This is a series taking a look at each position on Nebraska’s 2023 roster. It’s a brief glimpse on the most intriguing aspects of each position.
If Nebraska is assured at one spot this fall, it’s the secondary. The Huskers return all-conference-caliber talent and a few that defensive backs coach Evan Cooper said look like NFL players. All of them are returning for at least one more season in Lincoln.
There are a couple Huskers that make you grab a Sharpie. Quinton Newsome is a lockdown corner and his senior leadership provides a lift for the entire room. Myles Farmer, a junior, was an every-day player last season and the new coaches believe he’ll play a big role yet again this fall. Marques Buford Jr. played well before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Wisconsin last season. Buford also moved well in Tony White’s defense and catches praise from Cooper, sparking some belief he’ll find the starting lineup again. Malcolm Hartzog could retain the starting cornerback job he won as a freshman last season. Meanwhile, Isaac Gifford is back at the nickel spot, although he could occasionally play at rover in White’s shape-shifting defense.
Then there’s a few potential breakout performers. Omar Brown, Javin Wright, DeShon Singleton and Phalen Sanford all found the field last year but could elevate their snaps with a big fall. Coaches also like Tommi Hill and see a big role for him going forward. Hill started at corner before being replaced by Hartzog. Hill moved to receiver but couldn’t make an impact there either. This staff likes him on defense and what his athleticism brings to the room.
The group outside of them is far more unknown. Braxton Clark, Koby Bretz, Javier Morton, Blake Closman, Tamon Lynum and Derek Branch all fill out the secondary without affirmed roles. The staff likes them and what they can do. None of them have much of a collegiate resume so cracking this lineup is a tall task for them.
New faces, a transfer and some Class of 2023 arrivals, could make an immediate impact on defense. Corey Collier is the only transfer portal arrival Nebraska got at cornerback. He didn’t make much impact at Florida but he could grow into a reliable rotation man with this group. Dwight Bootle II arrived in the spring and has a head start over some of his contemporaries. Syncere Safeeullah, a late arrival in the 2023 class, played exceptionally well in the spring game and could push to see the field this fall.
Then there’s some non-early enrollees to complete the room. D’Andre Barnes is an athletic corner who could provide the team a lift once he adjusts to the speed and size of the college game. Omaha Burke graduate Mason Jones brings the grit of a walk-on to the table. But, among this group, Rahmir Stewart and Ethan Nation are the two with the best chance to play right away. Stewart is an intelligent player who is will to take on blocks from the secondary. He was one of the best safeties in the country last season. Nation competed in the All-American Bowl and willingly stepped up against top-tier competition on the corner. He’s not big but, so far, his eye for technique has made up for it.
Cooper leads this eclectic room, his first in college football since he coached Baylor’s defensive backs. He’s taken to the group right away with his eye for detail and high energy. His job may be easier than his co-workers because of the sheer returning talent in the secondary. But that also brings some measurable pressure to deliver.