Position versatility seems to be a big thing for this new Husker coaching staff.
You’ll see it on offense, but you’ll also be seeing in the defensive secondary for the Huskers this season.
“I like to cross-train guys,” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said. “In the spring, you’ll see some safeties playing corner, you’ll see some corners playing safety … I’m going to put some guys that are not used to tackling in tackling positions, so I’ll put those guys at safety in the spring. I’ll put some safeties that aren’t used to covering out there on No. 1 and teach them how to cover.”
The end goal for Fisher is to have a collection of guys that can surprise an offense from anywhere. Fisher doesn’t have boundary or strong or free safeties. “I just have safeties,” he said. There are no boundary corners, there are corners. If your job on any given play is to cover, you better cover; if your job is to fill a gap, you better fill that gap; if your job is to contain, you get the point. Do your job, don’t just go out looking to hit dudes.
“I’m more of a coach that I really want to be where I’m supposed to be and do it right more than I want to just go strike people,” Fisher said. “I’ll have guys that can move around, you don’t know who’s coming, guys that aren’t afraid to cover when they gotta cover.”
That requires a pretty diverse skillset. Fortunately, Fisher knows how to get the most out of what he’s got. When he began his football career, he was an offensive player and then made the NFL as a defensive back; he said there was a choice he had to make when he moved over, an embracing of a more physical disposition. There’s a combination of that same physicality and speed that’s paramount to playing for him now.
At a sit-down with all the coaches before Nebraska kicked off spring ball last Friday, Fisher shared some of his coaching philosophies. For incoming guys like Breon Dixon — a hybrid outside linebacker that can drop into coverage if needed — Fisher views their role like that of a safety.
“We mix it up so much and coach it over and over and over again, we really shouldn’t have a problem with those guys,” he said. “Those guys are really just safeties.”
Asked about what kinds of corners he likes to recruit, he said his guys have to have speed.
“I prefer guys that can run at the corner position,” he said. “I don’t want these tall corners that can’t run, they won’t help me. I really want guys that can run. They can be 6-foot, 6-foot-1, just go run. I really like track guys, so right now I’m looking at a lot of track guys.”
But maybe the most important tidbit he shared was something that will be an ongoing process throughout the spring: learning about his players. Just like with the Huskers’ new fitness program under Zach Duval and several other position coaches, Fisher has an individualistic approach to teaching and developing his multi-faceted secondary.
“[I] have to figure out how each one of them clicks, how to coach each one of them, how to go about talking to each one of them,” he said. “How to go about film study and how to get you to understand what I’m trying to teach you.
“One thing I don’t change is how I coach. If he’s supposed to be 3 yards outside the hash and you’re Lamar Jackson, you’re going to hear the same thing if you’re Dicaprio Bootle. You’re going to hear it in the same tone and the same way.”
Nebraska has some interesting pieces in the secondary — experienced guys like Jackson and Bootle at corner and Antonio Reed and Aaron Williams at safety; as well as some promising new talent in CJ Smith and the two Cams, Taylor and Jones — but Fisher will have his work cut out for him in Lincoln. The Huskers’ pass defense was tied for 77th in interceptions last season, 95th in opposing quarterback rating, and 119th in passes defended. But he seems ready for the challenge.
“It’s coming,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take but it seems like it didn’t take no time at UCF but it did. We won six games that first year, that was tough. That following year it finally clicked. If it takes that long here, it takes that long here. If it doesn’t it doesn’t. I know as coaches we’re dedicated to every day we’re here trying to give these kids every opportunity we can to go out and win.”
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.