Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: Pro Big Red and Personnel Packages

August 31, 2022

Pro Big Red

Tuesday was official cut-down day in the NFL. With the preseason complete, teams had to narrow their rosters down to 53 players in preparation for the upcoming season. 

There were several former Huskers awaiting their fates, and for most of them, the news wasn’t good. However, two rookies made the most of their first preseason and made the initial cuts for their respective teams.

Cam Jurgens was never a threat to get cut and he showed off his immense potential during the preseason with the Eagles. Cam Taylor-Britt is safe as well with the Bengals despite suffering a core muscle injury that required surgery and cut his preseason short. The Bengals placed him in injured reserve so he doesn’t count towards their 53-man roster and will miss at leas four weeks, but they’ll make room for him once he is cleared to play.

Jurgens and Taylor-Britt were both second-round picks. Nebraska’s other 2022 draft pick, wide receiver Samori Touré, was on much shakier ground as a seventh-round pick. However, he showed general manager Brian Gutekunst enough to beat out the rest of the candidates for the seventh wide receive spot on the Packers’ 53-man roster, most notably Juwann Winfree who had drawn praise from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. 

Touré caught nine of his 13 targets for 125 yards during the preseason with most of that production coming in the Packers’ final game against Kansas City, leaving a good last impression in the minds of Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur. Again, Touré is likely seven out of seven in terms of the wideout pecking order in Green Bay, but there’s a substantial difference in pay and opportunities between making the 53-man roster and settling for a spot on the practice squad. 

As someone who covered Touré for a year and also happens to be a Packers fan, I’m pretty excited for him. He transferred to Nebraska to prove himself to NFL scouts, and now he’s an NFL player.

The other rookie who received good news was JoJo Domann, who many expected to get drafted but had to settle for signing with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. He recorded seven tackles including one for loss during the preseason, and I believe the Colts value him as a special teams contributor and developmental linebacker. With his athleticism and unique skill set, Domann making a 53-man roster didn’t surprise me in the least. The key for him has always been health, and he made it through the preseason in one piece.

Their roster spots aren’t guaranteed by any means. Teams across the league will take a look at who landed on waivers and some back-end roster changes are still possible. However, this was a great first step as they look to start their professional careers.

Austin Allen (New York Giants) and Ben Stille (Miami Dolphins) weren’t so lucky, though they both played well during the preseason and seem like strong practice squad candidates if other teams don’t claim them off of waivers.

Other non-rookies who got cut included Carlos and Khalil Davis (Pittsburgh), Devine Ozigbo (Denver), Dicaprio Bootle (Kansas City), Darrion Daniels (Atlanta) and Brett Maher (Dallas).

The two rookies join a wide and varied group of former Huskers in the NFL, from a potential future hall of famer to a journeyman still trying to find a long-term home. Thet list includes Lavonte David (Tampa Bay), Rex Burkhead (Houston), Randy Gregory (Denver), Ameer Abdullah (Las Vegas), Maliek Collins (Houston), Cethan Carter (Miami), Nick Gates (New York Giants PUP list), Joshua Kalu (Tennessee), Luke Gifford (Dallas), Stanley Morgan Jr. (Cincinnati), Lamar Jackson (Chicago), Brenden Jaimes (Los Angeles Chargers), Matt Farniok (Dallas) and Jack Stoll (Philadelphia).

Nickel for Your Thoughts

Speaking of Domann, one of the things that intrigued me most about this year is what the defense would look like without its do-everything nickelback. Domann grew into one of the most indispensable Blackshirts who rarely left the field when the games was in doubt.

Because of Domann’s ability to defend the pass as well, hold his own against the run and occasionally put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks, nickel essentially became Nebraska’s base defense as the Huskers played nearly 75% of their snaps with that personnel (two interior linemen, two edge rushers, a nickel and four defensive backs). Would that hold true with Domann off to the pros?

Well, after one game, the answer appears to be both yes and no. Nebraska still played more nickel than anything else, but the disparity wasn’t nearly what it was last year. Including plays with flags and kneel downs at the end of the game, I counted 50 snaps of nickel compared to 40 of base 3-4.

Splitting it down even further, the nickel snaps were split between Isaac Gifford and Chris Kolarevic with Gifford (a converted safety) out-snapping Kolarevic (a converted linebacker) roughly two to one. Both players had their ups and downs, but I thought Gifford made a few nice plays and showed some real potential. He’s not quite Domann, but he’s probably as close as Nebraska has on its roster right now from an athleticism and size standpoint.

Interestingly, I only logged one snap with all three edge rushers — Garrett Nelson, Caleb Tannor and Ochaun Mathis — on the field together. In that package, Nelson replaced a defensive tackle and slid inside to play alongside Ty Robinson with the other two rushing off the edge. Erik Chinander deployed it on third-and-12 on Northwestern’s first drive of the game, and the Blackshirts gave up a 4-yard completion to force a punt.

If you’re curious about new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s offensive personnel choices, the Huskers used a lot of 11 (one running back, one tight end, three wideouts) — 45 snaps, to be precise. They used 21 snaps of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers), though Travis Vokolek’s injury in the third quarter likely impacted that total. They started and finished in 10 personnel (no tight ends, four receivers) for a total of seven snaps.

The rest of Nebraska’s snaps were of the goal line variety. They used a jumbo package with six offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage and a seventh in the backfield (Ethan Piper) serving as a fullback . They also used one snap of what I called heavy 11 (replacing a wide receiver with a sixth offensive lineman) and one snap of 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends, one receiver).

One other note I found interesting: Nebraska used an unbalanced line on a handful of its snaps, where they moved one tackle over to the other side, giving them three linemen to that side of the center.

I’ll track this throughout the season (at least until I get bored with it or fall too far behind and don’t have the time to chart every snap) and am curious to see how things develop on both sides of the ball.

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