Over the next few weeks, we’re counting down the 10 Huskers with the highest intrigue factor heading into the 2019 season. Here’s who we’ve covered so far:
- No. 10: Mike Williams, senior wide receiver
- No. 9: Jack Stoll, junior tight end
- No. 8: Cam Taylor, sophomore defensive back
- No. 7: JoJo Domann, junior linebacker
- No. 6: Dedrick Mills, junior running back
My first year on the beat in 2017, Nebraska’s two inside linebackers were half-appreciated. As far as I could tell, Chris Weber seemed okay in people’s eyes, but Marcus Newby was often a target of criticism. Then when both graduated, Mohamed Barry took Weber’s spot and played like a man possessed, completely immune to criticism, and Dedrick Young II took Newby’s spot, both on the field and in the crosshairs.
Young was always around the football and finished his season second on the team in tackles, and every time inside backer coach Barrett Ruud was asked about Young, he would say some version of the same thing: the senior was consistently in the places he was supposed to be in and Ruud didn’t have to worry about him. Fans wanted Young to be a difference-maker, something he never was, rather than just another guy who did his job.
Fair? Eh. Nebraska’s defense needed difference-makers, but having someone steady at that spot opposite Barry — the biggest difference-maker on the defense — seems, in theory, good enough. Newby, the year before Young, wasn’t much of either.
I wonder if Collin Miller can be both.
I wonder if Nebraska needs him to be both with Luke Gifford, a difference-making outside backer and a trio of playmaking safeties departing.
The former outside linebacker spent last season getting used to being on the interior and split his production between defense and special teams. With Young and Barry garnering the bulk of the snaps on the inside, Miller was limited to a situational role in sub-packages. He finished the season with 17 total tackles but only nine of them on defense. His eight tackles on special teams led the Huskers, where he showed a real nose for the football, but I have no idea what to expect from him in a full-time starting role next to Barry in 2019.
Because it seems likely Miller is the next man up. Will Honas is on the tail end of an ACL recovery, Nick Henrich had a significant surgery in the spring and Jackson Hannah just got on campus a few months ago.
He came to Nebraska as a defensive end, where he impressed immediately, winning scout team MVP in 2016. Miller then converted to a pass-rushing outside linebacker before the 2017 season and was slow to make his way onto the field, but added 10 tackles in the team’s final four games. This offseason will represent the first in his time in Lincoln in which he’s playing the same position he was the year before.
“When you haven’t done something, it takes a little bit of time,” Ruud said in the spring. “Especially at that inside spot, there are a lot of moving parts and it moves really fast. You have to read keys, be in a box. You get used to being out in space playing outside. He’s progressed a long way.
“The key (in Year 2) is now you’re not teaching installs, you’re teaching second-level stuff. You’re teaching problem plays, you’re teaching more concepts and hopefully we’re continuing to build on that so we can continue to progress and be able to do a little bit more on a specific basis.”
When Miller first made the move, Ruud said he had the kind of natural explosion you look for at the inside spot. Not many guys can play both inside and outside, and it’s a testament to Miller’s football smarts and work ethic that he’s even in this position. Though Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of proven commodities at inside backer, it has potential, and Miller isn’t just the first name on the board (or second, if you count Barry) because he’s the only guy.
Middle backer in this defense is the guy who goes and makes plays. We saw a few glimpses of Miller’s ability to do that last season and if he can break through this time around, the Blackshirts would be in pretty good shape.
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.