LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska’s second full week of spring practice is officially in the books. After a good first week, the Huskers were back on the practice field for more installation and work.
What did we learn over the last week of practice? Let’s review what we know now about Nebraska football following its second full week of spring ball.
Defense ahead of schedule
Nebraska ranked last in the Big Ten in total defense in 2017, allowing an average of 436.2 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has been hard at work correcting that for 2018, but it hasn’t been as bad as he thought it originally might be.
“I don’t think we’re the defense I heard about, if that makes sense,” Chinander said following practice Tuesday. “We’re ahead of that curve a little bit. I think they’re buying into the system. I think they’re doing what we want them to do.”
Coach Scott Frost’s offense has been helpful in the learning process, too. Chinander knows there will be mistakes, but those mistakes will help the players get better.
Another factor helping to improve the defense is the attention to tackling technique. Frost showed the players the proper technique Monday evening, and that will continue. In the meantime, the coaches are pleased with the growth of the defense and are continuing to push them to try so they can learn from their mistakes.
“One of the keys we talk about is the desire to excel and no fear of failure,” Frost said. “If you’re going to run through a tackle and be aggressive, you’re going to miss some until you get good at it. And I want guys to continue to make the big hit, the splash play, the big impact play, instead of being afraid to go make that play and coming to balance, coming to a stop and giving up yards.”
Leaders emerging at linebacker
As the defense grows, names are starting to emerge. At inside linebacker specifically, ILB coach Barrett Ruud shared the names of those making an impact in his group.
Dedrick Young, Will Honas, Mohamed Barry and Avery Roberts have started to show Ruud they could contend for playing time in 2018. Nothing is set in stone, and Ruud will continue to evaluate who fits where best.
“There’s probably about four guys who have separated themselves a little bit,” Ruud said after the practice Thursday, per 247Sports. “I’ve got four guys who need to play a little bit of catch up. Those first four guys, now it’s trying to figure out who grasps it the best schematically and who is playing the best football as well, and within that, I’ve got to find the best positions for them as well.”
As for how the linebackers are coming along, outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt has taken a simple approach. He wants his players to teach the defensive calls themselves, as it will ultimately help them better understand what they’re doing.
“Right now, our guys are learning what tools they have in situations and they’re making calls,” Dewitt said on Thursday. “When when we get back to film, we say, ‘Hey, that’s a good call but you might want to look at doing this.’ And they’re like, ‘I got you. It makes sense, coach.’”
The Nebraska defense sustained a couple of new injuries this week, with both defensive linemen Mick Stoltenberg and Carlos Davis out. In Stoltenberg’s case, he missed all week and was on crutches following the practice Thursday. He was without the crutches on Saturday, though. Frost originally called his setback “nothing major” earlier in the week.
As for Davis, Frost and Chinander never provided an update on why Davis was out but he was back in pads on Saturday.
While Stoltenberg is out, Nebraska has been rotating players on the defensive line. Chinander noted that it’s been good for players to get reps at different positions while other players have been out.
“I think the depth is good,” Chinander said on Thursday. “Obviously with some guys getting nicked up here and there, you have the opportunity to play some of those guys that are defensive end or whatever. You have the opportunity to roll those guys through at nose and see what we’ve got. You know, Damion Daniels is playing well. Peyton Newell is playing well. [Carlos and Khalil Davis] are getting some reps at nose and they’re doing a nice job so I like where that group is going.”
Running back Greg Bell was also out on Tuesday, but he returned to practice later in the week. Running backs coach Ryan Held said Bell had a strong practice on Saturday.
Offensive install nearly complete
Offensive coordinator Troy Walters confirmed Saturday that most of Nebraska’s offensive installation is complete following practice No. 7. Walters is still not ready to put a timetable on how long it will take to master Frost’s offense.
“I’m not going to put a time frame on how long it’s going to take. We’ve got some great student-athletes and they want to learn,” Walters said. “They do everything they can to learn what we’re throwing at them but it’s going to take some time. At UCF, it took us until probably Year 2 for the guys to really understand what we wanted and how we wanted it done but it could be faster here. I’m not going to put a timetable on it. We’re just going to feed the guys with information and the plays and coaching them up, and then this summer will be really big for them to go out there on their own and really practice what we put in. If they do that, they’ll get better and we’ll have what we need for the season.”
Held also spoke Saturday about the offensive install, and said the rest of spring practice can now be focused on cleaning everything up.
“There’s not much install left which will be good,” Held said. “There’s a few more things so we can tighten the screws the last seven practices and really focus on the details and fundamentals and not how many plays we have to [learn].
“We’re trying to get in as much as we can now and now we have to be able to execute it better.”