Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Mike Dawson Talks Pass-Rushing, Run-Stopping as Nebraska Ramps Up

September 30, 2020

<p>Markus Golden played a combined 31 games his first two seasons in the league, generating four sacks his rookie year and then 12.5 in his second season. Over the next two seasons for the Arizona Cardinals, though, he only played in a combined 15 games as injuries piled up. Ahead of the 2019 season, Golden signed a one-year deal to go play in New York for the Giants.&nbsp;</p>

<p>His position coach: Mike Dawson.&nbsp;</p>

<p>Ask Dawson about Golden today and he can&rsquo;t help but smile.&nbsp;</p>

<p>Fully healthy, Golden played in 16 games (starting each of them) and produced 10 sacks. It was the first double-digit year for an outside linebacker with the Giants in quite some time.&nbsp;</p>

<p>Now back in Nebraska coaching outside &lsquo;backers for the Huskers, you bet Dawson is using some of that tape to help motivate the next crop of pass-rushers and show what it&rsquo;s supposed to look like.&nbsp;</p>

<p>&ldquo;Those guys were great to be able to bounce ideas off of,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I was proud of the year Markus had. He&rsquo;s a great guy and he worked his tail off. And it&rsquo;s great for me now to be able to come back and show these young guys, &lsquo;Hey here&rsquo;s some film of what it&rsquo;s supposed to look like and what we&rsquo;re trying to get done.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p>

<p>Nebraska will take any help it can get in the pass-rushing department.&nbsp;</p>

<p>For at least six years now (the furthest back Football Outsider&rsquo;s data goes), the Huskers have been in the bottom half of all FBS teams in terms of defensive sack rate. Though the 2019 campaign featured a huge jump from 117th the year prior to 66th nationally, Nebraska needs to replace four from that front seven.&nbsp;</p>

<p>One newcomer to keep an eye on in that area: sophomore outside linebacker Niko Cooper.</p>

<p>&quot;He&#39;s big, he&#39;s strong. He&#39;s got about the biggest hands that I think I&#39;ve seen on a guy, so hopefully he can use those in getting some hands on some offensive linemen, and being stout in the run game, and at the same time being fast and explosive in the pass game,&quot; Dawson said. &quot;Obviously a guy that&#39;s a little bit older, and his body is a little bit more mature. He can pack some food away, I know that. So hopefully get him eating, and get him bigger and stronger, and get him going that way.&rdquo;</p>

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<p>Nebraska has options at outside linebacker, certainly. It has a proven playmaker in JoJo Domann, now it just needs consistency from the senior. It has an energy guy in Garrett Nelson who played a lot of football his first year on campus. And it has a guy in Caleb Tannor who has all the physical tools Nebraska is looking for, but just needs to put the pieces all together.&nbsp;</p>

<p>&ldquo;No. 1, when you&rsquo;re watching the pass rush, you&rsquo;ve got to have good athletes coming off the edge that are explosive,&rdquo; Dawson said of what he needs from those guys. &ldquo;At every level of football, the pass rush always starts with speed, in my mind, and I don&rsquo;t think anybody would be able to convince me otherwise.&nbsp;</p>

<p>&quot;Also, we&rsquo;ve got to rush as a group. It&rsquo;s got to be a combined effort. The four guys rushing in a four-man rush have to be working together. If you have one guy that hits a great move and the guy on the other side blows an assignment or lets the quarterback escape, that great move goes for nothing, you&rsquo;ll never see a return on it.&rdquo;</p>

<p>Being fundamentally sound is a key point of emphasis for them this year as a defense. Getting more from the pass-rush goes hand in hand with that.&nbsp;</p>

<p>So, too, does being better in the run game. Easier to pin your ears back when the opposing offense is in third-and-long. Harder to do when you can&rsquo;t keep the offense off schedule. Nebraska hasn&rsquo;t been able to do that on the ground.&nbsp;</p>

<p>Teams averaged 4.8 yards a carry against the Huskers a year ago, 102nd nationally and only better than Rutgers in the Big Ten.</p>

<p>&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s something that if they had 2.5 yards a carry you&rsquo;d want to get better, right?&rdquo; Dawson said when asked if those numbers were too high. &ldquo;You don&rsquo;t want to regress or stay the same. You&rsquo;re always going to want to get better. I have a lot of passion for it. That&rsquo;s something that&rsquo;s going to fall on our position. Coach Frost has said that from the beginning. When you play the front we play, you have to be able to set edges and we&rsquo;re going to have to do a good job of setting the edge on our side and the guys in the middle are going to have to do a good job of knocking some offensive linemen back.&nbsp;</p>

<p>&quot;When a team&rsquo;s running the ball, generally speaking, it takes 11 guys to stop the run all the time. Whether they&rsquo;re spreading you out and you have to fit in the alley or if they&rsquo;re packing the box in, where are you gonna fit when they start using tight ends and wings and things like that, you&rsquo;ve got to be sharp, you&rsquo;ve got to be on it.&nbsp;</p>

<p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s a challenge in this league because you see everything from full house backfields to empty backfields with quarterback run and everything in between, so that&rsquo;s something we have to focus on.&rdquo;</p>

<p>Lots of responsibilities on the outside linebackers.&nbsp;</p>

<p>&ldquo;We have to go out and be exact in what we&rsquo;re doing,&rdquo; Dawson says. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t go, &lsquo;we&nbsp;almost had that one&rsquo; or sometimes we got it and sometimes we didn&rsquo;t. It&rsquo;s got to be an every snap thing and that&rsquo;s gonna start in practice.&rdquo;</p>

<p>Fortunately for Nebraska, padded practices began Wednesday. Let the hitting, the edge-setting, the pass-rushing, and the war in the middle begin.</p>

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