Nebraska lost a lot of experience in the back seven from last year’s team, but the Huskers do return All-Big Ten linebacker Mohamed Barry in the middle and his presence should take some of the pressure off all the new starters around him.
“It’s a confidence-booster,” senior outside linebacker Alex Davis said. “You saw what Mo did last year. He’s a great leader, a great vocal leader, and he goes out and does it. He goes out and he proves it every week. Just to know that you’ve got somebody like that, a monster in the middle, it’s nothing but a confidence-booster for the full defense.”
Last season, his first as a full-time starter, Barry led the Huskers in tackles with 112 (nearly 30 more than second place, his partner at inside linebacker in Dedrick Young II) and added 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, five quarterback hurries and one pass break-up. Barry is a fifth-year senior who has worked his way up from redshirt scout team member to special teams contributor to back-up to starter, and now he’s poised to go out with a bang as one of the most productive returners in the Big Ten.
Though this is his last camp at Nebraska, it doesn’t feel like it to Barry.
“I’ve got more to show,” Barry said. “I feel like last year, it almost feels like my freshman year. I’ve got so much to show. I’ve got a lot of growth mentally that I’ve gained through the spring and the summer. I’m just ready to show it.”
That mentality has caught the attention of his coaches, and it’s trickled down to his teammates as well.
“He’s a guy that always just wants to get better,” inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said. “That’s what you want from your players, you don’t want guys that think they’ve arrived, you want guys that are constantly trying to get better and then you want guys that are playing with them and pushing them and competing with them. I think they’ve done a good job of that.”
One of the guys pushing Barry is Will Honas, who has already recovered from the torn ACL that ended his 2018 season after just four games.
“Honas looks fast,” Barry said. “He’s playing fast. I’m so happy for him. That’s a hard thing to do, sitting out for a year. I love this game so much and I know he does. We’re good friends, we hang out outside of this stadium. He was in pain with that but he was a great teammate during that time too. To see him come back at full speed, not guessing, not playing slow, is a great thing.”
Junior Collin Miller is the other inside ‘backer pushing for a starting job, and behind them is a group of underclassmen in freshman Jackson Hannah and a pair of walk-ons in sophomore Joseph Johnson and freshman Luke Reimer.
“I feel like this is our best unit since being here,” Barry said. “From Collin, from Will, from Luke, a lot of young guys, Joey, he’s a great player too. We’ve got a stout group. Coming into camp the questions were is the linebacker group stout enough, what’s the death issues? If I go down or someone goes down, what’s going to happen? I think if I go down or anyone goes down, the next person is ready to come up because they’ve put in that effort and put in that work.”
Ruud said Barry’s presence in the room with so many young players has made a difference.
“It really does help, especially when you’ve got a guy that’s played under the lights a little bit and been there, who has lived through what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and how to prepare,” Barry said. “I think he’s been a big help and he’s always been a worker, which is a good thing.”
Barry isn’t the only senior on that defense, though. There are a handful of seniors in the two-deep gearing up for one last season who are determined to set the tone for the defense.
“The thing is we’ve got to keep on demanding from our teammates, and they give every day,” Barry said. “You’ve just got to handle it day-by-day. The future, you’re going to handle that when that comes. You look too much into the future, fear and doubt start to come up. If we handle every day and we trust in our training, and we go to that field, lights on and we do it, I know we’re going to be a great defense. For the leaders, it’s to demand everything from our players every day.”
That demand for excellence is making a difference and leading to better intensity in practice.
“I think it’s just an intensity thing for me,” Barry said. “I want to step in there and I want to feel like, ‘Dang, if I don’t make this play, Darrion [Daniels] is about to make it before me, or D-Cap [Dicaprio Bootle] is going to make it before me.’ We need to get to the ball all the time. I really want to stop the run. Yards per rush is the biggest thing for us, and then make turnovers and give our explosive offense the ball back.”
Barry said the biggest change he’s seen overall in the defense is how consistent they’ve been.
“It’s an effort thing,” Barry said. “You can’t come to practice and say ‘Forget this, I’m going to take the day off,’ because it shows in the game. There are going to be times where you’re tired in the game, and it shows, everyone sees it in the stadium. If you want to take an entire practice off, you’re going to take a rep off in the game, certainly. That’s why you’ve got to come in with that effort. New mistakes are good. We correct them. You make new mistakes every day but you have to fix the mistakes from your last practice, that’s how you get better.”
In Barry’s mind, that’s what the Huskers have done so far this camp and he expects it to carry over to the season. There’s no doubt in his mind that the Huskers are going to be a good team this year, and if that is going to be the case, it’s going to start with leaders like Barry.
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.