Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Tony White, Defensive Coaches Scaling Back Scheme to Let Huskers ‘Go Play’

April 13, 2023

Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White said he has to be better. He meant specifically in terms of installing defensive scheme and maintaining player freedom while they learn the new defense. White approached spring ball with the intention of throwing everything he could at the players. He updated local media on Thursday about all things defense following Nebraska’s 11th spring practice.

“I’ve got to be cleaner and more efficient to make sure that we get to see guys really play,” White said. “It’s hard to get an evaluation when you’re changing stuff, adding stuff all the time and then you throw a guy in a new position. So now he’s learning a new position, learning the new defense and you go out there and you see him at his worst.

“At this point it’s a matter of making sure they’re in the right positions. I scaled back so those guys can go play.”

White said they haven’t ran as much installation in recent practices. That’s so players can be confident in their current assignments and execute. At the ground floor, he said, if those players don’t line up properly then the defense “doesn’t have a chance.”

Nebraska has a handful of capable pass rushers including Princewill Umanmielen, Jimari Butler, Chief Borders, MJ Sherman and Kai Wallin. Pressuring the offense is at the core of White’s mentality. He wants to make sure all of those guys are in the right spots to execute. Four of those pass rushers are new arrivals, which White credited members of the coaching staff who came before him to get them in. White also complimented the work Corey Campbell and this strength and conditioning staff to get the Huskers into spring shape.

Those aforementioned pass rushers come from different spots. Historically, some are edge rushers and some largely played linebacker. Now, they’re cycling through drills on the defensive line and at linebacker. Developing that dynamic ability, White said, allows players to move into certain spots for pass rush and run stop. White likened them to X-Men.

“It goes back to that cross-training deal,” White said. “Coach is really big on making sure guys are in the right spot. Because you can’t evaluate them if they’re in the wrong spot, playing slow or hesitant. That’s not fair to the guys.”

One of the players who’s benefited from such movement is Creighton Prep graduate AJ Rollins. He’s flourishing on the defensive end after a move from tight end. Tommi Hill is back working with corners and adds a dynamic playmaking ability. White, a former cornerbacks coach, said the team’s secondary includes roughly five players who can step out and cover. That includes Malcolm Hartzog, Quinton Newsome, Javier Morton, Hill and Myles Farmer. Although, all of them are also moving around to different roles within the secondary.

White echoed head coach Matt Rhule’s focus on focused tackling. Every Huskers practice so far includes early tackling drills. That’s either with the defensive line shedding blocks and tackling, linebackers attacking the line to tackle and defensive backs tackling in open space.

“The game is won physically,” White said. “So we practice physical. … Everything we do is about physicality.”

White explained the defensive players are constantly improving. He also wants to see them apply lessons onto the field. He wants to limit “the emotional roller coaster” and get players to shake off bad periods. Changing that reverts back to mindset and attitude. Coaches line players up in different ways but, regardless of scheme, White wants to instill the mentality to run the ball down and tackle.

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