FREMONT — It's become one of the most intriguing story lines of Nebraska's offseason — the Husker coaching staff's search for defensive backs, including those who might be able to help the team this season.
In discussing that topic Tuesday during the Husker Nation Tour, NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and secondary coach Travis Fisher shed some light on a new culture developing in the program.
Because of a shortage of scholarship players in the secondary, "We're looking at a couple other guys right now," Chinander said of possible transfers. "But it's got to be the right fit. It can't be, 'He's out there, so let's take him.' Right now, the most important thing is getting the culture in each individual coaching room correct."
Before a crowd of about 100 at Sid Dillon Chevrolet, Fisher made it clear that eight defensive backs — the number of available scholarship players he had to begin spring practice — are not enough. In fact, it's about half of what Fisher wants. That's why the Huskers recently added cornerback Will Jackson from Mesa (Arizona) Community College, who's eligible to play immediately.
Fisher, who played nine years in the NFL, also made it clear what he'll be seeking in prospects now and in the future.
"I don't want to just bring in five-star kids from California," the coach said. "I want to bring in kids that want to compete. He can be a two-star kid from St. Louis. I want to bring in a guy who can compete with guys I already have here. I want to bring in a guy who's better than a guy I already have here."
That mindset perpetuates itself, he said, until sophomores are pushing juniors and juniors are pushing seniors. Players will be afraid to slip up lest they lose their spot.
"I'm being very careful who I bring in," Fisher said. "I don't want to bring in an entitled five-star player, or four-star player. I've already got that guy. I want to bring in a guy who can change the guy I've got in the room already, change his mind frame by pushing him every day.
"I'm going to get this kid and sit him right next to Lamar Jackson," Fisher said of the four-star cornerback from Elk Grove, California, the most coveted prospect in Nebraska's class of 2016. "I'm going to say, 'Hey, your job is to take Lamar's spot,' right in front of Lamar."
The crowd chuckled. But Fisher was serious.
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"Then I'm going to tell Lamar, 'Hey, bro, it's your job to wake up. It's your job to not give it (the starting job) up,'" Fisher said. "That's how I was raised. And that's the way it's going to be in the (secondary meeting) room. Because, at the end of the day, what did I really do? What I did was make my whole room more competitive — every day. That way, we can have the type of secondary Nebraska's used to having every year — instead of just bringing in one five-star kid and making everyone happy."
Fisher prides himself on being able to push players' buttons to maximize their performance.
"I went and pushed the biggest button in the room. Lamar Jackson, I pushed his button," Fisher said with a smile. "I said, 'No, you're not going to the NFL.' I don't know if your last coaching staff told you that, but, 'No, you're not good enough.' There were some guys that looked up like, 'Woo.' But that's what I had to do to get guys to understand that you have a lot more inside of you. It's just hidden. You don't want to bring it out because you're so used to even-keel. And there's no such thing as even-keel in football."
Chinander added his own flavor to the discussion. In the team's last meeting, he said, he asked the players if they knew where the coaches were headed. The players knew coaches were headed out to recruit.
Chinander's message: We're trying to find guys to take your spot.
"The real guys — and I don't know how many real guys we've got — they'll teach that (new) kid to take their spot knowing he can't ever do it," Chinander said. "We'll see how many real guys we've got. Eventually, we'll start getting them, and they're going to teach these young kids, 'Hey, bro, here's what you've got to do to take my spot, but let me give you a little head's-up, it ain't ever going to happen.'
"When you get guys like that, that's when it really starts to happen."
Chinander reiterated that Nebraska has better talent than you would expect from a team that finished 4-8, as was the case for the Huskers last season. Chinander said upon taking the job, he didn't see enough players who loved the game. Maybe it was because of the beatdowns, he said.
"But that changed over the spring," Chinander said. "It started getting much, much better."