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Mike Dawson Talks Outside Linebackers, Nebraska’s Mindset for Minnesota and More On ‘Sports Nightly’

October 14, 2021

When you pour so much into something, you want to see the fruits of your labor. Nebraska’s team that will be traveling to Minneapolis on Saturday to play Minnesota is hungry to finally see a road win, outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson said.

Dawson joined ‘Sports Nightly’ on Thursday to discuss the Minnesota game, the players in his room, special teams and more.

The players are working hard and no one wants to see the wins come more than they do, Dawson said.

“They invest so much, that’s why there’s so much joy and it’s kind of euphoric when you win, and the opposite is true,” Dawson added. “When you invest as much as you do like these guys do, it hits you really hard when you’re not successful. We need to get on the right side of those games here and get ourselves over the hump a little.”

When Dawson returned to Lincoln in 2020 after coaching outside linebackers for the NFL’s New York Giants, Garrett Nelson reminded him of a Tasmanian devil. There’s been incredible growth with the Scottsbluff, Nebraska, native since though, and it’s been fun to watch. Nelson leads the defense with eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

“He was running around a million miles an hour, but you never knew where he was going to go or where he was going to end up,” Dawson said. “So for him, learning this is where you need to be, this is how you fit into a defensive scheme, I think that was something that he needed to learn a little bit, and I think he’s done that.”

Caleb Tannor is a player who is having his best season in Lincoln, both in rushing the passer and in run support. He has one sack and three tackles for loss. Dawson said he likes Tannor’s drive to improve, but wants to see more.

“He’s another one who has gone from the mode of, ‘Hey, I can show up and I’ll get to the quarterback,’ to now, ‘OK, you need to really teach me how to get to the quarterback.’ I think he’s left a couple (sacks) out there, and he and I have had that conversation,” Dawson said. “Whether it’s a miss-contain by a couple of steps or he’s coming on a loop and taking it too wide or being more exact in his movements and being able to turn almosts into a sack.”

Pheldarius Payne is a player who is coached by Dawson all the time and isn’t ever with the defensive line. Like Tannor, Payne is a fun guy to be around according to Dawson. Payne was more of an interior rusher when he got to Nebraska, and being in a four-down defense has been a better fit.

“He’s had a little bit of flash as far as making plays, but he’s another guy who, when he’s in the game, you can see his motor—it goes,” Dawson said of Payne. “He’s running and it’s a million miles an hour with him.”

More news and notes:

>> Nelson is consistently at the top of the list when looking at output in practice based on GPS tracking, which has become common in football programs. Other outside ‘backers who are always near the top include Tannor and former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson.

>> Dawson said Memorial Stadium’s atmosphere the last two games has been off the charts, which helps the team. It’s also something that he’s thankful he can be a part of, because it wasn’t always like that when he was growing up on the East Coast, where there are colleges and professional teams all over. In Nebraska, the Huskers are the main show. “Throughout my career, I’ve always wanted to be somewhere where it matters, and it doesn’t matter more anywhere else than it does here,” Dawson said.

>> Dawson noted that on grass fields, punt returners used to stand at the 10-yard line and would let the ball go if it was over their head. But since the emergence of turf fields, returners line up further back, around the 8, because of the turf and how the ball bounces from punts.

>> When Dawson’s outside linebackers are in man-to-man coverage, they’re taught to keep their eyes on the receiver and react when the receiver reacts to catch the ball. In zone coverage, the outside ‘backers are taught to watch the quarterbacks’ eyes while they get to a certain part of the field.

>> Nebraska will be playing its eighth game while Minnesota will be playing its sixth and coming off a bye week. Instead of making a fuss about the schedule, Dawson said it’s all about how you look at the situation. He said the Huskers have an advantage with two more games under their belt and more experience.

>> How does Dawson and the staff teach players to avoid a targeting penalty? Dawson’s message is simple. “If you hit an opponent in the head with any part of your body, that’s going to be a penalty, and especially when rushing the quarterback,” he said. “When it’s the quarterback, you can’t mess around with that. If you use your head to hit him, that’s generally going to be a penalty.”

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