Nebraska’s winter conditioning period begins this week. That gives Matt Rhule’s coaching staff, predominantly strength and conditioning coach Corey Campbell, a first time working out their players.
This session will show Nebraska’s new coaching staff what sort of team they have to work with. They get to see the work ethic and drive in the 2023 Huskers. Rhule’s reputation for developing players and elevating programs is partially built here. That involves high-energy, demanding workouts.
New arrivals through Nebraska’s 2023 recruiting class and portal arrivals garnered the most attention in recent weeks. But plenty of Huskers return with something to prove on the clean slate 2023 offers. Here are some of the returning Huskers who can benefit from impressive workouts and strong showings this winter. We’ll tackle the defense today, run with the offense tomorrow.
Omar Brown, defensive back: The nickel came to Nebraska last season after a decorated three seasons at Northern Iowa. He played in every game last season but managed just five tackles with inconsistent defensive snap counts. He played behind established nickel Isaac Gifford and Javin Wright, who came into his own during injury-plagued parts of the season. Brown won over teammates last spring and could do the same with his defensive coaches with a strong winter.
Ru’Quan Buckley, defensive line: He’s played in just one game through two seasons in Lincoln. He’s also young, having just turned 19 in October. There’s a lot of potential for the Michigan native to add onto his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame with this new staff. With Ty Robinson and Stephon Wynn Jr. both returning, an impressive winter would help Buckley and the team. Three capable interior defensive linemen would anchor a stout short-yardage defense.
Blaise Gunnerson, edge: The Iowa native laid a lot of groundwork in his first two seasons at Nebraska. He was the Scout Team Player of the Year as a freshman and played in every game last year on defense and special teams. With the departures of edge rushers Ochaun Mathis, Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor, plus high-profile arrivals, Gunnerson can prove his capabilities to a new staff this year. He certainly has the size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) to set himself apart.
Tyreke Johnson, defensive back: He’s played in two games over two seasons at Nebraska after three years of similar field experience at Ohio State. Keep in mind, Johnson is a former U.S. Army All-American and No. 1 safety prospect in the country, per Rivals. The defensive back group is loaded this year, especially with transfer arrivals. But a mature veteran pushing in conditioning could set a tone for the whole unit going forward.
Javier Morton, defensive back: The former Garden City CC standout made two tackles in eight games for Nebraska last season. Keep in mind, he’s a former multi-sport athlete and track standout who was once committed to Alabama. His speed and athleticism fits the mold Rhule’s coaching staff likes to develop. A strong winter could do wonders for him with so many established cornerbacks playing alongside him.
Grant Tagge, linebacker: Omaha Westside’s tackling machine has played predominantly special teams in two seasons at Nebraska. Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer return and this coaching staff brought in linebackers from the portal. Tony White’s defense is still a concept, one that can shift and mold the personnel. A bing winter could validate the Nebraskan’s spot going into spring camp. He could also become a cult special teams figure, a la Brandon Rigoni.