That image of Colorado wideout KD Nixon walking into the end zone Saturday is one that keeps coming back to mind. Nebraska’s still got a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter when the ball is snapped, but a near-perfectly executed flea-flicker gets Marquel Dismuke to bite from his safety spot and leaves Cam Taylor-Britt all alone with Nixon near midfield.
One second of taking his eyes off Nixon and peeking into the backfield was all it took for Taylor-Britt to fall behind. Nixon caught the ball from Steven Montez near midfield, the sophomore defensive back couldn’t bring him down with an arm tackle and Nixon raced off to the end zone while Taylor-Britt crumpled to the field.
“We put him in one play at corner when Lamar went down and that was a big play and that probably wasn’t fair to that kid because it was his first play at corner of the game,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said of Taylor-Britt on Wednesday.
But here’s the good: in two games the do-everything defensive back has 10 tackles (six of them unassisted), three forced fumbles, two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. Against Colorado on Saturday, he played all 76 snaps of the game for the defense.
Which means he was back on the field the very next drive after getting beat.
“Usually guys have to sit on the sideline,” said defensive backs coach Travis Fisher. “You watch some guys make a mistake like that in the game, a big play like that in a game, and they’re out for a series but he was right back in.
“He answers to his mistakes and doesn’t get flustered.”
Cam Taylor-Britt is officially a starter. It took him 15 games to earn that status. Maybe the most impressive is the fact he’s doing it at safety. “He has the mindset of being an outright dog out there,” cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said. The 6-foot, 215-pound frame certainly helps, but this has appeared to be the plan since the beginning. Get him on the field any way possible.
Because it’s not necessarily about how fast Taylor-Britt can run or how physical he can be or how instinctually he can jump a route. Nebraska preaches no fear of failure. Taylor-Britt has none. He’s a starter, I think, because of what happened after he picked himself up off the field following that 96-yard flea-flicker.
“I just kind of ran over to him. I have been in this situation before. I know what it is,” said Bootle, who got in Taylor-Britt’s ear as the two were walking off the field following the point-after attempt. “I actually slapped him and told him to keep his head in the game. He just let me know that he was going to come back. I told him that there was plenty of time in this game and that he could still make a play. That he’s got the chance to make it right again.”
Two drives later, with five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game and Colorado wideout Laviska Shenault streaking down the right sideline, looking like he was about to take a kickoff the distance to tie the game, Taylor-Britt ran him down and punched the ball out.
Nebraska recovered. It’s a play that probably should have ended the game.
“He is out there doing something that you can’t teach,” Bootle said. “He’s out there running after the ball-carrier. He did what I expected him to do. He made a play. He knocked the ball out and gave the offense an opportunity to put something into motion when we needed it.”
With Deontai Williams now out for “the foreseeable future” following shoulder surgery, Taylor-Britt is probably in for a number of work loads like last Saturday’s Colorado game.
“I think we’re going to have to move him around as we go down the road just because of the depth,” Chinander said. “He’s going to have to continue to move around if we’re going to continue to function.”
“You could ask him to go play O-line and he is going to compete at the highest level,” added Bootle. “Putting him at safety helps our defense. He is going to go out there and make the calls. He’ll just try to go in there and keep things rolling just as anyone else was at safety.”
In that regard he’s in a pretty unique class of player. When asked if he could compare Taylor-Britt to another defensive back he’s worked with, Fisher said no. The one that immediately jumps to mind for him is Jabrill Peppers from Michigan… A guy who’s starting in the NFL right now after being taken in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
“He’s going to be a very good football player,” Fisher said.
Playing corner or safety, Fisher argues, is the hardest position in football. If a defensive lineman makes a mistake, a linebacker can clean the play up. If a running back messes up the play, a quarterback can improvise. If a corner makes a mistake and gets burned, it’s six points. They’re on an island. They have no cover.
Chinander says his defense is not afraid to fail. Taylor-Britt certainly isn’t.
“That’s what you like about him,” Fisher said. “That’s what you want in a football player because, hey, they make mistakes in pro football, it’s how you answer.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.