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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: Domann Gets His Shot at Outside Linebacker

March 6, 2019
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Well, that didn't take long. One of the Huskers I was most curious about this spring was JoJo Domann, a player versatile enough to help fill two holes (LB, S) on the defensive depth chart. What would be the plan for the junior from Colorado?

I don't know what the plan was in winter workouts, but . . . 

. . . so, the plan for now is to have Domann at linebacker. It's about more than just being 6-1, 230, too.

Scott Frost said it was Domann's playmaking ability in limited duty at outside linebacker last year that earned him a longer look at the position this spring. 

". . . [W]hen he got his chance he made plays. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. We can put guys in position to make plays, but at the end of the day they’ve got to make a play. That was one of the bright spots about watching JoJo. So when he came off the edge and wasn’t blocked, we got sack fumbles and saw him make a bunch of tackles."

That included 19 total tackles (10 solo) in 2018, but 17 of those tackles came over the Huskers' final four games. Domann played in the season-opener, then missed four games before slowly working his way back in against Northwestern, Minnesota and Bethune-Cookman. That set up his tour de force (so far) against Ohio State. Domann had the "sack fumble" Frost mentioned in that game. He also had seven tackles and a pass breakup to go with the sack and forced fumble. It was probably the third-best individual performance by a player in the back-seven last year behind Luke Gifford against Colorado and Antonio Reed against Michigan State. That's the Domann Husker fans are hoping to see more regularly this fall.

Very early and limited returns, according to Frost, were promising.

"It showed up again [at Monday's practice]," he said. "When he gets chances to make plays, he makes them. I think he’ll be versatile enough that he can play some safety for us, but right now we need him a little more at outside linebacker."

The versatility piece of the equation remains interesting. The buzz-y move in defensive football these days is "position-less" defenders. It was first a way to combat spread, up-tempo football with players who didn't have to come off the field. As that brand of offense has become the predominant brand of offense and the RPO has become canon, a hybrid player who can rush the passer, hold up in the run game and still hang with slot receivers has become a way to disguise looks and mess with those RPO reads that are happening all the time now. (Highly recommend this story from Eleven Warriors on the topic.)

Domann has that ability, though I don't know if the Huskers have any such plans for Domann or in general. (While the spread is everywhere, the Big Ten is still different than the Big 12.) If he's up to 230 now, that's solidly OLB-size. For comparison, Gifford, listed at 3 inches taller than Domann, was 245 on the roster last season. 

But these type of hybrid defenders tend to be defined more by ability than size. Joel Lanning (6-2, 230), Iowa State's starting quarterback in 2015 and 2016, converted to linebacker for his senior season and was key to the Cyclones' move to a more hybrid approach in 2017. The Football Writers named him an All-American after his one season on defense. (He also had a Nebraska offer coming out of high school, which might sting a little bit.) A year later, Greg Eisworth (6-0, 200) was Mr. Versatility at Iowa State as a third safety. Texas, borrowing from what it had seen against Iowa State, employed 5-star freshman B.J. Foster (6-2, 207) in the wildcard role last year and turned him lose on the edge and in the secondary.

It's an incredibly enticing idea if you're a fan of football, and probably too much to put on any one guy, Domann included, just because he seems to possess a few of the necessary traits.

For now, finding out how good of an outside linebacker he can be is probably enough.

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