Reviews for the defense by the media in attendance were glowing after Saturday’s scrimmage for the Huskers, but defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was a bit more critical after practice on Tuesday,
“We have a long way to go, so much to coach,” Diaco said. “We make our cut-ups at the end to try to ring home all the teaching, the good, the bad and the ugly, basically. There was a healthy amount on all those cut-ups, so we have a long way to go.”
Still, Diaco did say that the defense got a lot of work done on Tuesday and the team is making progress.
“I’m excited,” Diaco said. “The energy has been really strong. The guys are trying hard. Even on a day like today, we had an opportunity to install more defense, we had an opportunity to add a new critical situation, so a lot of moving parts happened today on what would be just like a Tuesday in the back third of spring ball. We got a lot done today, very good, and a lot of learning, a lot of good teaching.”
The defense may have a lot to earn, but they’re starting to show some of the traits of the typical Bob Diaco defense by limiting big plays and making points hard to come by, as the first string defense showed by holding to offense to a field goal on its drive to open Saturday’s scrimmage.
“That first drive is a great showing of that,” linebacker Luke Gifford said. “We had a couple bad plays, they were driving on us, and then they got in the red zone and we really bowed up, and that’s what he preaches. That was a great sign. For us especially, we’re really buying in.”
The linebackers in particular made a lot of plays in the scrimmage, and linebackers coach trent Bray said that has a lot to do with how hard and fast they are playing, especially the younger players in the second unit.
“That’s the way we want them to play,” Bray said. “We want them to go as fast and as hard as they can and if they make a mistake, if your effort and your intensity are there you can still make something good happen. That’s what’s happened.”
One player who has moved to the linebacker group from defensive end is Alex Davis, who is getting a lot of first and second string snaps at boundary side outside linebacker. Davis said he feels a lot more natural playing out of a two-point stance than a three-point one, which is what he did in high school.
“I like it,” Davis said about his role in the 3-4 defense. “It’s a lot different, but there’s still some things I do that are the same. I really like it. I’m getting the feel for dropping back and everything.”
Diaco said Davis’s transition has gone well and he appreciates the sophomore-to-be’s eagerness, but he also said he has a lot more work to do.
“He is a coach-able guy that’s smart and he tries hard, but he’s one of the guys that has such a long way to go, long way to go,” Diaco said. “It’s all new, everything is new.”
On the other side of the field, Gifford has made a big step forward from where has was last season and has developed himself into a player who fits the 4-3 field side linebacker very well.
“Luke possess the tangible traits to do those jobs very well,” Diaco said. “He’s a long over athlete who is quick and fast, and then you combine that with a hard worker who is very smart. He’s got good football intelligence and can translate meetings to field and field to meetings. He just gets better every day and I anticipate him being an impactful player on defense this season.”
Gifford is currently getting most of his snaps with the second unit behind senior-to-be Marcus Newby, but the junior-to-be is making it a competition.
“Luke is really pushing Marcus,” Bray said. “I think that’s great for Marcus and it’s great for Luke and it’s going to make us better. That battle has gone really well and both those guys have done really well in spring … Marcus is still No. 1 but it will be a fight all fall camp … They both have their strengths. Marcus is probably the most heavy-handed and physical guy we’ve got so he really brings that, and his pass rush. Luke is very athletic and the things he does in coverage really add another dimension to that position.”
Gifford said Diaco’s arrival and his coaching style are what have driven his improvement.
“My biggest things has been being consistently physical in how I play, and I think with Coach Diaco you don’t have a choice,” Gifford said. “That’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I’d flip it on and off sometimes in practice and that was usually the thing that kept me off the field, to be honest with you. With Coach Diaco, that’s not an option. If you’re going to be like that you’re going to be on the sideline, and that’s awesome; that’s the way it should be.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.