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: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers,Tight Ends, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Edge Rushers.
Nebraska’s linebacker group became one of the team’s strongest by the end of last season. Across injuries and fatigue, reserve linebackers stepped in against Iowa and helped seal a long-sought rivalry win.
Returning linebackers now find themselves in a new defensive system and vision. Defensive coordinator Tony White said he likes the physicality of stereotypical Big Ten linebackers. His aggressive 3-3-5 philosophy reaped the most success when that physicality merged with speed and athleticism. That will drive the development of returning linebackers.
The dynamic duo of Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer both return. The two Nebraska natives combined for 123 tackles in 2022 although injuries hampered both. Reimer played in 10 games as he combatted injuries. Henrich’s season ended in the Purdue game and, as a result, his spring camp participation is likely limited. White briefly met both Henrich and Reimer before the winter break and likes their film. Depth behind those two, however, is limited. Grant Tagge played in every game last season but mainly on special teams. Garrett Snodgrass, Randolph Kpai, Seth Malcom and Mikai Gbayor did not play at all last season.
“I want to see that room, completely,” White said of the linebackers last month. “Really interested to see how that linebacker room plays out. That will be a big, big thing about being able to put guys in the right positions and what kind of personnel groupings you put together.
“I think that room right there is going to be key in what we do.”
The loss of Columbus native Ernest Hausmann hurts. He emerged as one of the defense’s most reliable players in the last half of the 2022 season. Some envisioned a bright future for him at Nebraska following the Michigan game. Instead, he entered the portal and transferred to Michigan.
The Huskers added a few key high school recruits and transfers to the linebacker room. Former Georgia linebacker MJ Sherman arrives as a physical, athletic addition from the two two-time defending National Champions. Former Florida Gator Chief Borders also transferred to Nebraska with potential to earn immediate defensive snaps. Both Sherman and Borders mainly played on special teams in the SEC last season. Nebraska added high school recruits Eric Fields out of Ardmore, Oklahoma, and Dylan Rogers out of Cypress, Texas, to the linebacker room. Both come with praise from high school coaches and scouts for their pursuit and pure tackling ability.
“You always want speed, you want physicality and aggression,” White told Jessica Coody for one of Nebraska’s Signing Day videos. “You watch guys on tape you want to see if they’re moving sideways or if they’re going downhill. Then as you get to know them and see their profile, you want to see some playmaker in them.
“We have this saying that on the chalkboard the offense wins. They’ve always got you blocked up on the chalkboard but somehow, someway, football players find a way to make a play.”
White’s scheme varies immensely. The defense can align fluid in the pre-snap with linebackers disguising their routes into A or B gaps, or even attacking outside the edge. Middle linebackers in the scheme could delay and follow one of the other linebackers blitzing and mesh to find a hole in the blocking scheme. As a result, offenses are required to scout personnel, blitz tendencies, formational tendencies and the situation, then make necessary adjustments before the snap. It’s a tall task and partially why White’s arrival at Syracuse immediately turned around the Orange’s defensive success.
Rhule’s coaching staff also has a history of moving players to fit different positions. This could mean moving an edge rusher to linebacker. It’s not impossible for someone who arrived at Nebraska as a tight end to utilize the physicality of that position and fit as a linebacker.
New linebacker coach Rob Dvoracek takes over for his second stint as a collegiate positional coach. Dvoracek played linebacker for Rhule at Temple, then joined his coaching staff at Baylor as a defensive quality control specialist. He coached defensive ends and outside linebackers two seasons at Lehigh before spending two seasons under Rhule as a defensive coaching assistant in Carolina.