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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Defensive Backs Coach Evan Cooper Wants ‘Everyday Guys’ in Secondary

August 07, 2023

The 3-3-5 defense provides something new, something different than most opposing offenses have seen. It even provided secondary coach Evan Cooper a challenge to coach within it. Cooper explained to reporters on Monday that a cover 3 assignment and man coverage remains the same in the system. And he’s attacked coaching within the new defense the same way he consistently asks his players to approach each day.

“Any time there’s something new I just attack it, just like I ask my players,” Cooper said. “Small adjustments here and there, but it’s still just football.”

Now into the second week of preseason camp, Cooper likes where Nebraska’s defensive backs are. Healthy returners Malcolm Hartzog, Quinton Newsome and Tommi Hill are cross training at corner and safety, just so they can diversify themselves and give the Huskers options. The rover position is slightly different, Cooper reasoned, where current safeties take reps there more than corners. The secondary coach likes their collective leadership while asking for consistency among the group.

“Being an everyday guy, being the same guy every day,” Cooper said he wants. “It gets tough during the season and I want to see who I’ll be able to count on, that’s it. Those guys that show up every day, those are the guys I want to go to war with.”

The secondary coach likes Corey Collier’s physicality and his direction but urged that consistency out of him. Coaches are searching for that same consistency from Omar Brown, who could become a regular defensive contributor if he does. Hill conquered adversity already while at Nebraska and Cooper likes how he’s responded. There are multiple defensive backs scrapping for just a few positions on the field at a time. Cooper said he wants to fuel that competitive fire for those positions.

In that same vein, Newsome, Hartzog, Hill, Phalen Sanford, DeShon Singleton and Isaac Gifford all received praise for their leadership in setting a standard for effort. Young defensive backs, including rover Eric Fields, are trying to meet the standard while trying to meet the speed of college football. Doing both could be daunting. Luckily for them, the new arrivals haven’t necessarily had to do both.

“It took a while, especially for us older guys,” Gifford said of meeting practice expectations. “For the younger guys it might have been easier because that’s all they knew. For us older guys it took us a little bit to really figure out the ‘whys’ in what Coach Rhule did. But now that we’ve got it figured out, it’s good.”

Cooper mentioned how the deep talent pool in the secondary could lead to a different dynamic midway through the season. Cooper also isn’t interested in the depth chart at this point, saying things like that work itself out. Younger players may meet the standard after a few weeks in the college game and work their way into rotation. The secondary coach said the staff will “see who is available and who is accountable and we’ll go from there” throughout the season.

Coaches are collectively focused on the daily aspects of practice. That comes from Rhule and trickles down to the position coaches, then onto the players. Cooper believes in his head coach, saying it could get overwhelming to look at the tasks too far ahead.

“Attack every day, every play, every second,” he said. “Just try to maximize the time you have.”

The Huskers are still working on takeaways in the secondary. Players continually work on punching the ball out and catching balls from the jugs machine. They don’t want to miss out on takeover opportunities, the secondary coach said. So they’ve put takeaways toward the top of the priority list.

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