Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

On a Salty Huskers Defense in Fall Camp: 'We Blackshirts, We’re Villains'

August 13, 2019
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Head coach Scott Frost told junior safety Deontai Williams he appreciated the intensity but he needed the defensive back to ease up on the throttle. He’d rather get to the season fully healthy if it meant scaling back the intensity in practice than see someone get hurt this early in fall camp.

“That hurt my feelings,” Williams said Tuesday after practice. 

He gets the reasoning behind the talk — it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to ask, and the coaching staff would rather have it be this way than have to plead with the defense to dial things up — but “Man, I want to just get one more hit in Frost, just one more hit.”

There’s a reintroduction of sorts happening this fall camp. 

The Blackshirts are villains.

“We like to instigate a lot of stuff, that’s our mentality. We Blackshirts, we’re villains,” said defensive tackle Darrion Daniels. “So we’re always trying to push them to that point where they’re like… we want them to get a flag.”

It’s a back-and-forth. Daniels said the offense punched the defense in the mouth during Sunday’s scrimmage, coming out faster than they have all offseason, and that side doesn’t let the defense get away with bully ball, but Nebraska’s lesser-anticipated side is feeling nasty.

Nasty because they are the lesser-anticipated side. The talk is about the offense. What can quarterback Adrian Martinez do for an encore? Can Frost’s UCF Year 2 offensive leap happen here? If it does, that makes defensive improvement less of a necessity. 

“Nobody comes to see defense. The fans don’t come to see defense. Everybody comes to see touchdowns. It’s an offensive sport now,” Daniels said. “Nobody comes to see a defensive player make plays. They come to see touchdowns, they come to see fast-paced offenses run up and down on the field, they come to see high-scoring games, and as a defense we don’t want none of that. We want to ruin all that for them.”

Of course the Husker defense wants the Husker offense to succeed once the season begins — “want the offense and Frost to run the score up on everybody else,” Daniels said — but right now, in camp, that offense is the enemy. 

“We try to treat practice like a game,” said sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor. “We want zero on the board at the end of the day. We may not get that but that’s the goal at the end of the day. When the offense scores, we’re down on ourself and we’ve got to get to the sideline and fix it so when we go back out there they don’t score.”

That’s led to an intensity about the group. A sense of urgency. A feeling of something to prove.

“I try to instill in them that we're 4-8 until we prove it differently, so you guys better play with a chip on your shoulder,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “You better not come out flat because until we win on Oct. 31 or Sept. 7 or whenever the games are, we're still 4-8 and that's what everyone perceives you as and you need to prove people wrong.”

He called his unit’s play in the Sunday scrimmage “salty.” 

More: Practice Report | Video from DC Erik Chinander

It starts up front with Daniels and the defensive line. At least, that’s the message from defensive line coach Tony Tuioti. Stopping the run starts up front. Being better in pass coverage starts up front. If the quarterback has less time to throw, the defensive backs look better because they’re not having to be in coverage as long. Pressure leads to forced plays. Then the backend capitalizes. 

The secondary is getting more picks in practice because they’re roaming to the ball, but the defensive line is forcing the issue more. 

“We talk about being relentless and tough every snap. It shows up every play. The guys take a lot of pride in that,” Tuioti said. “You know at this point in time during the season in fall camp, everybody is trying to compete. Everything is kicked up a notch. Not only the competition within our room but within ourselves. It’s good to see them pushing themselves to be the best they can. There is no time for any dips or drops in terms of our progress and what we want to get accomplished.

“To a man each person has to take ownership on themselves to make sure they come out and perform at their best. The competition is too stiff. There are too many guys playing at a high level, so you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you aren’t ready to go each day in practice.”

When, on Friday, Frost talked about needing to have conversations with guys about dialing the intensity back, the brain immediately floated to senior linebacker Mohamed Barry, the energizer bunny of the defense if there ever was one in the sense that the guy just never eases up.

“Every time I see Mo in the locker room he’s stretched out, he’s working himself to exhaustion,” Daniels said.

At some point, that kind of motor has to rub off on his teammates, right? 

It seems like it’s starting to.

Barry was one of the guys who was spoken to. He has to sit out a few plays here and there. Garrett “Wild Man” Nelson was another. “Even in walk-throughs he’s full-speed running,” said Daniels. Barry sees his Will Honas and Collin Miller running to the ball now with the same ferocity he did last year.

“I look at Will sometimes and I’m like, ‘Dang he’s running to the ball more than me, that looks like me but better sometimes,’” Barry said. “Collin’s running to the ball and everyone’s running to the ball and it’s great because now you see that, OK, everything you’ve done and how you’ve worked and what they’ve seen from you last year, they really took that. Like ‘If I’m going to perform at that level, that’s how I have to be.’”

Asked if interpreting this uptick in defensive intensity as the unit taking on the approach of Barry, its leader, Daniels said that’s accurate. Even Barry himself sees it.

From an effort standpoint, he said “I think the team looks like a million me’s, I guess.”

Which is to say the 11 guys lining up across from the offense are going to fight. They’re going to fight until they’re told to chill out. And even then, being told to scale it back is just fuel for the fire.

“With Frost telling us to ease up, it’s kind of a refresher because 18, 19, 20, 21-year-old guys, guys our age are usually lazy and during fall camp, when you go into these days, people are very lackadaisical, but for us to go out there and have the tempo we have and for Coach Frost to be like, ‘Hey, hey, hey ease up,’ it builds my confidence.”

 
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