Teammates like to hear the two cornerbacks talk.
Jonathan Rose is from Alabama. Byerson Cockrell is from Mississippi. A few words from each give away what region of the country they call home.
“We go in the locker room and then they compare accents — the Mississippi accent to the Alabama accent,” Rose said. “So everybody just likes to hear us talk and have fun.”
It’s an interesting deal, really: Two cornerbacks from the South fighting for the same job and … becoming friends in the process.
If the latter seems odd, it isn’t so much when you consider their similarities.
Both Rose and Cockrell are juniors who traveled a winding path to end up at Nebraska. Rose came by way of a transfer from Auburn. Cockrell arrived after grinding it out at East Mississippi Community College.
“We talk about it all the time, we’re like, ‘Man, I grew up watching SEC football and never knew anything about the Big Ten.' And then we ended up here,” Rose said. “But it’s an experience. I’m glad I got to branch out.”
They're similar in size: Rose is 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Cockrell 6-0, 185. Both seem to play bigger than their size might suggest. Both also have received plenty of reps with the No. 1 defense at the cornerback spot opposite Josh Mitchell.
Rose came to Lincoln already having experienced big-time college football, playing nine games as a true freshman at Auburn in 2011. A unanimous four-star recruit coming out of high school in Leeds, Ala., Rose picked the same school where his father, Charles, played in the mid-'90s.
But after being dismissed from Auburn for undisclosed “personal reasons,” Rose was given a release to transfer to any school that would take him. As might be assumed, there was a long line of interested parties, including Florida State.
How’d a guy from Alabama end up in the Midwest? World Wide Web magic, that’s how.
“I didn’t know anything about Nebraska, so I went to the Internet and saw that they had produced some highly ranked DBs,” Rose said. “They were going first, second round. And then somebody told me, ‘That’s DB nation.’ I said, ‘Man, that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what I’m trying to be.’”
Rose said he made the call to Nebraska and was told: If you really want to be an exceptional DB, you should go and let Coach Pelini coach you.
“I was like, ‘Well, that’s going to be my move then.’”
It wasn’t easy to adapt right away. Rose found the style of defense to be different from what he knew at Auburn.
It’s more technical here at Nebraska, Rose thinks, and he doesn’t mean that in a bad way. Knowing the playbook is one thing, but the cornerback says Bo Pelini has “another three or four series” of thoughts in his mind while watching practice.
“The SEC playing style is kind of the whole complete opposite of how we do it up here,” Rose said. “But I feel like this added another chapter to my game. I got the SEC physical style, and now I got a finesse style to where I can learn systems, learn playbooks, learn schemes.”
The affable Rose responds “Yes, sir” before answering many questions. He said he knew he wasn’t going to be a starter last season, so he took the opportunity to learn from Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans.
Jean-Baptiste, in particular, gave him a lot to think about. “He was the best press guy I’ve ever seen. He might not have the best feet, but he’d jam the guy so good that he could make up for it.”
Rose is eager to make his own mark. He wants to be part of a secondary that isn’t just known for blanket coverage but also taking the ball away.
While the Husker defense vastly improved as last season went along, it struggled to create turnovers in October and November, going four straight games without a takeaway and having just one in the final six regular-season contests.
“Basically, we’re looking for fumbles, interceptions, any way we can get that ball out,” Rose said. “We talk to linebackers about getting strips, ripping the ball out, then DBs come behind them get the ball and scoop and score. That’s been our main focus this spring.”
He figures a hungry defensive line of Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen, among others, will only help bring about more interceptions.
“As far as I’ve seen, this is going to be a nice year for DBs, because we’ve got Randy Gregory and these new guys, Maliek, all them guys coming up rushing,” Rose said. “I feel like quarterbacks aren’t going to have any time to take three-step drops. So it’s all going to be floaters and interceptions to us.
"I really appreciate those guys. They’ve been working hard. I never realized how much speed they had. I always looked at them in the locker room as some big guys, but now I can see they’re some 4.5 (second) or 4.6 guys.”
It’s just one of the many reasons Rose was eager for spring practice. Little did he know he’d make a new friend with the very guy he’s competing against.
For the record, Rose can’t tell a difference when Cockrell talks. He hears someone who sounds just like him.
Two guys pushing each other for the same thing. Rose figures it can’t hurt.
“After I sat behind Stanley and Ciante for so long, now I want to showcase myself,” he said. “Now I want to show them that I’ve learned enough and I’m ready to step into a starting role.”