Coaches are asking a lot out of Nebraska’s linebackers. That starts at defensive coordinator Tony White, whose scheme requires dynamic athletes to move around pre-snap while playing with speed, aggression, discipline and power. It also includes linebacker coach Rob Dvoracek, who is making sure Nebraska’s linebackers re-learn the fundamentals of the position—body mechanics, the tackling the block destruction, how to attack the football—along with the scheme.
White started dialing back installation last week to help defenders. That allowed linebackers to practice their various positions. With confidence in assignments comes fluidity, certainty and speed. Head coach Matt Rhule said the defense, overall, won last Saturday’s scrimmage thanks to a significantly improved performance. At the heart of that defense came the dynamic second level.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Dvoracek said last week. “We’ve learned how to practice, we’re still learning how to practice. We’re still learning the execution of the defense so we’re putting guys in a ton of different positions and trying to see them go out, execute and try to play at a high level.”
Dvoracek said coaches and linebackers are all learning together, which is fun. They share ideas among each other and decide what’s best for the team. Some of that is a testament to the structure of White’s defense. Dvoracek is a big believer in making linebackers learn Mike, Will, Sam and Jack positions. MJ Sherman recently said he enjoys playing the Jack linebacker spot, which is as demanding as it is enjoyable.
“The Jack position is a versatile role, they do a lot for us,” Dvoracek said. “They’ll play off the ball, on the ball, they’ll play in space, so they do a lot, which makes it a fun position to play. Kind of mix things up within that Jack position so it’s a fun position to play.”
The linebacker coach reiterated every linebacker is learning each position to see where they fit best. Dvoracek pointed out that’s beneficial not only for evaluation but for possible attrition through the season. Regardless of positions within the defense, it’s every defender’s responsibility to get the call from the sideline. Each position speaks and each player is responsible to get set up based off the call.
Dvoracek is still getting to know the linebackers in the room. He wants to know them better as people outside of football and that’s still a work in progress. It’s important to him that coaches and players trust each other beyond the field. He wants to learn about them, their families, their goals, whatever is important to them. The players themselves are already rallying around each other.
“The group in general just has been a pretty close-knit group and they’ve all kind of pulled each other in different areas, whether it’s in the classroom or on the field,” Dvoracek said. “I don’t want to point out any one guy because I think all of them have done a pretty good job of putting their arms around each other to try to make the room as best as it can be.
Nebraska’s linebacker coach shied from naming anyone specific who stood out during the spring but was asked directly about a few. Luke Reimer is “doing a good job” and has pleased Dvoracek with how well he’s getting up to speed. White previously talked highly about John Bullock, who comprehends the defense well after moving from the secondary to linebacker. Dvoracek said he’s proud of Bullock’s progress, his toughness and willingness to do whatever is asked. Jimari Butler, still technically an edge rusher but who has gained reps at various linebacker spots, garnered praise from Dvoracek for a “nice job” learning and retaining the defense.
The Huskers enter the final two spring practices this week before the anticipated Red-White Spring Game. In reality, the team this week most likely won’t be a carbon copy of the team that returns to the field this summer. That’s not impacting how the Huskers go about their business.
“Within the room in general we all listen to each other, we all want to get better,” Dvoracek said. “We all here for the same goal and purpose to push these guys to be better men and win football games.”