Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Experimenting With Position Changes In Spring Season

March 29, 2023

Spring typically accompanies new beginnings. The sun shines longer to melt the winter’s mar. Rain replenishes the soil for future use. It’s a resurgence—a collective page turn to a new chapter.

Nebraska is also using it for experimenting with players at different positions. The first week of practice brought some shakeup while two Huskers donned gray jerseys during Tuesday’s practice. Head coach Matt Rhule explained those signify players who are taking reps on both offense and defense. Rhule said he’d never make someone switch positions against the players’ wishes. They may suggest it and explain why, but it’s never forced. Players can also volunteer to change on their own accord.

“I think we’re really direct and honest with guys,” Rhule said on Tuesday. “The good news is that we say you’re really good here, I think you have a future here and they believe it. If I think they’re in the wrong position I’ll tell them that too.”

Janiran Bonner moved from wide receiver to tight end at the start of camp. As a 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman, his skillset allows him to be a hybrid F receiver and tight end. Rhule called it a “dynamic change” for him, who thinks Bonner has a bright future at that position. Brodie Tagaloa, meanwhile, moved from tight end to defensive line. Coaches see a brighter future for him and his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame on that side of the line. Lincoln Southeast graduate Jake Appleget, who didn’t play as an edge rusher last season, moved to tight end this spring. Rhule said the coaching staff watched his film as a pass catcher for the Knights and wanted to see what he could do there. All those changes were made by the start of the spring season.

“One great thing about spring is we can move somebody and if it’s not right or it’s not working out they can always go back,” Rhule said.

Rhule and his staff also moved Tommi Hill back to defensive back, where he started the first three games last season. He finished last season as a receiver but is taking reps as a cornerback right now. He’s done that since the start of the spring. Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg is still solely at quarterback although he said he’d listen if the coaching staff approached him about a position change.

Defensive back Jalil Martin is still at defensive back but took reps at receiver on Tuesday. The redshirt freshman was a two-way player at Kenwood Academy in Chicago out of high school. Creighton Prep graduate AJ Rollins also wore a gray jersey on Tuesday. Rollins is still taking reps at tight end while adding reps on the defensive line. Rhule spoke highly of his future there, saying he’s likely made the most sacks of anyone on the team.

“I, personally, think he has a real future there,” Rhule said. “I don’t make guys move, I think he’s feeling his way.”

Rollins has taken defensive line reps since the start of practice and will likely continue to do so. Rhule explained the Creighton Prep graduate still wore the gray jersey so he could get reps at tight end.

Historically, Nebraska’s had success with athletic players moving positions. Former players like Bobby Newcomb, Cody Glenn, Jamal Lord and Eric Martin all changed positions. Rhule and his staff like identifying talent, moving them to meet their potential and then developing that potential. They hope to capitalize on a few of those moves this spring. That way they can start assembling how the team lines up in 2023.

Then there are the intricate position changes within the defense, led by Omar Brown. Although he’s still at defensive back, defensive coordinator Tony White likes what he’s done. Returning cornerback Quinton Newsome also recognized Brown’s promising contributions so far. His diverse skillset could put him in a spot where he could play multiple positions on the same drive.

“You throw them in different situations,” White said last week. “You put them on the grass and see what they do. And then you say their skillset is like this, or like this, then you move them around.”

White also mentioned Myles Farmer, Malcolm Hartzog and Braxton Clark moving to different spots within the defense just to see where they fit. Secondary coach Evan Cooper gets them reps at different spots to showcase their skills. White accommodates those requests and won’t lock someone into their position. When asked whether Hartzog, who won the starting job as a freshman during the coaching change last season, would play anywhere other than corner next year, White carefully composed his response.

“I’ll just say he’s a good football player,” White said. “So it wouldn’t surprise me that he’s all over the place.”

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