NU football vs. Minnesota, 10/20/18

Nebraska defensive back Deontai Williams takes a moment to pause during warmups Oct. 20 at Memorial Stadium in advance of his team's game against Minnesota.

As Nebraska preseason camp approaches, Husker Extra is counting down the 30 most intriguing players on the roster.

A couple of notes: This isn’t best player or most important. As a list based on intrigue, it skews a bit toward youth and new players, but there will be plenty of established contributors, too.

The only scholarship player not considered for the list is defensive lineman Jahkeem Green, because at the outset of our countdown he is still in junior college and is only verbally bound to Nebraska.

No. 19: Deontai Williams, S, junior

Nebraska secondary coach Travis Fisher said during the spring that Williams realistically could've been a starter last season. For one thing, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Williams was "probably the most athletic safety I had last year."

But there was at least one significant challenge that helps explain why Williams started only one game: He had to master the playbook. A mid-year enrollee in January 2018, Williams grasped enough to be on the field at times — he finished with 23 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles — but often freelanced too much, according to his coaches.

“He's always played with speed and violence," defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said in the spring. "The difference for him right now is he really understands what we want to get done. It's not just renegade football. It's not intramural football anymore. It's running stuff within the scheme of the defense, playing within the scheme of the defense, but still playing with that same violence and intensity that he had when he kind of didn't know what he was doing."

There's another reason Williams wasn't a starter last season. Three reasons, really. Nebraska last season leaned on seniors Aaron Williams, Antonio Reed and Tre Neal, a graduate transfer from Central Florida. Neal helped the entire group learn Chinander's system, having excelled in it at UCF.

"What I took from Tre is he’s smart,” Williams said. “He was a coach on the football field and he was a real football player. Being a student of the game — every route coming, every play coming, every run coming. From Aaron and Reed, I just got their savvy. Just making big plays, looking around to see if you can help a teammate out and you end up jumping a pick or making a great tackle to help a teammate out.”

There's a bottom line to this conversation: Williams is suddenly the most experienced safety NU has in the fold. He has to be ready. Sounds pretty intriguing, huh?

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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