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Northwestern vs. Nebraska, 11/4/17

Nebraska defensive back Marquel Dismuke (19) dives to tackle Northwestern wide receiver Riley Lees as Lamar Jackson joins in on Nov. 4 at Memorial Stadium.

Ranked by ESPN as the nation's No. 4 safety in the 2016 recruiting class, Marquel Dismuke has had a relatively quiet first two years in the Nebraska football program.

That could be changing.

A 6-foot-2, 200-pound player from Compton, California, Dismuke made a crunching open-field hit on true freshman Miles Jones and also recorded an interception in a scrimmage last week.

On Monday, as Husker secondary coach Travis Fisher gave media the lowdown on his top players, he offered up strong words of praise for Dismuke. In fact, Fisher said, Dismuke and Deontai Williams sometimes trend toward being overly aggressive in defending run plays in practice.

That's what you might call a good problem for a coach.

"Sometimes I have to back those guys off, to be honest with you," Fisher said. "Those guys throw it around pretty good."

Dismuke, who sat out as a redshirt in 2016, finished with 34 tackles last season, all occurring in the last seven games. He made his only start against Wisconsin and recorded nine stops. He's had a strong preseason camp. In fact, Fisher said, no defensive back on the roster has made more improvement since spring practice ended.

"When I first got here in the spring, he was timid on the field -- two or three seconds late to get where he needed to be," Fisher said. "He's always probably been aggressive. He'll hit you. But now he's really got that confidence when he's coming down (toward the line of scrimmage)."

Dismuke is among no fewer than six Nebraska safeties in spirited competition for starting jobs or prominent backup roles. Another player in that mix is senior Aaron Williams, who made 19 starts the past two seasons but is coming off a spring shoulder injury that kept him out of full-contact drills until this week.

"I had to be very careful with his reps as far as putting him in live periods," Fisher said. "I did get him in there in a lot of periods that weren't live during camp, so he's gotten his feet wet."

Williams and fellow senior safety Antonio Reed both have endured their share of injuries at Nebraska. Their athleticism is evident, although Williams also draws frequent praise from coaches for his ability to learn schemes quickly.

"One of the big things you see about him is he can get our defense lined up," Fisher said. "That's perfect. That's what we want. We want our safeties to make the calls, make them loud, be confident with the calls, be in the right spots. He can do it all."

Fisher appreciates that the 5-11, 200-pound Williams "comes sharp every day to meetings" and is ready to practice hard at all times. Fisher has low tolerance for slackers. Plus, he's serious about establishing a strong culture in his group in his first season at Nebraska.

Along those lines, Fisher said a large portion of Central Florida transfer Tre Neal's value is he can help establish the desired culture at NU. Fisher spent 2015-17 at UCF, which was undefeated last season.

"Tre knew the culture back at the other school and is doing a great job of helping us with the culture here," Fisher said of the 6-1, 215-pound safety. "The guys have been talking to him and asking questions and, boom, he's fit right in, too."

"He's one of those guys I had to grind," Fisher added. "Just like Lamar (Jackson) and those guys I'm just starting to coach here. I had to grind Tre Neal the same way, maybe even worse. He gets it now."

That's a good thing because competition for playing time is intense, just how Fisher likes it.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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