Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Some Good Things, Some Room to Grow for Nebraska’s Defense in First Fall Camp Scrimmage

August 08, 2022

Nebraska hosted its first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, which allowed the defense an opportunity to test itself against the Huskers’ offense. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said he was pleased with the defense’s tackling among the top unit, but the scrimmage highlighted some areas for improvement.

“I think there is a lot of good and a lot of stuff to clean up,” Chinander said on Monday. “I am pretty happy with how the ones operated. Pretty happy with how they tackled. I think the twos and threes we need to tighten up a little bit. We have to have a little more separation on who is going to be those next guys up. We rotate a lot of guys in with the ones so it was not just a pure one mix. It was kind of a one-a, one-b mix and I think a lot of those guys showed great competition.

“I think there are a few guys that kind of separated themselves but there is still a lot of competition at just about every position.”

There was plenty of rotation on Saturday, too. Chinander said that Nebraska rotated at least three players at cornerback, safety and nickel. Looking at the nickel spot specifically, Chinander added that Isaac Gifford, Javin Wright and Chis Kolarevic are all making their case for playing time.

At the defensive edge spot, Ochaun Mathis, Caleb Tannor and Garrett Nelson continue to impress. All three received praise on Monday, with defensive lineman Colton Feist sharing that he’s seen a lot of growth from the three. Chinander also pointed out Blaise Gunnerson and Jimari Butler for their work on the edge, too.

All in all, there is still plenty of work ahead for Nebraska before the team heads to Ireland to face Northwestern. For now, however, Chinander felt good about the defense’s performance in the first scrimmage of camp.

“I think we had a couple of shots to get some balls out that we did not get out,” Chinander said. “We did get a couple of interceptions so that was great to see. I think the guys are rushing the passer really well right now. So, I think as that all comes together you have to be an opportunistic defense. You have to run to the football. Right now our guys are really running to the ball and when those balls get tipped up in the air whether a receiver bats the ball and it is not quite there or the defensive back tips it up or a linebacker gets a hand on it. We are getting a lot of those right now.

“It is lucky, but it is not lucky because they are running to the ball. When you run to the ball good things happen.”

More news and notes:

>> More special teams talk on Monday. Chinander shared his thoughts on how the defense plays into its success, as well as how participation on special teams will benefit his players looking to travel and see playing time.

“To me special teams is a third of the game,” Chinander said. “When we operate on special teams, it is much easier on the defense. When we punt it and pin them deep and when we flip the field, when we can get a good kickoff down there and we can score points. All those types of things all help the defense. It all helps the whole team.

“I also want the defensive players to understand how important it is to be on special teams so for me to coach a drill, to coach a position, to be in the meetings and to help out, I think that sends a message to our defense that this is important and we need to operate. We are also telling the defensive players, ‘Hey, there might be a one and there might be two and three, and it might be close, but if you are the three and you are on four special teams and you are the two, this guy is now the two,’ because we do not have seats on the bus. The Big Ten only allows us to take so many players, so those backups have to be core-four special teams guys or they might not make the bus trip.”

>> Feist said he likes Nebraska’s fall camp schedule this year. The three days on, one day off approach has allowed players more opportunity to reset and regroup before hitting the ground running again.

Chinander echoed that.

“I think (Scott Frost) has a great schedule for camp and guys are getting rested at the appropriate times and we are working really hard at the appropriate times,” Chinander said. “So, I am really pleased with the way the guys are operating. You cannot get bored at doing the normal stuff exceptional. You just cannot. I think that these guys have handled that piece of it really well. Knock on wood we have had some knicks and bruises but we have not had anything catastrophic on defense yet. So happy with both of those, health and attitude of the guys.”

>> Nick Henrich said the running backs in particular played well during the scrimmage. They hit gaps hard and got downhill, something the group has improved in throughout the offseason. Overall, Henrich said there was a lot of physicality from both sides, which is what the coaches wanted to see.

Defensively, Henrich said he saw a lot of running to the ball and the Blackshirts forced some turnovers, an area of focus this offseason.

>> Henrich said the defensive line has done a good job throughout spring ball and fall camp. He called out Nash Hutmacher in particular as someone who has made a big jump from last year.

>> Henrich said a big step he’s taken this offseason is moving on quickly from mistakes rather than letting them affect his mindset and play on the field. He’s also focusing on continually improving his tackling.

>> Henrich credited the running backs for what they were able to do during the scrimmage. He specifically noted that the group is “hitting gaps really hard downhill” as they compete for the starting role.

>> Ochaun Mathis praised strength and conditioning coordinator Zach Duval’s scientific approach with the Huskers’ strength program, something that stood out to him during his second recruiting process: “Coach Duval does it smart and he does it right.”

>> You can check out our practice report on YouTube as well.

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