Replacing three NFL caliber talents like Khalil Davis, Carlos Davis and Darrion Daniels is no easy task. The Davis twins in particular had outstanding performances at the NFL Combine. Khalil Davis ripped off the best 40-yard-dash time for a 300-plus pound lineman since 2000.
Losing that is now a challenge in front of second-year defensive line coach Tony Tuioti. He has no shortage of players vying to get those snaps that are now available. The Huskers have a mix of veterans, unproven players and a pair of junior college transfers.
Ben Stille, Damion Daniels and Deontre Thomas have been regular contributors. Casey Rogers, Keem Green and Ty Robinson saw spot duty last season. Tate Wildeman and Mosai Newsom are trying to work their way into the conversation as well.
Outside of Stille, there are a lot of young and unproven players. Tuioti is excited to work with those young guys. He came into a situation with Darrion and the Davis twins already as seniors. They didn’t need as much development with their fundamental technique.
“[The departing seniors] were great players,” Tuioti said recently. “But to get someone from a freshman and build them, mold them into what we want, that’s what excites me about this spring ball. Having the same position coach and being with these guys for two years in a row I can see the young kids are understanding what we want to get done in terms of fundamental technique and how to play within the scheme of the defense. I’m excited about that.”
A bigger challenge now is that Nebraska is on a hold form spring ball until at least April 6. The Big Ten Conference suspended all team activities until then, and it’s hard to predict what will happen when early April rolls around. What we do know is that the Huskers’ annual spring game has been canceled and Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos is already looking at what to do about those lost spring football practices.
Tuioti was excited about the early work from his group before the stoppage though. For the 2020 season, Nebraska will have to lean on a guy or two that has recently redshirted. Having a redshirt season and the same message from a position coach could help speed up the learning curve. There were a slew of players who showed up to spring practice with the right mindset.
“Ty Robinson, it means a lot to him as a big-time recruit to still get his feet wet and play,” Tuioti said. “We came up with a plan to utilize his time wisely. He has a chance to be a special player. He’s very business-like and tries to learn as much as he can. Mosai Newsom has put on a lot of weight. He came in about 240 last year. Now he’s sitting at 285, close to 290. He’s getting his body right because he wants to be a contributor and play. Tate Wildeman didn’t play a lot the last two years for us but he’s sitting around 290.”
Nebraska will need new contributors to step up this season. The unproven defensive lineman’s development would help the defense take a step forward overall.
There is excitement about the mix of players that now have to turn that into consistent play on Saturdays. Tuioti—and the players—are all excited about the opportunity in front of them when the opportunity returns. Now it’s just a waiting game until we know when Nebraska can continue its preparation for the season.