The 2019 season has officially come to an end, which means its time to turn our sights toward 2020. With Nebraska locking in the vast majority of its recruiting class during the early signing period, now is a good time to take stock of where the roster stands.
Defense: Defensive Line
Inside Linebackers (7 Scholarship, 9 Walk-On)
Returners: SR Will Honas, SR Collin Miller, rFR Nick Henrich, rFR Jackson Hannah, rFR Jackson Hannah, SO Joseph Johnson (walk-on), SO Luke Reimer (walk-on), SO Zach Schlager (walk-on), SO Jake Archer (walk-on), SO Chris Cassidy (walk-on), rFR Caden McCormack (walk-on), rFR Garrett Hustedt (walk-on)
Newcomers: JR Eteva Mauga-Clements, FR Keyshawn Green, FR Braden Klover (walk-on), FR Grant Tagge (walk-on)
Departures: Mohamed Barry
Just three of the 16 inside linebackers on the roster are set to be upperclassmen next season, and only two of them are returners. Collin Miller and Will Honas were part of the three-man rotation last season along with the room’s only departure in Mohamed Barry. Those two have the inside track to start next season, but it seems wide open beyond that.
Nebraska’s trio of 2019 inside linebacker recruits all redshirted last season. Nick Henrich, one of the class’s top recruits, injured his shoulder in the spring and ended up only playing in one game. Garrett Snodgrass played on special teams in three games but he also earned Scout Team Defensive MVP honors. Hannah did not play at all in 2019.
The walk-on group of inside linebackers might be the most intriguing on the team. Luke Reimer showed enough as a true freshman to avoid a redshirt, playing in 10 games and recording 11 tackles. He played mostly on special teams but also saw some action on defense. Joseph Johnson also played in three games as a redshirt freshman and was on the travel roster for all five road games.
McCook product and tackle-machine Zach Schlager also transferred to Nebraska as a walk-on August of 2019 after spending his freshman season on scholarship at Colorado State. He sat out the 2019 season and will be eligible in 2020.
The lack of experience behind Miller and Honas made the addition of junior college transfer Eteva Mauga-Clements a big win for Nebraska. He’ll likely be battling with the redshirt freshmen for the snaps that belonged to Barry in 2019. Keyshawn Greene could also insert himself into that conversation if he grasps the defense quickly as he brings the kind of speed and athleticism that Nebraska’s been lacking at that position.
Outside Linebackers (8 Scholarship, 5 Walk-On)
Returners: SR JoJo Domann, JR Caleb Tannor, SO Garrett Nelson, SO David Alston, rFR Jamin Graham, SO Simon Otte (walk-on), SO Ryan Schommer (walk-on), rFR Nick Leader (walk-on), rFR John Bullock (walk-on), rFR Sam Shurtleff (walk-on)
Newcomers: SO Niko Cooper, FR Blaise Gunnerson, FR Jimari Butler
Departures: Alex Davis, Pernell Jefferson, Jordan Paup (walk-on)
Mike Dawson has a lot of work to do with his room. Nebraska needs to generate some kind of pass rush from the outside linebacker spots this season if the Huskers want to take a step forward defensively.
JoJo Domann developed into a key part of the defense as Nebraska spent most of the time in its big nickel as Domann is big enough to still be a factor against the run while being fast enough to drop back and cover in the slot. I’d expect him to play a similar role next season, but behind him it looks to be wide open.
The only departure who contributed last season is Alex Davis, who started every game opposite of Domann. He never quite developed into the pass-rusher Nebraska was hoping he could be, but he did record 30 tackles as a senior.
Next season looks like a potential now-or-never situation for Caleb Tannor. He played in every game his first two seasons and has continued to build up his body and add muscle to his frame, but the production just hasn’t been there. He’s recorded just 3.5 sacks in 24 career games and had 17 tackles last season, just two more than what Garrett Nelson produced as a true freshman despite Tannor out-snapping him by quite a bit.
If Tannor wants to start, he’s going to have to hold off the wild man from Scottsbluff. Nelson was one of just four freshmen who did not redshirt in 2019. He didn’t always know what he was doing, but whatever he did he did it at full speed all the time.
David Alston did not appear in a game as a redshirt freshman, nor did Jamin Graham who redshirted in 2019.
Needing more depth at the position, Nebraska signed three outside linebackers in its 2020 class, one junior college transfer and two high school players. Niko Cooper has three seasons of eligibility remaining after transferring from Hutchinson Community College and will look to push for immediate playing time as he’s already burned his redshirt year.
Blaise Gunnerson is enrolling early, but he’s still in the process of recovering from an injury so it’s hard to say whether he’ll be a factor immediately or if he’s headed for a redshirt year to give him time to get back to 100%. Jimari Butler won’t arrive until the summer.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.