Changing positions on the fly is never a simple proposition.
Nebraska redshirt freshman linebacker Nick Henrich is doing just that as camp proceeds and game preparations take shape for Saturday's season opener against Ohio State.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has been working at outside linebacker for a couple of weeks at least and, according to his coaches, he's picking it up quickly.
The reason for the late switch is two-fold: NU has question marks outside and is a little bit more settled inside with seniors Collin Miller and Will Honas, and sophomore Luke Reimer forming a likely three-man rotation.
Not only that, but the staff feels like it needs Henrich involved, plain and simple.
"I think, first off, he's a smart kid that can take coaching, and just overall he's a football player," defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. "No matter where you put him, no matter what position you're going to put him in, he's a football player. He understands spacing, he understands leverage, he understands assignment and he's a tough kid.
"He loves Nebraska, first and foremost, he loves the game of football, so he's going to do whatever he has to do to get on the field. Whether that's learn a new position midweek or study it from the day he got here.
Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said that Henrich was on pace to have a significant role last year as a true freshman before he was bit by the injury bug. The Omaha Burke graduate was limited to one game — he played primarily special teams against Wisconsin in November — and continued to deal with some injury issues this offseason.
Even so, he's apparently made the kind of progress that forces coaches' hands.
"Some of the things that you spend a lot of time teaching guys about, 'Hey, if you get a certain type of block then you need to transition from the run game to the pass game,' things like that, he just went out there and did it, which was really cool to see," outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson said Tuesday. "He's got that knack and natural ability to go find his way to the football. That's been really, probably, the biggest thing that's stood out with him.
"Then he's really smart and does a great job of taking what he learns in the classroom and bringing it to the field without a lot of repetition, which is great."
Chinander said six players in the outside linebackers room are in the mix for playing time as the season arrives, though he didn't peg an exact order among them: Henrich, senior JoJo Domann, junior Caleb Tannor, sophomore Garrett Nelson and junior college transfers Pheldarius Payne and Niko Cooper.
Overall, Dawson and Chinander have both been complimentary of the progress made at the position this offseason — and realistic about how badly progress is needed — but Dawson also acknowledged that his group is going to be tested right away.
"Every coach wants their guys to go out there and when you put them out there, they hit this perfect game where there's no missed assignments and no missed tackles, and we're all searching for that as defensive coaches," Dawson said. "… It's a younger group, but the reality of it is that you don't have time to be young. This is live bullets and it counts and get in there. We need to execute. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us."
When the live action does arrive on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, it would not be a surprise at all to see Henrich heavily involved in the mix as that young group tries to hit the ground running.
"I just think he's a football player and he needs to be on the field for us somewhere," Chinander said.
A look at the Husker football schedule
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.
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