Spring Game, 4.13

Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander talks to players during warmups before the Red-White Spring Game April 13 at Memorial Stadium.

Mohamed Barry winces as he recalls some of the scenes from last season.

"Man, it's like I watch film and I'm just like, 'Wait, Mo, what are you doing?'" the Nebraska senior inside linebacker said last week as he discussed the Huskers' first go-round in defensive coordinator Erik Chinander 3-4 system.

Barry led Nebraska with 112 tackles. But he doesn't sugarcoat the defense's shortcomings in 2018. Although Barry enjoyed a breakout season, the Huskers allowed 31.3 points per game and 5.0 yards per carry, which tied for 107th nationally. Opponents converted third downs 43.2 percent of the time, a rate that put NU at 103rd nationally.

Bottom line, Barry said, he learned from his mistakes. He believes his teammates on defense did the same. He sees evidence of it all the time. But that evidence doesn't erase what's on the film from last season, when Nebraska was 4-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten.

"If I'm watching film with the DBs and linebackers, we're looking at ourselves like, 'Why did you do that? What's wrong with you?'" Barry said.

He regards the discourse as an integral conduit to improvement. During the past few months, he's noticed Nebraska defenders talking at lunch about certain plays that went awry in practice. Or he'll notice such discussion during 7-on-7 work this summer.

Sometimes it's even more than talk.

"We're arguing about plays," Barry said. "That's what you want. You want your defense to be bought in. You want it to be like evil scientists that are colliding with ideas and saying, 'We should do this, we should make this call.' You want everyone to have that understanding that they feel they could put their input into what's right or wrong in our defense."

It would have been challenging for that sort of discussion to take place last season because of the inherent difficulties of changing defensive systems. Although Nebraska played a 3-4 in 2017 with Bob Diaco in charge of the unit, it was a markedly different system than Chinander's.

Husker defenders faced a steep learning curve.

"I don't think we got all the way there last year," Nebraska senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis said last week. "But I definitely feel like toward the end of the season it started to come together. It was still the first year learning Coach Chinander's defense. I feel like we now understand what he's trying to do. We understand where we want the ball to go. We understand what we're trying to do blitzing."

That understanding equates to greater confidence, he said.

Chinander is Davis' third defensive coordinator at Nebraska. He's had four position coaches. That's a lot of change. But in his final year, he feels cohesion in the unit. And he doesn't complain at all about cycling through so many coaches.

"It's like getting a bag of tricks," Davis said. "You're just learning from everybody. Everybody teaches the same thing; they just have their own certain way to teach it. When you learn all of that and then you get stability on top of that — with the second year of Coach Chinander — you just have a lot of weapons in your arsenal."

The defense has a new weapon that was a popular topic last week during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. To be sure, Barry expects a lot from Darrion Daniels, the graduate transfer nose tackle from Oklahoma State. In fact, Barry is downright convincing as he explains why Daniels might live up to the lofty expectations (and media coverage) that accompanied his arrival in January.

The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Daniels recorded 9½ tackles for loss and two sacks in 41 games at OSU.

"I love the media in Lincoln, but I was like, 'We'll see (about Daniels) come spring practice,'" Barry said. "The first thing that stood out was every time I saw him in the winter, he was working. He was on the field in his first week here — running and conditioning. I'm like, 'That's what I did as soon as I came to Lincoln.'

"Then when I saw him in spring practice, throwing people and making plays and getting hyped — I love playing with people like that. That's when I knew he was something special, really."

Barry gushes about Nebraska's defensive line depth while brushing off questions about lack of depth at inside linebacker. He expresses confidence in not only juniors Collin Miller and Will Honas, but also the incoming freshman backers.

"I kind of just roll my eyes," Barry said, adding, "I know the players we have in that room are ready to play."

He said he wants to have more of an impact in pass coverage, be it zone or man coverage, while also being strong in the box.

"My confidence level from Game One to Iowa (the last game) just went up and up," he said. "So I want to continue having confidence, shoot gaps even more often and make those plays that'll win us the game. That's what matters."

Full of confidence and determination, Barry can smile as he describes Year One in Chinander's system.

"It feels great that we can talk about the right and wrong things we did and how to help each other out on the field," he said. "I just think it's going to help overall communication on the field when everyone has a high level of understanding."

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


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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