Ty Robinson technically enters the 2022 season as a sophomore, but don’t let that classification fool you.
It’s the Arizona native’s fourth season in the program after redshirting as a true freshman in 2019 and seeing his—and everyone else’s—eligibility freeze in 2020 with the NCAA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s not considered a young guy anymore, but he doesn’t need anyone telling him that, either.
He knows because he feels it.
“I feel like I’m in a 35-year-old body,” Robinson said with a laugh on April 6 following team’s 14th practice, its last before last weekend’s spring game.
Robinson might feel that way because it was a jam-packed spring full of practice reps for the 6-foot-6, 305-pounder. Following the departures from last year’s veterans like Ben Stille, Damion Daniels and Deontre Thomas, Nebraska’s defensive line, especially at the interior where Robinson plays, has become thin.
Nebraska’s roster lists nine d-linemen, but Robinson and fifth-year player Casey Rogers are the only ones with real game experience. Another interior player from last year, Jordon Riley, followed last year’s d-line coach, Tony Tuioti, to Oregon. Riley figured to be a key part of the rotation in 2022, but still behind Robinson and Rogers.
Rogers, a 6-5, 295-pounder from New York, sustained an injury in fall camp last year that kept him out of the first five games. He returned to play in the last seven, racking up 17 tackles with three tackles for loss and a half sack. After going down with an injury late in the fourth quarter in the season finale against Iowa, the coaches and trainers decided to play it safe with Rogers this spring and didn’t allow him to compete physically.
Of course defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and outside linebackers/d-line coach Mike Dawson would have preferred Rogers to be out there this spring. But it’s more important that Rogers be closer to 100% healthy when the season starts.
“The good thing about Casey is he has a super-outgoing personality,” Dawson said on Feb. 28. “So it’s easy for him to interact with guys, it’s easy for him to stay engaged. The trick for him—don’t get bored. You have to be there (at practice) and it’s not going to be as fun. I’ve been there—when you’re not coaching or playing, those practices tend to seem like they last a lot longer. When you’re playing or coaching, they go by too fast.
“But the big part for him will be to stay focused, gain the mental reps, watch somebody else make mistakes and then make sure he doesn’t repeat them when he comes back in.”
There are intriguing young pieces at the interior d-line, like Nash Hutmacher, Mosai Newsom, Jailen Weaver and Ru’Quan Buckley, but that foursome is largely an unknown right now due to a lack of experience. Hutmacher looked strong and physical in limited snaps late in the season when Daniels was injured, but how will he react to a full 12-game schedule?
One d-lineman who seems to have played his way into the rotation is Colton Feist, a walk-on from nearby Yutan, Nebraska. Feist has battled injuries in his career, but the 6-2, 280-pounder is healthy now and showed good things at the spring game. As an under-sized player at the interior, Feist needs have solid technique, which he showed off last weekend:
With depth concerns behind Robinson and Rogers, it makes sense for the program to take a peek in the transfer portal for immediate help. Both Robinson and Feist spoke on that this spring and would welcome another face to the room.
“It would take a load off some of the guys,” Robinson said of a potential transfer addition. “I can say that most of us have over 400 game live reps this spring ball. So, just body-wise, we all made it through (the spring) and it shows what we can do.”
Feist isn’t afraid of losing his spot in the rotation if a transfer comes in, either. He’s confident in his standing in the room.
“You just have to go out there and do your best every day and hopefully you’ll still be able to play,” Feist said after the spring game. “So if we can get some guys to get us better, it’ll make us all better as a whole.”
Nebraska seems to be a candidate to land one of the most coveted d-lineman in the portal, Ochaun Mathis, formerly of TCU. But Mathis is more of an outside ‘backer/edge rusher. He would obviously help the Husker defense, but so would an experienced interior player who already understands the strength and physicality needed to compete at the position in major college football.
The Huskers struck out with one of those earlier this offseason in Nesta Jade Silvera, a former Miami Hurricane who wound up at Arizona State. What other interior d-linemen could Nebraska be eyeing in the portal? Transfers are coming and going almost every day, but here are three options as of Monday, April 18:
Cam Goode, UCF
Goode, a 6-2, 315-pounder spent three seasons at UCF and recorded 12 tackles for a loss and six sacks. The Washington, D.C., native signed with Virginia Tech in the 2018 class, but never played for the Hokies. While in Orlando, Goode recorded 51 tackles and had three sacks in both 2020 and 2021.
When Goode got the ball carrier, he made it count—he forced four fumbles in 2021, a team high. He also showed off his athleticism for a big man with an interception that he returned for 10 yards against UConn.
Since entering the portal, Goode has visited Michigan and Syracuse, according to his Twitter page. Goode got to UCF just after Scott Frost and his staff left for Nebraska. Maybe there’s a connection there or not, but one thing is certain: Goode is exactly the kind of strong and experienced player the Huskers are looking for in the middle of their defense.
Terry Hampton, Arkansas State
Hampton was one of the top interior d-linemen in the Sun Belt Conference last year until he suffered a season-ending knee injury in October. If healthy, he’d be a solid pick to win a rotation spot at Nebraska. The 6-foot, 293-pounder is powerful and experienced—exactly what the Huskers are looking for.
This is just one example of what Hampton can do, but you can see the strength he plays with:
In four seasons at Arkansas State, Hampton totaled 61 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. In 2020, he had 35 tackles, six for a loss and two sacks.
Jordan Redmond, Virginia
Redmond is a 6-foot, 305-pounder who spent three seasons at Virginia and entered the transfer portal on Dec. 5 of last year. The Florida native didn’t rack up eye-opening statistics while with the Cavaliers, but he didn’t need to as a true zero technique who aligns head-up on the center or in the A gaps, on either side of the center.
Redmond, a former three-star recruit who committed to now-former Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall in 2018, made five starts as a true freshman in 2018, three in 2019 and two in 2020. In his first three seasons he had 17 tackles and half of a sack. In 2021, he recorded four tackles.
Like Goode, Redmond has the size and strength that would be useful in the middle of Nebraska’s defense.