Produce, rise, play, keep producing; it’s really a pretty simple methodology for defensive backs coach Travis Fisher.
The first-year Husker coach played in a system in the NFL that kept a production chart. When he got to Orlando, he brought with him that same chart (concept, not physical chart, although that would be a cool hand-me-down).
The thing about the chart is that it sorts itself out. Fisher doesn’t really have to worry about bias or human error or picking the wrong guys. The chart does it for him. Make plays, get the opportunity to make more.
“Whoever’s on the top of that production chart,” he says, “that’s who’s going to play.”
If you get a pick and “take that thing to the house,” you’re going to get some points next to your name and rise up a little. If you fly around and catch some bodies, you’re going to get some points next to your name and rise up a little. If you drop an interception, you’re going to lose some points next to your name. It works both ways.
“You think about guys talking about a [pass break-up, or] PBU, no,” Fisher said Thursday when assistants on staff met with the media. “That’s not a PBU. That’s a missed opportunity. So you’re going to get a negative point on that.”
None of the corners on Nebraska’s roster had an interception last season. This staff doesn’t want to see that again. Like everything else, their teaching mantra is at the heart of making sure it doesn’t.
“We need interceptions; I need those guys to be big-time playmakers,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “It’s believing in the mantra that Scott [Frost] says. It’s no fear of failure, desire to excel, go get the football. If you whiff, you’ve got the safety to make the tackle and let’s move on. But I need the football.”
The quarterbacks have thrown six interceptions in the spring, by quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco’s count, which means the defense has six interceptions in the spring. The defensive backs are fighting to get their hands on balls because they’re all fighting for spots. They’re doing exactly what Fisher intended with his chart.
“Usually how it’d start off is most of those guys that don’t want to compete, they don’t care too much about it until they make a play. When they make a play and start to see themselves go up, now they want to play. Now they see themselves in a bunch so they want to play,” Fisher said. “Then you’ve got those guys that are ready to play from the jump and they see themselves at the top, when they see someone about to jump them they want to get that spot back. So now I’ve got that bottom kid that didn’t want to play at first, now he’s competing with the top kid and now I’m getting the whole group up.”
The guys that don’t want to compete, they stand out, “but that’s what I need to know,” Fisher says. He tells his room in the beginning, “Come in here and take a spot.” The chart runs through the spring, runs through the fall and runs through the season.
“It’s a year-round competition,” Fisher says. “Period.”
Maybe the guy that’s helped himself most on the chart is walk-on corner Ethan Cox.
“He’s one of those kids that’s got his back against the wall, he’s got some guys that played and he’s young and he’s taken coaching, he’s definitely taken some coaching,” Fisher said. “He’s got his hands on some balls and I’ve rewarded him.”
In Fisher’s room, he says there’s no such thing as a walk-on or a scholarship guy, he doesn’t care about whether someone is a freshman or a fifth-year senior; everyone has a shot. Cox is shooting his and so far he’s hitting at a high clip.
“He helped himself out and got in that two-deep. [Thursday] he practiced with the ones,” Fisher said. “When his number gets called he makes plays.
Maybe Cox stands out Saturday and bumps his name up a few pegs on Fisher’s chart. Fisher says safety Aaron Williams and corners Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle are high on the deal right now. He’s excited to see if anything changes in the spring game.