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
From a content perspective, and just an intrigue factor, it would be cool if JoJo Domann was in some sort of new position created by the Husker coaching staff just for his talents. Iowa State made the “Middle Safety” to try and counteract spread RPO stuff running rampant in the Big 12. Domann called his position “Cinco” in the spring and people ran with it, but defensive coordinator Erik Chinander just sees him as a SAM outside linebacker who can do a lot of stuff.
Doesn’t make the junior any less of a player to watch this upcoming season.
“What are you?” Chinander asks when talking about Domann, a guy who played safety his first two years on campus then dropped into the box at outside backer during his redshirt sophomore season last year. “An outside backer? Are you a nickel? Are you a safety? I don’t know, but he needs to be on the football field, so it’s important to cross-train those guys a little bit.”
Now, it helped that last season the Huskers had four guys at safety who were all going to see the field before Domann and needed some serious help at outside linebacker. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said he wasn’t going to just give Domann up without a fight, and he lost three of those four rotation pieces at safety, but the Colorado native bulked up to 230 pounds this offseason.
So he’s probably not going to be spending too much time with the safeties moving forward. When he made the “move” (it wasn’t even really a position change at the time it was made, more of a “let’s have you also do this thing” kind of deal), outside linebacker coach Jovan Dewitt said he was just working to get the defensive back out of Domann and get him to be a little more assertive in the box. This spring, Domann made strides in the that department.
He and senior Alex Davis started at outside backer in the Huskers’ spring game. Make of that what you will. But Domann is getting his chances because, like the guy I wrote about Tuesday, who looks to have the playmaker gene, Domann has made the most of his chances.
"You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” head coach Scott Frost said in the spring. “We can put guys in position to make plays, but at the end of the day they’ve got to make a play. That was one of the bright spots about watching JoJo (last year). So when he came off the edge and wasn’t blocked, we got sack fumbles and saw him make a bunch of tackles."
He produced 19 total tackles (10 of them un-assisted), but 17 of those tackles came over the Huskers' final four games. Domann played in the season-opener against Colorado but an injury sidelined him for four games in the middle of the season. He played before Ohio State, but the game against the Buckeyes — when Domann had seven tackles, a pass breakup and a strip-sack that wasn’t really him stripping the ball out of OSU quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ hands and more him hitting Haskins so hard after coming unblocked off the edge that the ball was jarred loose — was Domann’s coming out party.
That’s the guy Nebraska is hoping can come out consistently at outside linebacker.
"It showed up again (on the first day of spring ball),” Frost said. "When he gets chances to make plays, he makes them. I think he’ll be versatile enough that he can play some safety for us, but right now we need him a little more at outside linebacker.”
The big number here is sacks, right? Or we could expand that a little further and talk about havoc plays — tackles for loss, forced fumbles, pass break-ups and picks. Luke Gifford had 20 such plays in his last two years for the Huskers. Nobody had more. Gifford led the team in tackles for loss and sacks last season and his 12 TFLs were the most by an individual defender since Randy Gregory had 16 in 2013.
Domann has a chance. Not many probably would have predicted he’d start over Tyrin Ferguson in the spring game, but he did. Domann isn’t the biggest at outside backer — he doesn’t have the prototypical size of a guy like Caleb Tannor who the staff is still waiting on — but he has that “hats to the ball” approach the staff loves. And effort can often times cover up some physical limitations.
The guy has been through injury after injury after injury during his time in Lincoln and he keeps battling back. He’s a joy to be around, for one, and motivated as all hell to make an impact at Nebraska. This season could very well be his opportunity to do so.
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.