On Cam Taylor-Britt's Positional Versatility
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska’s Defense Is Salty and You Can Credit Versatility for That

September 18, 2019

Through three weeks, the Blackshirts have shown themselves to be a salty group. 

The Huskers are 20th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (82.0) and 12th in rushing average (2.2 per carry). Teams have found more success through the air in terms of total yardage (294.0), but the Huskers are 47th in opponent passer rating (121.83), 59th in completion percentage (60.0), and 72nd in yards per attempt (7.1). Nebraska also has more interceptions (five) than passing touchdowns allowed (four).

One of the keys to Nebraska’s success on defense is the team’s depth and versatility. At each level of the defense, the coaches are mixing it up and rotating guys in and out, and a lot of the players on the defense can work in at multiple positions.

“We have a lot of guys that can move in different spots,” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said. “I think it’s very good for us on defense to be able to move in and out of different packages, Coach Chins to be able to be creative and do the calls he wants to make.”

Perhaps no one epitomizes what Erik Chinander wants this defense to be more than sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt. The high school quarterback-turned-defender has played all over the defense, from nickel back to cornerback to safety. Fisher has said Taylor-Britt can even play linebacker if the Huskers needed him to. Taylor-Britt wasn’t perfect through the first three weeks, but he did fly around and make plays, showcasing desire to excel and no fear of failure as this coaching staff so often preaches.

Unfortunately, that almost reckless playing style resulted in a shoulder injury week three against Northern Illinois as Taylor-Britt tried to deliver a hard hit. He missed the rest of the game and Scott Frost had no update as to his status during his Monday press conference.

Taylor-Britt had already slid into the starting lineup after Nebraska lost safety Deontai Williams for the season in week one, and if he’s going to miss some time the Huskers will have to turn to the next man up at safety, senior Eric Lee Jr.

But what about the nickel? Who replaces Taylor-Britt in the slot on passing downs?

Enter JoJo Domann.

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound safety-turned-outside linebacker was a late addition to fall camp after rehabbing an offseason injury, and Nebraska worked him in slowly to start the season, giving him somewhere in the area of 20 snaps in each of the first two games.

Domann saw his workload doubled in week three as he was out there for 40 plays. The Huskers changed their depth chart i give him his own position, “nickel,” after he had been labeled as a co-starter at outside linebacker with Caleb Tannor the first two weeks.

“You can call him the nickel, you can call him whatever you want,” Chinander said. “I don’t know what to call him most of the time. But he can operate in some of those nickel packages where he’s more of a quote-unquote nickel DB. He can operate in base where he’s the SAM. He gives you an opportunity to run your even and odd stuff with the same personnel on the field, which I think is always probably a little bit harder for an offense when they’ve got to prepare for both packages. They don’t see us subbing in a true DB and say all right, here we go, four down, it’s going to be these coverages, these fronts. When he’s in the game, it’s no holds barred, so I think he gives us a lot of advantages just from a scheme perspective.”

At 235 pounds, Domann has enough size to hold the edge and he’s shown himself to be a sure tackler. He’s already made 2.5 tackles for loss. Despite adding weight, Domann hasn’t really lost a step and still has the coverage skills from his defensive back days. That’s what makes him so unique, and it’s an aspect that excites outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt.

“Fortunately, I’ve been pretty lucky, because I had Griff [Shaquem Griffin] at the last spot who did both and now I’ve got JoJo here,” Dewitt said. “But it’s not a very common thing. Typically when you’re looking at recruiting outside ‘backers, you go can they hold an edge, can they rush the quarterback and can they cover third. With JoJo it’s almost the opposite: can he cover first, can he hold an edge and then can he rush the quarterback.

“I do enjoy it. It’s fun for me to get back into coaching some of the coverage stuff more. He gets drawn in sometimes one-on-one in some real match-up situations and for us to be able to count on him for that makes you feel pretty good.”

Against Colorado, Nebraska was in a  true nickel defense with Taylor-Britt in the slot on 63.2% of its snaps. The Huskers used Domann in that hybrid nickel spot on 16 snaps. Against the Huskies, Taylor-Britt spent all his playing time at safety until he got injured. Nebraska didn’t play any true nickel in that game, instead letting Domann cover on passing downs. He finished with six tackles (four solo), one tackle for loss and one pass break-up.

The Huskers haven’t asked Domann to get after the passer much so far this season, but he possesses that ability as well as his performance against Ohio State last season — perhaps the first time we saw him get extended minutes in that hybrid outside linebacker role — showed. He had seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass break-up in that game.

Nebraska is going to continue to need big performances from Domann as the Huskers head into conference play, especially if Taylor-Britt misses some time. Versatility is the key to Nebraska’s success, and Domann possess that in spades.

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