LINCOLN, Neb. – Fall camp is officially in the rear-view mirror for the Nebraska football team as the Huskers are turning their focus in practice to Fresno State. According to Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker, camp went “really well.”
“We’ve made progress,” Banker said. “Out of our days in what would be considered camp, we only had one day that was not good at all. Another day we were sloppy, kind of in slow motion with our reactions. I mean, we were where we needed to be. Overall, we made a lot of progress and there were a lot of players in a lot of positions that really improved their play.”
After practice Thursday, Coach Mike Riley announced that senior safety Nate Gerry along with senior wide receiver Brandon Reilly will be suspended for week one against the Bulldogs. However, the Huskers are deep at both positions and Banker said three players will split the reps at safety against Fresno State.
“In our regular personnel there’s a combination of the two Williamses [Aaron and Kieron] and Antonio Reed,” Banker said. “I haven’t told them specifically who will step on the field right now because they’re all quite close from the standpoint of the order. We graded the two scrimmages and there was a red ball period. We took it as a plus-minus on assignments and also production. Or lack of production: tackles made, tackles not made, pass breakups, interceptions, things of that nature. The biggest thing is production. Bottom line is all three of those guys will play in the game.”
Junior cornerback Chris Jones had plenty of praise for Kieron Williams, who had been getting a lot of first team reps next to Gerry in practice throughout the fall.
“I felt like Kieron Williams stepped up this whole fall camp,” Jones said. “He stepped up in the spring and he stayed with that all through fall camp. He’s been making plays, being in the right spot at the right time, knowing what he needs to know. That’s one guy, you ask about this defense, he knows defense in and out. He studies film a lot and he knows what he’s doing.
“It’s exciting for me [to see Williams improve] because we both waited for our moment. We had our frustrating moment when we wanted to be out there but couldn’t, but now we’ve got our moment to shine. We’ve just got to keep our heads straight, know what we’re doing and go out there and play.”
>> Cornerbacks coach Brian Stewart said freshman corners Dicaprio Bootle and Marquel Dismuke will probably redshirt, but that they still need to be ready if called upon.
“They’re always on deck, I guess you could say, especially Bootle,” Stewart said about the freshmen. “He knows he’s on deck. So I make sure those guys are in all the meetings – not the scout team meetings, in our [cornerbacks] meetings – so they know what’s going on, some of the subtle changes we’re doing that are particular to this game. They’ve been doing a good job with that. But they’re always on deck; you never know.”
Stewart previously said that Lamar Jackson, the other true freshman corner, has already earned a spot on special teams and potentially in some sub-packages on defense, and on Thursday Jones said Jackson would be one of the next men up behind himself and fellow starter Josh Kalu.
>> Stewart said he is planning to utilize several different coverage schemes this season, including more Cover Three.
“I think we’re going to sprinkle in a little bit of everything,” Stewart said. “I just think every now and then, the corners are going to need a reprieve and I think playing a little Cover Three and mixing some other stuff kind of helps them on that. When you run a quarters, it’s still a man on the outside. And when you play man, it’s man. When you’re running Cover Three, you have a chance to play loose – it’s man on vertical routes obviously – but you can play loose from not having to chop down on some of the intermediate and shallow stuff.”
Jones said he is looking forward to play more Cover Three this year and thinks it could result in more turnovers.
“I feel that our defense is playing more of a Cover Three, that way we can look and see the ball more and make more plays on the ball,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to playing that coverage and seeing what it does for us. It takes a lot of pressure off of us. Now we’re able to look at the quarterback, see what he’s doing and make plays on the ball.”
>> The Huskers are anticipating a break-neck tempo from the Bulldogs on Sept. 3.
“I read the other day they’ve been trying to get a play ran every 15 to 10 seconds, so that will tell you the speed they’re trying to run on offense,” Stewart said.
Stewart said the biggest challenge for defensive backs against that kind of speed is simply getting lined up correctly. However, defensive line coach John Parrella expressed confidence in Riley and Banker to prepare them for any scenario.
“We’re fortunate to have the coaches that we have,” Parrella said. “Coach Banker has been there and done that with this type of offense. We’ll be fine-tuned for that. We’re excited for the first one. I think the guys are tired of hitting each other.”
>> Banker offered his assessment of the young defensive line heading into the season.
“[Mick Stoltenberg] didn’t play a ton last year,” Banker said. “To see him out there every day, with the first group, I thought he improved himself not only in camp, but in the off-season rehabilitating his knee as well as his play. I thought both the Davises [Carlos and Khalil] came a long way. Ross Dzuris and Freedom [Akinmoladun] have really been consistent with what they do. Alex Davis is somebody along with Sedrick King that has really stepped up their game. Alex, all the way from the understanding, Sed too, of what’s required of them down in and down out. They really showed up well when we’ve gone these two-minute periods from a standpoint of just pure pass rush.”
Parrella is high on his group’s talent but said they still have a lot of work to do.
“Our group has a long ways to go,” Parrella said. “We’re trying to gain a lot of fast time here in a short period of time and play catch-up. They’re fighting and they’re kicking and they’re scratching to get it done and every day is a challenge to get us ready. The biggest thing we have to do is stay consistent every day and every play. It becomes highs and lows. It’s enough to drive you crazy, but I think we’re doing a great job developing depth.”
Stoltenberg has emerged as the starter inside, alongside senior Kevin Maurice, despite missing the spring while rehabbing a torn ACL. At 6-feet-5 and 295 pounds, Stoltenberg isn’t a traditional nose tackle, but Parrella said that isn’t a problem.
“The days of the short and fat nose [tackle] are gone,” Parrella said. “They’re gone. You look at the National Football League, most of those guys are his size. Mick’s a great guy and we’re counting on him, and all of them, to get better and better and be more consistent … I think there’s both, a challenge and an advantage [to being 6-feet-5 at nose tackle]. The challenge is making sure you play with a low pad level. The advantage is he’s the size of a building. Good luck moving him.”
>> One young lineman who has shown some flashes during the open scrimmages has been Alex Davis, whose ability to rush the passer could get him onto the field in third down situations.
Parrella said the baseline expectation for Davis is “just to help” Nebraska with depth on the defensive line, but if he can translate some of his raw athleticism to better technique, he might not be just a pass-rush specialist.
So far, Parrella has liked the effort Davis has put in to expand his game.
“He’s out there, staying by himself after practice working with the other D-linemen so we can be more consistent on a daily basis,” Parrella said.
>> Mohamed Barry arrived on campus last year as a tremendously talented linebacker, but with the depth at that position and after an injury in fall camp, Barry redshirted. Now, he’s looking to make an impact.
“During fall camp I got so much better,” Barry said. “I got better on my technique. I went up on the depth chart a lot and it’s because I got confident in the scheme. I started to take command and know my job and all that stuff and I just applied it. I’m playing with swagger and I can play fast. Now I can play like how I was playing in my highlights in high school. Just playing fast and doing what I do best: get the ball, make plays.”
Barry said he is playing on our special teams units and is also comfortable playing at either linebacker spot.
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.