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Mailbag: Let’s Talk About Nebraska’s Defense

November 20, 2019

New week, new mailbag. Let’s dive in.

How will the additions of Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III benefit the Nebraska backfield and how will the coaching staff implement them alongside Dedrick Mills? (@rybread120) 

Greg Smith: First it will give the Huskers more depth. Running back is tricky because one or two injuries can pop up quickly and derail your plans. Both Morrison and Scott III are very good prospects who should not need a lot a lot of time to get ramped up physically to play a role. I think the biggest impact will be the ability to keep Wan’Dale Robinson from taking to many carries in 2020.  

Derek Peterson: The last line from Greg is what I wanted to hit on. Dedrick Mills plus Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins and Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III means Wan’Dale Robinson’s usage can get a lot closer to the way Nebraska wants it to look. Getting two more exciting running backs in this class probably won’t impact the on-field product much next season, at least not right away, but when you’re in a situation where you can bring a Rahmir Johnson in and not worry “Shoot, we need to redshirt him to save the year and build him up but we also need someone to play that spot,” your room is better for it, and Johnson is better for it. I think Morrison and Scott will both be in pretty good situations next season, assuming Thompkins comes back alright.  

My questions are 1) What is a player's team involvement after they enter the transfer portal? 2) Many offers go out, when do they become committable? Could all the JUCO players that were offered last week commit and sign? Is there another unreported step in the process? (Travis Wagner) 

Erin Sorensen: I’m going to take the first question. From my understanding, a player’s involvement with the team after entering the transfer portal is entirely dependent on the coach (and the player as well). The coach can pull a scholarship when a player enters the portal and a player could just choose to not show up. I know I was asked recently why a coach wouldn’t let the kid finish out the time on the team, and the answer is similar to that of a job: do you want the person hanging around getting more info if they’re just going to leave? It probably makes sense just to part ways. 

GS: The committable offers situation is tricky. They obviously aren’t signing 400+ players this cycle so a lot of times offers are just to show guys they are interested and the school is serious. Offers become “commitable” at different times for different prospects. It really varies depending on the situation.  

When Nebraska makes a bowl game this season, how many underclassmen will get significant playing time without exceeding the four-game redshirt maximum? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Mike Babcock: Depends on the last two games, of course. A quick check of participation for those who have played shows: Bryce Benhart (2 game appearances), Darien Chase (3), Myles Farmer (3), Keem Green (2), Nick Henrich (1), Chris Hickman (2), Rahmir Johnson (3), Luke McCaffrey (2), Ty Robinson (1), Garrett Snodgrass (2), Javin Wright (1). Barret Pickering has played in 3 games and could conceivably redshirt, though that doesn’t seem likely. 

Jacob Padilla: Ty Robinson will see his snaps ramped up down the stretch according to Tony Tuioti, so he’s on that list for sure. I thought we might see more of Nick Henrich but he wasn’t in pads for practice today so his status appears to be up in the air. I think Keem Green’s opportunity depends on what he does when he gets out there; Tuioti wants to see him cut it loose a little bit more. We might see a couple more guys mixed in on special teams, but I wouldn’t expect much more than that at this point.  

How come the special teams started aren’t introduced before home games like the offense and defense? (@hotovy) 

MB: They vary by which special team it is. Some have already been introduced as either offense or defense, probably. And it’s never been done, even though special teams are one-third of the game, and as we’ve seen, a critical one-third. 

JP: Part of it might be that there are a handful of different units on special teams and there are 11 guys on each one, and many of the players are on multiple special teams units. If we’re going to introduce every single player that is the first one out on every unti, it’s going to take a while and there’s going to be a lot of overlap. 

ES: I assume you’re not asking about the kicker and punter because they are introduced, but I guess they’re called “specialists” on the big screen when introduced. 

Chinander’s defense is really reliant on getting big plays (turnovers) to be successful. With the more conservative style of offenses we play in the Big Ten, do you think we will see a change in philosophy this offseason? (@tklim2430) 

MB: Good question, one that others will be better able to answer. I think adjustments, but not an overhaul in philosophy. Recruiting also can impact the degree of success of Chinander’s defense. 

GS: No. I think part of why we don’t see them creating big plays on defense is because the offense goes long stretches of being ineffective every Saturday. If Nebraska got up 17-3 on an opponent like they were doing down at UCF, it would completely change how an opposing offense has to operate. I think that’s what he meant this week when talking about “complementary football.” 

DP: I think adjustments are needed—which is the case every year and we’ve already started seeing those (large and small, i.e. getting more size at defensive back)—but there shouldn’t be any fundamental changes. Continuity is important. That’s not necessarily the “He needs his own guys” argument but those guys need to be hearing the same things year in and year out so they can focus on stacking knowledge each offseason as opposed to learning new core concepts.

Based on the three games we’ve seen so far, do any of the Nebrasketball players’ games remind you of any NBA players, former Nebraska players, etc.? (@JJStark8) 

JP: It’s hard to make any kind of real NBA comparisons at this point of the season since most of the guys have not played all that well to this point. I suppose a guy like what Paul Millsap has become could be a good projection for what they’re hoping Kevin Cross can grow into at Nebraska. I don’t think we’ve seen a point guard like Cam Mack at Nebraska, at least not since I’ve paid attention to the program. He’s a lightning-quick guard with terrific court vision and passing ability; maybe De’Aaron Fox might be a comparable player in the NBA? Although I’m not quite sure about Mack’s defensive prowess just yet.

Seems like the coaches have been speaking more openly about the future of the team: OL changes next year, players in roster redshirting or returning from injury, new impactful recruits, etc. What does this openness tell us about the state of the current team and the future one? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

MB: The key is Frost’s observation that the “vast majority” of players are on-board. Everyone needs to be on-board and next year, that should be even closer if not the case. The offensive line returns intact. Add Bryce Benhart, for instance, and it’ll be better because now there will be six, allowing for rotation. Broc Bando has some experience and so forth. I don’t think this year’s team is being dismissed out-of-hand. But more pieces are needed. And everyone has to be on-board. 

What's the likelihood of Nebraska making it to a bowl game with a 5-7 record this year? If possible, which bowl? (@Cty2CtyLyle) 

MB: Pretty sure that can’t happen as it did for Mike Riley in his first season. 

ES: Basically not possible. While a 5-7 Nebraska team would still likely be desirable from a travel perspective, my understanding is that there are already too many 6-6 teams that are eligible this year to have 5-7 be a consideration. That happened in Riley’s first year because there weren’t enough 6-6 eligible teams, so they moved down the list. That’s not the case in 2019. 

In order to make a bowl we need to win out. If you had to bet on it, what do you think our chances are? 20-30%? (@InDaWilderness) 

MB: Before watching Stanley throw the ball against Minnesota, I would’ve said about 50-50 against Iowa after winning at Maryland. However, if the weather doesn’t seriously hamper passing the day after Thanksgiving, I’m thinking Stanley against Nebraska’s depleted secondary doesn’t look so great, so certainly not 50-50, more in the 20 percent range. But I’m getting ahead of myself, right? 

DP: Seriously I would put it at 50-50 if Nebraska can beat Maryland. It sets up a Super Bowl of sorts for Nebraska against Iowa and that’s a good situation to be in. 

Considering transfers and all, what is the max amount of players we could sign in this class, How many do you expect to sign, and when do you expect most of the remaining recruits to start pulling the trigger (December/January)? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: Twenty-six total new faces is the number that I’m operating with currently. I’d look for about 23 new recruits and the rest transfer guys. The majority of prospects will sign in December. 

Will Nebraska turn to the transfer portal this fall to add depth where it’s needed? (@nebraskicker) 

GS: Yes, but the luxury there is before they have to do that, they will see how many recruits they have signed and where the needs are. But they do intend to take guys from the portal. 

I'm not quite yet doubting Chinander can be the right guy at defensive coordinator, but does running a 3-4 make it inherently more difficult to find the right guys on defense? Seems they have to thread the needle (two starting inside linebackers, edge players, 3-4 d-ends are more difficult to find) versus a 4-3? Or do they just need more time, and they're still trying to get over the fiasco that was Bob Diaco? (@apdogtown) 

MB: My inclination is more time and some recruiting. 

ES: Wisconsin says no. You can be successful in a 3-4, but continuity and development are key. Those two words are Derek’s, so credit to him, but he’s right. Nebraska has had so much change on defense (heck, even the defensive line coach changed between last season and this). That plays a role in development, no matter what. Ask players who had a different position coach every year of their careers (that has happened at Nebraska) or players that had three different head coaches (Mick Stoltenberg says hey). Time is really key, because continuity is valuable in long-term development.  

JP: The outside linebacker spot would be the one position that it might be more difficult to find the perfect fit compared to a 4-3 as your pass rushers need to have at least some ability to drop back into coverage, but for whatever difficulty there is in finding that player I think the payoff if you’re able to do so is quite high. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters all that much what style you play whether on offense, defense or whatever. The key is that you do it well. I think perfecting what they already have been trying to do is a better route than dramatically changing things and finding a new way to play. 

Is there a reason so many recruits take their photos in all-reds? And am I crazy for kind of wishing we'd play some games in them? (@huskerfollow) 

GS: I honestly just think they look cool in photos. It might be a cool new thing to break out the all red in a game. 

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