It’s only Week 2 of spring ball for Nebraska, but there appears to be a lot to like about the growth of the defense so far. Just ask defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. The two words that seemed to fit the theme following Wednesday’s practice were disruption and violence.
It didn’t start that way though. From what Chinander said, the Nebraska offense “got up a little bit early.” That’s when the defense really went to work.
"The guys kind of huddled themselves together and got the energy up, and we started flying around,” Chinander said. “We finished practice really, really strong and I think we're moving in the right direction."
Family members of both coaches and players were invited to Wednesday’s practice, which meant a new group of people had a chance to see the Huskers in action. Chinander said those in attendance — parents includes — noticed the strides the defense has made in the first two weeks of practice already.
"It's faster-paced, it's cleaner,” he said. “The guys know how to practice, they know how to transition from drill-to-drill and we almost don't have to tell them. The stamina, maybe, is better. It was hard at first for these kids to get through practice the way we wanted them to and at the tempo we wanted . . . This year they are easily doing it. I think the strength and conditioning has a huge part in that with Coach [Zach] Duval. I think the tempo of practice is the most impressive thing right now."
A lot of that starts up front with the defensive line. Chinander specifically noted “the violence they are playing with up front” and that they’re getting after the quarterback as a result.
It helps that there are a lot of guys up front to work with. It also doesn’t hurt that the Huskers added Darrion Daniels, the brother of Damion Daniels, to the roster. The experience Darrion brings with him to Nebraska from Oklahoma State has already proven to be valuable for the Husker defense.
"I think he's brought some experience, he's brought some leadership," Chinander said. "He's not afraid to speak his mind and he does it in a proper manner. He's not trying to be the guy that comes in here [and says,] 'I'm going to run this team right away.' By the way that he works, the way that he drills and the way he runs to the ball in practice, those guys are naturally starting to listen and follow along with him."
It may only be Week 2, but things seem to be trending in the right direction for Nebraska’s defense.
Additional news and notes from practice:
>> Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt spoke with the media for the first time since the news about his his battle with a form of throat cancer went public. Dewitt said he is not supposed to be at practice but has only missed one out of five so far. It was the first practice he’s missed in 35 years.
Dewitt also said he is halfway done with his treatment and hopes to be complete with it all in early April.
>> New defensive line coach Tony Tuioti has seen a lot of things to like from his group so far. He called the defensive line’s mindsets “really good” and noted the leadership in the room.
“Damion Daniels and Darrion Daniels, those guys are alpha males and that’s great to have. That’s something we always try to find. A nose tackle that is a real ‘war daddy.’ Those guys have that mentality. They give a chance up front to dominate and win A gap to A gap. Then we’ve got some athletic guys like the Davis brothers. Those guys are really good players along with Ben Stille.
“We have a group of guys with a good skill set to mix and match as we find personnel groupings to play what we want up front.”
>> Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud has an interesting makeup with his group. It’s a combination of veteran players mixed with newcomers, so it can create an interesting coaching opportunity for someone like Ruud.
“You are always going to have a little bit of that,” Ruud said. “Hopefully as you get going, you have a bunch of veterans and there isn’t quite as much overall learning. Every year you are going to have a couple new guys that you starting from scratch with. That’s the foundation. You always have to start somewhere. Even the older guys, I like to go back to the basics when we get to spring.
It’s all foundational learning, core beliefs and principles in spring, so that’s what we are concentrating on.”
>> Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher noted that junior defensive back Marquel Dismuke has changed his body over winter conditioning.
“Marquel’s changed the body around,” Fisher said. That’s one thing; he’s gotten a lot stronger in the weight room and I give Coach Duval and his staff a lot of credit but also Marquel with the right mind frame. ‘Hey, not like my past, I’m coming in here with the right mind frame and I’m going to go to work.’ Also, in the film room he’s a lot more vocal. I think he’s getting the attention of the young guys, which is very important. I think he’s making that stride, the right kind of strides that we needed this year.”
Speaking of that vocal aspect, Dismuke’s mental game has also improved. It’s not perfect yet, but he’s getting there.
“He’s matured a whole lot,” Fisher said. “He’s got a long ways to go, but everyone does. It’s just the spring so far right now, but he’s been great to have in the room, he’s been a leader. What he says in the room, it speaks volumes and on the football field, he’s going fast. He makes his mistakes, but he’s still going fast.”
>> A few updates on players who did and did not practice on Wednesday:
Freshman Wan'Dale Robinson was in pads and back to practicing. He did not practice on Monday, but Coach Scott Frost said it was a “minor little hamstring strain.” Frost thought Robinson would be back by Monday, but he instead returned Wednesday.
Sophomore wide receiver Jaevon McQuitty and sophomore outside linebacker Caleb Tannor both did not practice on Wednesday. Similar to how it was mentioned in our Monday observation post, Tannor did not have his jersey on (unlike other players who were out, like McQuitty).
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.