When fall camp began last Friday, Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander wasn’t really sure what to expect to see when his defense took the field. Did the Huskers take the summer off and recover or slack on learning the playbook?
“That’s not been the attitude around here and it’s been great to see,” he said Monday after the Huskers' fourth practice wrapped up. “Even the guys that were here in the spring, they look a lot different and a lot of that has to do with [strength coach] Zach Duval in the weight room and the conditioning. The kids are playing more confidently and they just look like better athletes right now.”
For the new arrivals, it’s about getting guys up to speed as fast as possible and Chinander said the veterans on the team have taken it upon themselves to help that process along. A step towards that horizontal leadership everyone keeps talking about. But for the guys that were here in the spring, there were questions about retention rate as it relates to the playbook. Chinander quickly erased any doubt of the team taking steps in the wrong direction.
“To be honest with you, I feel like it wasn’t even retention,” he said. “I feel like the kids did a great job of taking it upon themselves this summer. The old guys taught the young guys. Install has really been pretty easy, the kids really know the answers right now so they did an unbelievable job with the playbook over the summer and the spring.”
And there are so many new guys that some of the team is still learning names. But the benefit of having so many job replacements walking around is the competition levels are through the roof compared to where they used to be.
“With the young guys and the new guys we’ve added playing at a high level, the competition has increased everywhere,” Chinander said.
“We look like a completely different unit on both sides than the spring. I think it’s knowledge of the system, it’s knowing how Coach [Scott] Frost wants them to practice and there’s probably more competition out there than there was in the spring.”
There might not be a spot more indicative of the growth than the secondary, a spot where confidence levels were “not very high” in the spring. Chinander feels “really thrilled” about where they are now.
“Definitely, that’s the most improved unit on the team,” he said. “By no stretch of the imagination are we ready to roll yet, we’re not ready to go out there in a game yet but that unit as a whole — the guys that were there, the young guys — that group has taken a huge, huge step in fall camp and I think we’re all surprised with them.”
Asked about anyone specifically, he said the growth has been “pretty global.” Freshman corner Cam Taylor snagged an interception early on, then Antonio Reed got a pick, then Aaron Williams got a pick. There have been pass break-ups and forced fumbles through the first four days of camp (a good or bad thing, depending on how you want to look at it).
“Overall the group has [risen] up a little bit,” Chinander said.
Other News and Notes
>> Aaron Williams and Luke Gifford, both of whom had injury-limited offseasons, are practicing with the team but Chinander says they’re taking things slow.
With Williams, Chinander says the senior safety is “a great asset” to defensive backs coach Travis Fisher and his room.
“He’s a very smart football player, system aside he’s just very football savvy so he does a lot of nice things,” Chinander said. “He can kind of guide those safeties and help them out.”
On Gifford, Chinander is starting to see what some of the hype is about.
“I can tell exactly what kind of player Luke is, I can tell what kind of asset he’s going to be, he just needs to get his legs under him a little bit,” he said. “He did the strength and conditioning all summer, which is good, but it’s not football. He just needs to do a little football. He shows signs of really being a great football player and I kind of see what everybody’s talking about with him.”
>> Central Florida grad transfer Tre Neal is in Lincoln practicing with the team. Chinander talked about what he brings to the table here.
>> “I’m seeing some of these new backs and some of these new wide receivers make some cuts I haven’t seen in a while.” That’s Chinander on some of the Huskers’ new offensive “toys,” as he puts it.
One guy that has made a rapid impression is running back Maurice Washington. Head coach Scott Frost said last Thursday before fall camp opened that he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Washington on the football field, but it seems as if the tailback has opened some eyes.
“He’s been running real hard. I can’t wait,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said of the back. “When he packs on some weight, that’s going to be a special running back.”
They’ve already collided a couple times so far. Barry flashed a smile when asked if he’s gotten to “pop” the back yet. He shared an exchange the two had after a practice.
“You’re working and I love it,” Washington told him.
“I know he’s hungry," Barry said. "I can’t wait to see what he can do.”
>> Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle also had good things to say about another freshman, walk-on defensive back Moses Bryant.
“When I see Moses, I don’t think walk-on,” Bootle said. “He’s different, he’s a good different. I like it. He’ll continue to learn DB and get better.”
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.