For a fourth year, we’re counting down the 10 most intriguing Huskers. I wrote about who would have earned spots 11-20 if the countdown was extended out and shared a look at the previous three groups of Huskers from 2018, ’19, and ’20 earlier.
The intent of this exercise is to highlight players who might have the largest impact on the upcoming season, one way or the other, with their play. It’s not a ranking of the best players on the team and it’s not even really a rundown of the most important players to accomplish X, Y, and Z. It’s as the name suggests: the most intriguing talents on the roster.
Things kicked off last week with Nick Henrich at No. 10 and Oliver Martin and No. 9.
No. 8: Quinton Newsome
Nebraska has open scholarships to use and it would be pointless not to look around the transfer portal. But run through the position groups and you can talk yourself out of additions in several rooms quite quickly.
At running back you want to see what you have without pushing anyone else out the door, and you already added one transfer. At tight end, no. At quarterback, no. On the o-line, no. On the d-line, no. At inside ‘backer, maybe, but you probably weren’t planning on it before that 14th spring practice. At defensive back? That one makes some sense.
There are three returning starters from last year’s secondary. At safety, the Huskers can probably only comfortably go four-deep; does secondary coach Travis Fisher feel that’s enough? At corner, there’s a three-man grouping that spent all winter and spring in a battle for Dicaprio Bootle’s old starting spot.
None of the three options—sophomores Braxton Clark, Nadab Joseph, and Quinton Newsome—have much starting experience. It’s no surprise Nebraska is looking at options to further beef up a defense that already projects as a strength. If, say, a former 5-star corner wants to join the party, not many coaches will turn him away.
But as things stand now, the leader in the clubhouse for the open corner job is Newsome. And should Nebraska trip up in its courting of another corner, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
The 6-foot-2 corner from Georgia has played a lot of ball for the Blackshirts in his first two years on campus. He burned a redshirt in 2019, appearing in 10 games by way of special teams. Coaches like that, a freshman who pushes his way onto the field through the game’s third phase. He had playing time on defense in four of his 10 appearances.
Then last year as a sophomore, Newsome was the de facto No. 3 corner. When Cam Taylor-Britt needed a breather in-game or was forced to sit, Newsome heard his name called without much hesitation.
There wasn’t much drop-off in Fisher’s eyes. Newsome plays with confidence and his coach’s trust.
“Right now, Quinton Newsome is doing a very good job at that spot,” Fisher said this spring. “A lot of guys are doing great jobs, but Quinton Newsome is doing a great job at that spot.”
That was about as far as praise went this spring from the DB coach. Interestingly enough, Newsome played more snaps for Nebraska just last season than the Huskers’ primary transfer target has in three years.
Fisher isn’t scared to play young defenders, his tenure so far has proven that much. And he has a player on his hands now in Newsome with seemingly all the prerequisites for taking that next step.
He’s physical. He’s long. His high school tape showed a player comfortable in man or zone. He has good instincts when the ball is in the air. He’s competitive, taking every opportunity this offseason to learn from Taylor-Britt.
“It’s all about being able to take the coaching and the classroom teaching to the field,” Fisher said. “It’s about being able to take the mistakes you make in practice and correcting the mistakes.”
That’s the piece of it that’s most interesting with Newsome. Lamar Jackson once told me that if a DB doesn’t think he’s the best, he’s in trouble. It doesn’t matter if he actually is or not—he could be the fourth-string guy on the depth chart—but if he believes he is, he has a chance. You have to have unflinching confidence to play the position.
Put another way, Ted Lasso’s sideline chat with one of his players is appropriate: “What’s the happiest animal on earth?” he asks. “(A) goldfish. You know why the goldfish is the happiest animal on earth? Got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.”
Newsome looks like he has that irrational confidence when he plays, a swagger. Combine that mentality with his physical tools and you have a more-than-capable defensive back. If he has the mental piece of it down, he’s ready.
With Taylor-Britt on the other side of the formation, whoever earns that starting job is going to draw the opposing team’s best. Coordinators and quarterbacks will want to test the new guy before trying out the playmaker on the other side. Whoever plays is going to get beat.
If it’s Newsome, he is going to get beat. The big questions are how often and how does he handle it?
It’s also not a given that a transfer addition would walk in the door with a starting job, mind you. Just because Nebraska might add someone doesn’t mean Newsome isn’t still the favorite to win the position in fall camp. He’ll have a leg up on the newcomer in one key area: knowledge of the defensive scheme. More competition, though, is a good thing.
“Coach Fish is definitely one of those guys who constantly (pushes competition). That was his way of getting the best out of his players. He just constantly made us understand that everything’s up for grabs, everything’s a competition,” Jackson told me. “He just always lit a fire underneath the players’ ass to make sure they go out every day and just compete, make it uncomfortable for people.”
Newsome did well to respond to that this winter and spring. If another guy gets added to the fold before fall camp, we’ll see what happens. If Newsome ends up being the guy, he’ll have plenty of safety nets with three veteran defensive backs making up the rest of the secondary, but a team’s coverage is only as strong as its weakest link. Look for that swagger. If it holds up, he’ll be a fun one to watch.
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.