LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska coaches welcomed their players back to the practice field on Tuesday afternoon after a week-and-a-half off for spring break.
“It felt good, getting back out here, running through things, seeing the guys,” linebacker Chris Weber said. “It was a good week off to get your legs back, but it was good to be back.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said he was excited to have the players back and that the first practice went well.
“We had a chance to get back together and they were really looking forward to it,” Diaco said. “The coaches are always looking forward to it. They’re our heartbeat and we miss them when we’re away from each other, and we felt it reciprocated back from player to coach, which is nice.”
Diaco said the players were locked in and that the players’ retention of the plays and technique was strong despite the layoff.
He also said he is pleased with the progress the team has been making, and that includes some position changes for certain players.
“I feel like we’re putting another coat of paint on, and that’s exciting,” Diaco said. “Every coach, myself mostly, got better today, tried to get better. Every player is improving. Not that we all love every role that we have, and not that every player will love every role that they’re going to be asked to play, but if you’re getting better and you’re improving, how could you be upset? And how could you not feel like you’re moving forward as a team?”
The most significant of these changes is that last year’s starting cornerback opposite Chris Jones, Joshua Kalu, has moved to free safety next to Aaron Williams. The change happened just before break and the coaches stuck with it when the players returned on Tuesday.
“We grade every player, every play, every day, and in doing that, we’re trying to be sure that we have our best players on the field the most … It looked like Josh and some others maybe needed to take a look at another position just to see how many good players we can get on the field at one time,” Diaco said.
Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams echoed Diaco’s thought as far as position changes at this point being all abut finding the best possible combinations of players as Nebraska changes to Diaco’s 3-4 defense.
“In football, never after one play, one practice are you 100 percent, so you never know,” Williams said. “We’re only as good as the 11 guys we can put on the field, not the 11 guys we have starting because the guys that start today may not be the guys that start the first game, the second game, the third game and so on. You pretty much want to have everybody prepared because in some shape, form or fashion you want to make sure the best 11 healthy guys are on the field.”
That being said, Diaco did say that positions are far from locked in at this point and the depth chart means very little.
Williams said Kalu is a great fit at safety, the quarterback of the defense in Williams’ words, in part because of his vocal leadership.
“One thing about him is he’s a great communicator,” Williams said. “He’s a leader, he’s a great communicator, he’s smart, he’s heady and he’s a guy on this football team who has played d a lot of snaps for the University of Nebraska.”
Ultimately, Williams said he believe Kalu could play virtually any position in the secondary and still make plays.
With Kalu moving to safety, that opened the door for Lamar Jackson to run with the top unit at the boundary corner spot.
“I’ve been pleased with Lamar,” Diaco said. “He’s a long lever, a big skill athlete that kind of moves like a little athlete, which is a unique collection of traits. He’s coachable and tough-minded. He loves football, and he loves his brothers. He’s been a pleasure to work with.”
Jackson was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and a superstar for his team, but after playing in his first game he realized how much work he still had to do in terms of adding strength and building stamina in order to play at the collegiate level.
“I was confident just from what I’d done in high school, and then I soon realized that didn’t mean anything once I got to college,” Jackson said. “Me not playing consistently, that kind of knocked my confidence down a little bit. But then I accepted my role and realized it’s bigger than just me. Now going into the season this spring, I think it’s off to a great start and I feel like I’m getting better each day.”
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.