Nebraska and Central Florida may have both played a base 3-4 defense last season, but that doesn’t mean the transition the Huskers are undergoing under new defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is easy.
It’s a day-by-day process. During spring ball, the coaches are just trying to build up positive habits in their new players.
“I think they’re picking it up really well schematically,” inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said after the team’s sixth practice of the spring on Thursday. “It’s the fundamental part, the tackling part, that’s the fast decision-making I want them to be better at. All it is is teaching them habits. Eventually they won’t even think about that stuff, it’s just what they’ll do. That’s what we’ve got to break in right now. It’s not a habit until it’s natural and right now it’s still not natural. All these movements we teach, all these tackling techniques that we teach, knowing your leverage — eventually it becomes second nature, but you’ve got to build that and build that and build that before it is.”
Scott Frost talked about tackling on Tuesday, and Ruud, who also spent several years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where Frost said he learned the proper way to tackle, is in lock-step with his head coach on that topic.
Ruud wants his players flying to — and through — the ball, and he said the best way to do that is to build up discipline.
“The freedom comes in being very disciplined, I think,” Ruud said. “The freedom comes in knowing exactly where you’re supposed to be and exactly where your teammates are supposed to be. That allows you to play really fast. I’ve always thought that really rigid, strict rules within football let you play way faster.”
Physicality was a habit for the Huskers when Ruud was wearing the Scarlet and Cream, and that’s what is driving Ruud now that he’s back in Lincoln as a coach.
“It’s number one in my thoughts, honestly,” Ruud said. “The biggest thing we have to get back to at Nebraska is you have to know when you play Nebraska; that was the biggest thing when we were really, really good here is everybody knew what you were getting into when you played Nebraska from a physical standpoint, from a toughness standpoint. Win-loss, I think it takes care of itself if you’re a physical team, if you’re a tough team, mentally and physically. That’s what we’re trying to develop first and foremost.”
The Huskers aren’t even close to that point yet, but Ruud likes what he’s seeing early on.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Ruud said. “We’ve got to build more habits. I think the want-to is there, but that’s a daily thing. Until you’ve done it daily for months and months and months, I don’t think it takes over. It’s not just something that, ‘I’m going to be physical today’ and then it goes in. You’ve got to build your habits, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
For inside linebackers, communication is just as important as physicality
According to Ruud, the communication is “not good enough, but they’re learning, they’re trying, and that’s all habits. Everything we do is a big habit, and communication is part of it, too. That’ll come. It got really good last year down at UCF and I think it’s going to be really good here. We’ve got a smart group, but it’s really just about building the habits.”
That habit-building process will continue throughout the spring and fall as the Huskers prepare for their first season under Frost. It’s a day-to-day process and before the players can master new habits the coaches have to break them of their old ones. Plenty of reps for everyone on the team with live tackling periods are just a couple of ways the Huskers are trying to accomplish this transition this spring.
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.