LINCOLN, Neb. — There is not a position group at Nebraska undergoing more changes this offseason than the linebackers.
With the switch from the 4-3 defense run by former defensive coordinator Mark Banker to the 3-4 scheme used by Bob Diaco, the number of linebackers on the roster has jumped up, the different types of techniques and coverages has doubled, and the overall feel of the group is flipped on its head.
So far, linebackers coach Trent Bray says, it’s been a relatively smooth transition, despite all the change.
“I think our guys have done a great job with the volume of stuff we’ve learned, and just the different alignments and places they are on the field,” Bray said following practice Tuesday.
There’s a wealth of linebackers Nebraska can choose from to fill both inside linebacker and both outside linebacker spots. But each group is significantly different, plus the duties of one outside linebacker spot are much different than those of the other. Because of that, Bray and Diaco are rotating coaching position groups, with Bray taking inside backers and Diaco taking outside one day, then switching the next.
“There are moments in the room where I have to work and where he has to work and we come on the grass and it’s the same,” Diaco said. “I feel very fulfilled being on the staff with him and I’m learning a lot of things.”
The biggest change is the outside linebacker position currently being filled by sophomore Alex Davis, who played on the defensive line last season.
Making the switch to an outside linebacker, Davis is slowly coming around to the position, Bray said.
“He’s moving from being a defensive lineman to now the coverage aspect of (pass defense),” Bray said. “That takes time to figure out space, threats, where you need to drop. That’s the biggest thing for him but he has improved the last two days drastically in that understanding.”
Bray signed with a pair of teams that ran the 3-4 defense in his brief NFL career, with the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans.
In the end, though there are moving parts, coaching is coaching he said, so his job has mostly stayed the same when it comes to learning Diaco’s defense while simultaneously converting Davis.
“You coach technique, you coach alignments, whatever those may be,” Bray said. “Everyone runs it a little bit different, what are the teaching points, what are the details of what he wants and then you coach those things.”
Other notes from practice:
- Nebraska WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was doing some light drills with wide receivers coach Keith Williams after practice. Sidelined with an illness relating to his appendix, according to head coach Mike Riley, Johnson has been cleared to run routes with the rest of the receivers for now. It is not clear if he will be cleared for full contact this spring.
- Safeties coach Bob Elliot had some high praise for safety Aaron Williams. Elliott, who has been a coach for more than 30 years, said he’s never seen a player pick up defensive schemes as quickly as Williams. He’s very pleased with his progress.
- Elliott also interestingly said he does not watch film of players before coming to coach. That way, he can have a fresh set of eyes when he lands on campus.
- Bray also had some thoughts on early enrollee Avery Roberts. Bray said he’s been “impressed” with the freshman linebacker, despite his young age: “His ability to learn, to pick up all the communications and where he needs to be has been impressive considering he should still be in high school. And then just his physical ability gives him a chance to be something special if he keeps progressing.”