Photo Credit: John S. Peterson.

Nebraska’s 2023 Spring Football Positional Reset: Cornerbacks

February 22, 2023

In total, Nebraska’s new coaching staff added 39 new scholarship players in the 2023 recruiting class. This puts the program’s scholarship numbers over triple digits in spring camp. With winter workouts ongoing and spring ball likely to impact who stands out to this coaching staff, Hail Varsity is taking a deeper look at what each position looks like right now.

Previous resets: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide Receivers,Tight EndsOffensive LineDefensive Line, Edge Rushers, Linebackers.

Nebraska’s cornerbacks experienced some notable highs and immense lows in 2022. Perhaps most notable was the 409 passing yards allowed to Georgia Southern in a 45-42 loss. While the Huskers intercepted Kyle Vantrease twice, he completed 37 passes and led a game winning drive in the final minute. That memorable Memorial Stadium low proved to be Scott Frost’s final game as head coach.

Nebraska’s defense improved but still finished among the middle of the pack. Nebraska finished No. 68 in the country with 225.3 passing yards per game. Although, that involves a Big Ten schedule against low-tier passing offenses like Michigan (83rd in the country), Indiana (87th), Illinois (92nd), Northwestern (94th), Minnesota (116th), Wisconsin (114th), Iowa (123rd) and Rutgers (124th).

Opposing offenses first targeted Tommi Hill, who struggled. The Huskers brought in freshman Malcolm Hartzog, who rose to the occasion and led the team with three interceptions. Both Hill and Hartzog return in 2023. Hill lines up at cornerback this spring after finishing 2022 at wide receiver. Those two will likely compete for a starting spot opposite Quinton Newsome, who has now started 24 straight games at Nebraska. Depth beyond those three remains a question.

Tamon Lynum’s 2022 season ended with an injury in the Oklahoma game. He could stake claim to a bigger role this spring. Braxton Clark saw significant snaps against Oklahoma and Michigan. He could provide some valuable depth in 2023. Javier Morton played in eight games last season, most of them on special teams. Former Ohio State defensive back Tyreke Johnson has played in just two games in two seasons, none last year. Omaha Westside graduate Koby Bretz played in one game each of the last two seasons. Jalil Martin, Michael Booker III and former Alabama transfer Kaine Williams did not play last season.

“I’m very pleased with what we have,” defensive backs coach Evan Cooper said last month. “I think we have some NFL DBs on the roster. Some guys that look like guys I just finished coaching.”

Nebraska gained developmental talent in the 2023 recruiting class. Syncere Safeeullah, Ethan Nation, Dwight Bootle II and D’Andre Barnes all arrive as high school freshmen defensive backs with experience playing lockdown corner. Safeeullah and Bootle are early enrollees and getting a head start with winter workouts and, eventually, spring camp.

“I think we have a good blend of young players, experienced players, older vets, mature guys,” Cooper said.

Tony White’s defense involves an aggressive first two tiers. That aggression can carry into coverage. Defensive backs in that system are regularly separated by titles and roles, although his players at Syracuse could blend into multiple positions as needed. That diversity between position makes his defense much more difficult to scheme against. There could be much more fluidity between corners, safeties, nickels and the rover position, as a result. Aggression could benefit Nebraska’s secondary, which tied for 79th in the country with nine interceptions while defending 408 passes.

Cooper oversees the entire secondary. In practice, that means he’ll occasionally work directly with the cornerbacks while defensive assistants work with safeties and nickels. They’ll cycle as needed so each position gets direct attention and coaching.

A self-described film junkie and head coach Matt Rhule’s right-hand man in terms of talent evaluation, Cooper looked at last year’s film. Much like White, Cooper thought the secondary played hard at the end of the season.

“When I see them in person, we have a big team,” Cooper said. “The secondary, we have some really long DBs, so it’s encouraging. We’re built the right way with big, athletic guys. We just have to work on a few things, work on the defense and the scheme.

“But, yeah, I’m excited about it. When we have good players we have a chance to be good.”

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