Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Tackling Problems and a Defensive Line That’s A ‘Work in Progress’

March 28, 2022

The Nebraska football program held its 10th practice of the season on Monday, a couple days after a scrimmage on Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said it was a good opportunity to get situational work in during the scrimmage. That includes red zone and goal-line situations, as well as third down. After looking at the film from the spring’s first scrimmage, Chinander said he saw improvement in those areas the second time around.

But Saturday’s scrimmage was also a chance to see players live tackling, which helps show the coaching staff who is progressing well this spring. It’s spring ball, so no one is expecting the players to be perfect right now, but Chinander said his unit needs to keep getting better.

“It’s not good enough right now. But in spring football, you don’t get a ton of shots to tackle live to the ground,” Chinander said. “We’ll get a little more work in that, but we can definitely use the work throughout the rest of spring and then as we move into fall camp, we can definitely use some more tackling work.”

With Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor holding down the two outside linebacker positions along Nebraska’s defensive front, the inside of that defensive line, the interior linemen, has depth concerns. Damion Daniels, Ben Stille and Deontre Thomas did well in those roles last season, but have all moved on from the program.

Now, Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers are the two d-linemen who are expected to step up. Rogers has’t been practicing this spring as he rehabs an injury. But behind Robinson and Rogers, there are question marks. Nash Hutmacher saw valuable reps late in the season last year while Mosai Newsom, Marquis Black, Jailen Weaver, Ru’Quan Buckley and Colton Feist will all be battling for playing time.

“I think the whole crew has done a lot of good things,” Chinander said. “Obviously, Nash got some reps last year and Colton Feist got a lot of reps last year. And the guys who haven’t got as many reps, the Mosai Newsoms, the Marquis Blacks and Ru’Quan and Jailen, those are the guys we need to continue to get a little bit more out of as we move forward.”

Mike Dawson, who’s now coaching both the outside linebackers and interior defensive linemen after the departure of Tony Tuioti to Oregon, said his d-line is “still probably a work in progress” when asked what grade he’d give his unit.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I flunked them all because I’m such a hard grader and I want them to win the Super Bowl, but at the same time we’re not A-plusses certainly,” Dawson said. “There are areas where each guy individually needs to be better at. I think it’s a lot like, guys like to do what they’re pretty good at. So it’s harder sometimes to get them to do the things they need to work on the most. Getting the guys to work on the things they’re deficient at is the most difficult challenge.”

More news and notes:

>> Braxton Clark is entering his fifth season on campus and is in the mix for a corner spot opposite returning starter Quinton Newsome. He talked about the recent scrimmage.

“The scrimmage went good from a DB standpoint,” Clark said. “I feel like there’s always things we can improve on, open-field tackling, but as far as coverage-wise, we had no busted coverages and I just feel like, as a group, we were all locked in on one page.”

>> While he feels confident he could play at both the nickel linebacker spot or at safety, Isaac Gifford said he has mostly been focused on nickel this spring. Does he have a preference between the two, though?

“No, whatever gets me on the field, you know?” Gifford said.

As for the most difficult part of transitioning between the two, Gifford said it’s just the mental aspect of the job changing.

>> Outside linebacker Jimari Butler said his weight is up to 235 pounds now. He’s had to put in a lot of work to improve his body to play the position. The nutrition was the biggest factor.

“It was more of like just eating a lot,” Butler said. “I didn’t really use to take it serious, but then getting with Coach (Zach) Duval I’ve been taking all this serious and putting the pieces together. Trying to build my craft.”

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