ten caliber player.
There was a legitimate chance the Montgomery, Alabama, native could have jumped to the NFL Draft this past offseason. In 2020 he had four pass break-ups, three tackles for loss, and two picks to go with 28 tackles in eight games. He put SC Top-10-worthy, touchdown-saving break-ups on tape.
“The guy can jump, has good speed, good size, great athleticism, he has hands the size of a gorilla,” Bootle said. “He’s just gifted. I have no doubt when scouts see him, when people come to see him in person, they’re going to be pleased with what they see because he’s just physically gifted.”
So far, Taylor-Britt has shown really instinctual ball skills and a penchant for sticking his nose right into contact. Perhaps a little too literally in some instances, as the search for hit-stick tackles has sometimes put him in compromising positions. You’ll live with those plays because the highs can be game-changing, as we’ve seen (Colorado fumble recovery in 2019, Purdue breakup in 2020).
In a lot of ways, he checks boxes.
Scouts will have to wait, though. Taylor-Britt was part of the group of senior defenders who got together and decided they still had work to finish at Nebraska. As Taylor-Britt enters his fourth year, he won’t be a senior in name on account of the NCAA’s eligibility freeze in 2020, but he’s acting like one.
“I think he’s taken it upon himself to help that next group of corners come up,” said defensive coordinator Erik Chinander.
Specifically at corner, Nebraska needs Taylor-Britt to be that guy. He’s the most experienced in the room. Bootle and Jackson are no longer around to lean on, and the young guys looking to solidify themselves as a worthy starter opposite Taylor-Britt are looking to him for guidance.
“He’s just giving it back,” Fisher said. “That torch is being passed along. Cam is doing a good job with it. His leadership in the room, not only on the field do you see his leadership but in the classroom, too.”
(That’s an area of emphasis for Fisher as well. Dismuke and Williams have already graduated, and another year in Lincoln will help wrap up their masters degrees. Fisher wanted Taylor-Britt back for that reason, too. Fisher told Mom and Dad their son would get his degree at Nebraska, and he wants to make good on that one.)
Nadab Joseph, a junior college transfer a season ago, and Braxton Clark and Quinton Newsome are next in line to fill Bootle’s vacated spot. When Clark got hurt prior to the season last year, it bumped Newsome—then just a sophomore—up into that next man off the bench role at corner. When Taylor-Britt was suspended for the first half against Northwestern for targeting, Newsome filled in nicely.
Clark, Fisher said, might have pushed for a starting role had he not gotten hurt. That’s with Taylor-Britt and Bootle in the picture.
Joseph is in the same sort of mold—tall, long, athletic.
Fisher wants to lead the country in takeaways, which would be a step on the path toward developing the best secondary in the country in Lincoln. “I think I’ve got guys that can do it,” he said. “I really do.” And that belief likely starts with Taylor-Britt.
If the Big Ten sponsored a preseason all-conference team, Taylor-Britt would probably have decent odds of being on it. It isn’t that Fisher has high hopes for the fourth-year corner, it’s that the coach has high expectations.
“He’s not there,” Fisher said. “He’s not there, but every day he works on getting there. I think by the end of his collegiate career, he’ll like where he’s at as a DB and a football player.”
Added Bootle: “For him, it’s just basically going to be go out there this year and dominate. Just go and get your respect.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.