Scott Frost touched on a number of subjects when he met with the media on Friday. One of them was the outside linebacker position.
“I’ve been pleased with our linebackers,” Frost said. “Outside ‘backers, I think Alex Davis has made vast improvement. Caleb Tannor looks faster and looks better. Anxious to get JoJo [Domann] in that mix. Ferg [Tyrin Ferguson] has been doing really good things and Garrett Nelson’s been making plays, particularly yesterday he really had a good day. Then there are some other guys, young guys that I think have a chance. Overall, I think that group has improved and we need to keep pushing.”
The praise for Davis has been consistent throughout the offseason and his fellow fifth-year senior Ferguson also provides another veteran presence in that room. Once JoJo Domann is fully healthy and going through practice, he’ll be a big part of the picture at that position as well. But even if that trio lives up to expectations, the Huskers still need more depth, and that’s where the young guys come in.
Caleb Tannor was a big recruiting win for the coaching staff in 2018, and he did earn his way onto the field as a true freshman, playing in all 12 games. However, he only managed to record 10 tackles and one sack. He also weighed less than 200 pounds.
After a full offseason in Zach Duval’s strength and conditioning program and listed at 220 pounds, Tannor’s feeling a lot more confident.
“It makes the game way easier,” Tannor said. “If you’re out there putting all this weight on, you should be out there messing tight ends up … All those workouts we do transfer over to the field.”
Tanner said he didn’t have any kind of dedicated lifting program in high school. He lifted a bit on his own, but that was about the extent of his experience in the weight room. That obviously changed when he got to Lincoln and he’s starting to reap the rewards of the work he’s put in.
“He sets a whole lot nicer edge, I can tell you that,” outside linebacker coach Jovan Dewitt said. “It makes him obviously a much prettier-looking player and a much more physical player. I think now he understands better how to use his hands and he’s strong enough to use his hands instead of going in with the old high school flipper.”
Tannor said he’s faster, stronger, smarter and he understands the defense a lot better than he did a year ago, and Dewitt is seeing the same thing in practice.
“I think his ability to run and his recognition of what’s going on have been the most dramatic thing that you can see, because he can flat run,” Dewitt said. “Period.”
As for Nelson, the former Scottsbluff Bearcat enrolled early and went through spring ball, giving him a head start on learning the defense. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Nelson’s wild hair is a great representation of his playing style.
“He’s fun,” Davis said about Nelson. “He’s very talkative, very assertive and you can tell that he wants to be a great player. I’m pretty sure he will.”
So far, the young players in the linebacker room have impressed the upperclassmen with the way they’ve attacked things in the classroom, in the weight room and on the field.
“A lot of the young guys are very hungry,” Davis said. “They’re asking a lot of questions, they’re asking me questions, asking Coach questions. In the weight room you see them going crazy. It’s fun just watching them and seeing how confident they are coming in.”
Tanner made sure to give credit to the upperclassmen — particularly Davis and Ferguson — for helping him grow as well.
“[They’ve been] great resources since last summer, since I got here last summer, 7-on-7s,” Tannor said. “They taught me what I know right now. I thank them; I looked up to them last year. They were good role models when I came down here.”
Outside linebacker is one of the biggest question marks on the defense as the Huskers return a grand total of 70 tackles and three sacks at that position, but with Davis’ confidence translating to the field, good health from Ferguson and Domann and contributions from underclassmen like Tannor and Nelson, Nebraska has a chance to get the kind of pass rush it needs.
“I feel great about it,” Davis said. “We’ve got some guys that are really hungry, guys that have to go out and prove something. It’s just fun to see the energy that we’ve got even before camp starts. There’s a lot of hard work that we got done during the offseason.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.