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.
Several future NFL and all-conference linebackers have played at Nebraska. The halls of the football facility inside Memorial Stadium and the northern wall of the stadium itself are adorned with their names. There’s a certain level of historic pressure when it comes to playing linebacker at Nebraska. Two native Nebraskans are back to embrace that pressure.
The tandem of Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich are both back for another season this fall. They tallied tackles when they were on the field together last year, which was limited because of injuries to both at various points. Both essentially sat out the spring season, which allowed the newcomers to gain those reps. Linebacker coach Rob Dvoracek said both are in the clear now and ready to contribute this fall. Their experience at Nebraska provides a reliable baseline in the Husker linebacker room that will try to approach things differently in Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense.
Transfer arrival MJ Sherman from Georgia is in line to crack the starting lineup. Sherman started taking on more of a leadership role at the end of the spring season while acknowledging he needed to earn it from his teammates. His skillsets are different from Reimer and Henrich, which suits him to fill into the Jack linebacker spot. He can rush the passer and blow up plays behind the line of scrimmage. Fellow transfer arrival Chief Borders will challenge for snaps as well. Borders is fast enough to drop into coverage with a strong enough body to stay in the box.
Jimari Butler was one of the names that stood out when White was introduced as defensive coordinator. Coaches complimented him for his effort in the spring. Kaine Williams, Randolph Kpai, Mikai Gbayor, Michael Booker III, Garrett Snodgrass, Grant Buda, Gage Stenger, Seth Malcolm and Grant Tagge are all returning Huskers who could benefit from White’s mass-substitution approach. They’ll get opportunities in fall camp to fight for snaps in the season opener. Tagge, Buda, Williams and Gbayor all received compliments from coaches through summer workouts. Booker seems adjusted to the nuances of linebacker play since moving from defensive end. Head coach Matt Rhule awarded John Bullock a scholarship after spring camp. Bullock bought in and now finds himself in the mix for significant snaps.
Two freshmen linebackers enrolled early and impacted the roster. Homegrown Huskers Maverick Noonan and Korver Demma both made the stat sheet during the Red-White Game. Demma is a preferred walk-on who embraced the weight room and moved well. Noonan showed he hasn’t lost his pass rushing abilities in the spring game. Then there’s Eric Fields and Dylan Rogers, who are both on campus now ahead of their freshman seasons. Rogers is a powerful run-stopping linebacker who can shed blocks. Fields is an athletic tackling machine with burst to get into the backfield and a nose for ball pursuit. Rhule gave Fields a high compliment in the winter, saying he has the potential to be the next great Nebraska linebacker.
While Henrich, Reimer and Sherman are likely the three starting linebackers, expect many more to see the field. Rhule and White want to use hockey-style substitutions this fall. That puts an emphasis on the Huskers’ depth. If the Huskers in that group can elevate their play, it could go a long way to how good the defense performs this fall.