Nebraska coach Scott Frost on Friday extolled the importance of gang tackling, effort and hustling.
“Half of playing defense is getting hats to the ball,” he said after the Huskers finished their second scrimmage of preseason camp.
Frost certainly doesn’t have to convince Collin Miller of that.
The sophomore from Fishers, Indiana, moved from outside linebacker to primarily inside this month and is quickly establishing himself as a player coaches Barrett Ruud and Erik Chinander will rely on to play meaningful snaps.
What does Miller like about the new spot?
“I just love being in the middle, because you’re that much closer to the ball and you can pursue that much faster,” Miller said. "Honestly, I think Coach Chins’ defense, he does a very, very good job of getting 11 hats to the ball. Anybody that can run fast and is willing to hit can play in this defense. It’s a real fun defense to play in and I love it.”
It doesn’t take a wild imagination to figure out how Husker coaches react to that sentiment. That kind of attitude will work just fine, thank you very much.
But it’s not just the mentality that Ruud has liked since Miller started spending more time in his room.
“The move to the middle, it’s been pretty seamless, really,” Ruud said Monday. "Now it’s just a matter of detailing his assignments, because there are some intricate ways we do things in the run game and the pass game, some keys, but he’s really done well.
“He’s had a really good camp and he’s going to play a lot of football for us.”
Miller showed some pass-rush abilities down the stretch last season and played most of the spring for Jovan Dewitt outside. But the staff saw the chance to move the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from a deeper group to a shallower one, adding further fortifications to Ruud’s position room.
“He’s probably got a little bit more size, a little bit more natural explosion,” Ruud said. “As far as taking on linemen, he excels at that. His movement in space is really fluid, too. He’s a good football player and he’s showed he can play outside and now he’s proving he can play inside this fall. There are not many guys that can do that.”
Miller appears to have promptly zipped past sophomore Avery Roberts and junior walk-on Jacob Weinmaster on the depth chart.
Given the number of snaps NU will likely have to defend this season with its up-tempo offense, Ruud not surprisingly assured that more than two inside linebackers will play with some regularity. The extent of that is still to be determined, but Miller could potentially allow for the “hockey line” style of substitution Frost referenced Friday.
“It kind of depends. Hopefully, knock on wood, we don’t have injury situations,” Ruud said. “It definitely could end up being a little bit of a platoon-type system. That’s what I did my first year at UCF. (Now NU graduate assistant Demetrie Brim) was down there with me and that’s what we did, because we had four guys that could really play. It became kind of like a 60-40 split and it was really good for us.
“Last year I didn’t have that luxury and we had to play two guys probably more than ideal. They were playing between 85 and 90 snaps per game, which is tough when you go through a whole season in the Big Ten.”
Time will tell if Miller becomes the key that unlocks that kind of flexibility. There's a considerable learning curve. Coaches have unanimously said that Miller is one of the only guys who they think could handle learning both.
“When I first started (inside), I was thinking a lot,” said Miller, who credited the defensive coaches and the other inside linebackers for helping him learn fast. “Had some outside-type of concepts running through my head, but as you go more and more through practice in the fall, it kinda starts to become easy. It’s starting to become more of a habit now.
That’s more music to Ruud’s ears.
“He’s been awesome, man. He wants to help the team in whatever way he can,” the first-year assistant said. “He’s probably going to be a core four special-teams guy for us, too. He’s as versatile a guy as we have on our defense, I think, and he’s going to be a big, big part of what we’re doing this fall.”