Under Trent Bray’s tutelage last season, linebacker developed into one of the deepest positions on the team last year for Nebraska and all of the rotation players returned for 2016-17. That depth hasn’t really been tested this year as the group has stayed relatively healthy, but that might change this week.
“Our linebackers, have all, it’s been kind of clean there for quite of bit of time,” Coach Mike Riley said at his weekly Monday press conference. “But all of our linebackers have a little bit of something. I’m not sure that any of them can’t play, but they could be listed as best said questionable at this time. Dedrick Young, I think you probably noticed him playing with a bad ankle the other night. Marcus Newby has a hamstring that we’re hoping improves during the week so he can play. Michael Rose-Ivey has an elbow situation that was much like Dedrick’s from a week ago. We think he’ll be able to play as the week progresses here. Chris Weber had a knee strain that might keep him out of practice or limited for a couple days, but we hope that he gets back and can play. But that position has a lot of stuff going on.”
The Huskers returned to the practice field on Tuesday to begin preparing for Minnesota and Bray had to improvise a bit as players sat out or were limited and others moved around.
“Some guys are going to have to fill in,” Bray said. “We’re practicing Chris Weber at some outside linebacker and finding, if guys can’t go, how do we deal with that and who do we replace them with? We’ve got to do that and they just have to rehab and we’ll know later in the week who’s real, who can play and who can’t. “
Weber’s ability to not only practice but split reps at multiple positions as well is a positive sign, but Bray said Young – who did not practice Tuesday – and Newby are the two players they’re worried about most at this point. Weber will continue getting reps at both middle and outside linebacker, while redshirt freshman Mohamed Barry might get a chance to earn the staff’s confidence as well.
“He’s doing a good job,” Bray said about Barry. “We actually had a long talk last night. This has been tough for him, like all young guys, not being able to be on the field, especially that first year you’re available to be ready. But it’s just about him continuing to stay focused on getting better and knowing that it’s a process and that the end game, end result is what we’re after which is him being a big-time player for us. He’s on the right path.”
Barry has all the physical talent necessary to excel at linebacker; now he needs to catch up on the mental side of the game to see the field.
“Just consistency in assignment,” Bray said. “He has the ability, he has the speed, the quickness, the playmaking. But he has to be consistent in his assignment and be in the right fit. That’s really what his deal is and continuing to grow in that area.”
For now, though, Weber appears to be the primary backup option if Young is limited or out for Saturday’s game. Weber saw a lot of snaps and performed well last year when starting middle linebacker Josh Banderas missed time with injury, but he’s seen his playing time reduced this year as Banderas hasn’t missed a game.
“Chris is a good player,” Bray said. “If anything I’ve been disappointed that we haven’t been able to play him more. What we’ve been in with the teams we’ve played, and then Wisconsin, Josh was just playing extremely well so I left him in. Chris is a good player and he’s proved that in the time when he gets in, he’s very productive and he can make the calls. I have no problems if we’ve got to play him at outside on Saturday, I feel great with him playing there.”