Nebraska’s defensive backfield needs to replace three of the four opening-day starters from last year’s team.
To help ensure he puts the best players on the field, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher added competition this offseason by bringing in eight new faces to his room from the 2022 class. Two of them were Division I transfers in corners Tommi Hill (Arizona State) and Omar Brown (Northern Iowa) while two others came from the junior college ranks in Kansas, safety DeShon Singleton (Hutchinson Community College) and corner Javier Morton (Garden City Community College).
Add one more to the list in Kaine Williams, a former safety at Alabama who committed to the Huskers after entering the transfer portal in late April. Williams announced his commitment on social media Sunday morning following an official visit.
1000 percent committed‼️‼️ let’s go GBR☠️‼️‼️‼️ pic.twitter.com/DJrNQYLNq4
— ☥Kaine ”K5IVE” Williams☥ (@kwilliams5_) May 15, 2022
Williams, a well-built athlete at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, is from the same hometown of current Nebraska receivers coach Mickey Joseph—Marrero, Louisiana. Williams was a four-star prospect and rated the No. 7 overall recruit in Louisiana in the 2021 class.
Williams spent one season in Tuscaloosa and played in only one game—the College Football Playoff National Championship against Georgia. Williams played on special teams that game, but didn’t record a stat.
What it means for Nebraska
The addition of Williams makes one wonder how confident Fisher and the coaching staff are about that position following spring ball. Has anyone emerged and won starting jobs for themselves? Right now, there might not be a clear answer.
Bringing in a player like Williams, a former highly-touted recruit who impressed Alabama enough that it offered and signed him, could push other Husker DBs expected to take the next step. If Williams comes to Lincoln and impresses enough in fall camp to actually win a starting role as a second-year player, Fisher would have done his job.
Last year’s starters, Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke, moved on from the program and are chasing their NFL dreams. Myles Farmer, who started the final four games after Deontai Williams went down with what turned out to be a season-ending injury at Minnesota, returns for the 2022 campaign and started at safety next to Marques Buford Jr. during the spring game.
While the Red-White scrimmage should never be used as an end-all-be-all for depth chart judgements, it can provide hints to who the leading candidates to start are.
During his April appearance on ‘Sports Nightly’ head coach Scott Frost mentioned how he still wanted to see Farmer and Quinton Newsome, the returning starter at corner, take control of the defensive backs room.
“The biggest thing for me is those two have to take over back there. They’ve both been really good players for us, but we lost Deontai, Cam Taylor-Britt—it’s those guys’ show now,” Frost said of Newsome and Farmer. “I think, if possible, the talent is maybe improved overall from the secondary from last year, but the leadership is gone, and we need those guys to step up and help some of the new guys and young guys be consistent and reliable back there.”
Buford may have had one of the better springs out of everyone on the team. Fisher had high praise for the 5-11, 190-pounder who started his career cross-training at corner and safety as a true freshman and was a special teams maven. This spring, though, he was practicing solely at safety.
“That was my hidden gem for a while right there with him,” Fisher said of Buford early this spring. “This kid, he’s going to surprise a lot of people because I got him at the safety position. You look at him and say he’s a corner. No, he can play any position in the secondary. I got him at safety right now just because with his size, you wouldn’t think a guy like that would be so physical. He ain’t scared of nobody. He’s fearless.”
Noa Pola-Gates and Singleton have also been in the mix at safety. Pola-Gates, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, is entering his fourth year in the program and has yet to crack the rotation on defense while being a member of special teams. Singleton looks the part of a Big Ten safety at 6-3, 205 pounds and has the dynamic athletic ability that Fisher is looking for at the position.
“He’s big, and I can’t coach that. He can run, and I can’t coach that either,” Fisher said of Singleton. “But the best thing about him is he’s smart, and he’s very coachable. He’s humble. He’s humble like a freshman who wants to play real bad.”
While the physical part of the game might be close to ready with Singleton, the challenge for the newcomer is learning an entire new playbook, which can take time.
“As far as learning the playbook, I came a long way,” Singleton said before the spring game. “Everything is starting to become second nature now, and I’m starting to play fast. So really, right now I’m trying to work on perfecting that so I can play as fast as I can.”