When it was announced Mike Dawson was going to trade in Husker red for New York Giant blue, and the thought that Nebraska’s defensive line was about to be on position coach No. 3 in as many years, Hail Varsity talked to former nose guard and captain Mick Stoltenberg.
“We had the luxury of Dawson being in the same defense or something very similar to that for a number of years before he got to Nebraska,” Stoltenberg said when asked about the differences between his position coaches at NU. “It’s tough, man. When you’ve got something that consistent, it’s going to be a lot easier to teach.
“You put coaches in positions where they have to learn the defense along with the players, it’s going to be a little more difficult for the players to grasp. If a coach knows the defense like the back of his hand, it’s going to be a lot easier to teach.”
When Nebraska switched on the fly from Mark Banker’s 4-3 to Bob Diaco’s 3-4, it was the same guy still teaching the defensive line — John Parrella. Year over year, the percentage of plays in which a member of the defensive line registered a tackle for loss, a pass break-up or a forced fumble was cut in half; Diaco’s scheme had a little to do with that but players often talked about not knowing exactly what they were being asked to do.
Then Dawson joins the picture and brings with him years of experience with Scott Frost and Erik Chinander and goes about overhauling the defensive line. The line’s havoc rate snapped right back to its 2016 percentage. Players talked about being able to play loose and free, there wasn’t a ton of paralysis by analysis going on out on the field.
Having to replace Dawson was always going to hurt that overall coaching continuity, but a goal of Nebraska’s was to minimize that impact and find someone who not only understood how to coach within a 3-4 system like Chinander’s, but was able to come in and hit the ground running.
Chinander said the coaching staff was “scrambling” a little bit last season trying to teach the defense everything it needed to learn in a short amount of time. Now, with the Huskers’ expected to take a step forward and an important spring period in front of them, Tuioti was the most attractive candidate after having spent the last two seasons in a 3-4 scheme at Cal.
“I think that was a big part of it,” Tuioti said. “With spring ball coming up in a short period of time, being able to have somebody come in that’s plug-and-play.”
Tuioti understands the install, he understands the basics and how things are supposed to work. Maybe more importantly, he speaks the same language.
“There’s a lot more carryover, the language is universal so he’ll kind of ask us in meetings, ‘What’s your guys’ term for this?’ and half the time it’s the same term he uses,” defensive end Ben Stille said. “That’s been a helpful thing, it’s not a whole new language.”
Carlos Davis said even when the terms are different, they still know what Tuioti is talking about. When they don’t, there aren’t any blank stares or wandering eyes. Guys are already comfortable enough in meeting rooms speaking out and sorting through everything.
On the field, the adjustment period has been a relatively easy one. Tuioti has little things he’s brought from Cal — “Not really huge things, just tweaks,” Stille said — but that was another draw. Chinander said when it comes to technique, “he’s got some things that can probably help our scheme.” Early results in spring ball have been encouraging; the defensive line is looking strong.
“We have spent a lot of time [at the start of spring ball] to help them understand their fundamental techniques and use those tools within the situation of the games,” Tuioti said. “Once our players can understand how to use those tools within the scheme of the game, it doesn’t matter what defensive call we have. If they know how to respond and use their technique to their advantage, then we will be good every time. It’s understanding what I want them to do, respond and execute it.”
Fortunately, what Tuioti wants — and how he calls it — isn’t much different from what they’ve already learned.
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.