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Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Jamie Nance tries to catch the ball against Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Quinton Newsome during practice
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Husker Spring Game Storylines: Who is Ready to Play in the Secondary?

April 29, 2021

The week has finally arrived. Nebraska’s 2021 Red-White Spring Game is on Saturday. In the run-up to the game, we’ve got a few storylines to potentially watch for this weekend, expanded on a little more than normal. One per day. The first was a look at Jaquez Yant. The second, a question about the passing game. The third focused on the offensive line. Next:

What does the secondary rotation look like?

Find Cam. 

Ideally we’d get to see strength on strength in the scrimmage, but after a spring period where it seems practices were like blood baths over there, Nebraska is going to go “thud” for the first half and live only for the second half of Saturday’s game. 

That change seemingly helps a guy like Braxton Clark, a fourth-year Husker corner who has been limited this spring as he recovers from an injury that cost him all of last fall. No live work for Clark, at least that’s what was said last time Travis Fisher brought him up. 

If there was to be live, to-the-ground tackling all game, you wondered how much run Clark would get. You don’t want to mess up the shoulder more in the spring if he’s expected to be part of your plans in the fall. 

That being said, throughout the spring, Clark—who was in line to potentially steal some starter snaps from Cam Taylor-Britt or Dicaprio Bootle last season before his injury—has seemingly been overtaken by Quinton Newsome in the race for Bootle’s old spot. 

It’s possible the competition returns to more of a “neck and neck” variety in the fall when both Newsome and Clark are completely full-go (Nebraska really likes Clark), but if Newsome has the edge now, that’s worth something. 

How does this relate to the spring game, and what does Taylor-Britt have to do with the other spot? 

The junior corner has said he doesn’t want to come off the field this upcoming season. Taylor-Britt has played safety in his Husker career, and his combination of skillset and size makes him the kind of defender you can move around. 

Now, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said last spring that with a good corner, it’s better to just keep him at corner, but if Taylor-Britt can be just as impactful at nickel or as a safety in specific concepts and you feel there won’t be a drop-off from the guys coming in behind him to play corner, why not test out some looks?

My theory (which could be completely wrong): if Taylor-Britt is moving around in the spring game, expect some fun stuff this fall and expect Nebraska feels optimistic about its crop of defensive backs behind the three vets.

If Clark and Newsome can both play, they’ll play. 

If Myles Farmer and Noa Pola-Gates at safety can both play, they’ll play. 

The top four DBs last season played 538 snaps (Bootle), 534 snaps (Marquel Dismuke), 520 snaps (Deontai Williams), and 468 snaps (Taylor-Britt). Newsome, who played the third-most snaps of the Husker corners, saw 147 snaps. Farmer saw 89 snaps as the third safety. Pola-Gates saw fewer than 10. 

There’s the potential for a less polarized room this fall, and I suspect we’ll get a sense for how much so this spring. 

Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher loves to cross-train all of his defensive backs so that anyone can go in anywhere any time they’re needed. He has also signaled that Pola-Gates is ready for a role. And he’s signaled that Farmer and Clark were going to play bigger roles last season before injuries changed plans. 

Is Taylor-Britt going to work exclusively with Williams and Dismuke? Or will he be on the field with, say, two corners and Farmer? Where is Pola-Gates at? 

Nebraska’s secondary has so many options and Fisher can go in a bunch of different directions with regards to how he crafts the rotation. 

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