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HUSKER FOOTBALL RECAP

Post-spring position recap: Can Nebraska replicate the stability it had in ’21 at safety spots?

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Northwestern vs. Nebraska, 10.2

Nebraska's Marques Buford runs off the field after the Huskers defeated Northwestern 56-7 on Oct. 2, 2021, at Memorial Stadium.

Spring ball is in the rearview mirror and Nebraska football now moves into the next phase of the offseason.

There is plenty of movement on the horizon in the transfer portal around the country, so every team is constantly in at least some state of flux. However, it’s a good time to look at the Husker roster and recap spring developments and forecast the coming weeks and months.

We continue today with the defense:

Safeties/nickels 

What we learned this spring: Secondary coach Travis Fisher in the final days of spring ball identified five Nebraska defensive backs in particular who have shown the sort of overall mental and physical approach he's looking for: Marques Buford, Tommi Hill, Myles Farmer, Quinton Newsome and DeShon Singleton.

All of his defensive backs have the proper "dog" mentality, Fisher said, “but those are the guys who stand out to me right now.” 

Of those five, three are clear-cut safeties: Buford, Farmer and Singleton.  

If you're trying to identify the 2022 starting safeties, a safe bet would be Farmer and Buford. 

Farmer, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound fourth-year sophomore, played in every game of the 2021 season and started the final four. He totaled a career-high 30 tackles while making one interception and one fumble recovery. 

Buford, a 5-11, 190-pound second-year sophomore, is a fast riser in the program. A native of DeSoto, Texas, Buford put himself on the field every game last season as a true freshman largely through his willingness to contribute on special teams. After seeing action on special teams as one of two Husker true freshmen to play in the season opener, he made his defensive debut against Fordham in the second game, and he also saw action in the secondary against Buffalo in the third game.

Singleton is a recent addition from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College. 

Don't count out fourth-year sophomore Noa Pola-Gates in the safety discussion. 

Meanwhile, Isaac Gifford (third-year sophomore) and Chris Kolarevic (senior) asserted themselves at the nickel position. 

Questions remaining: Can Nebraska possibly replicate the stability it had last season in veteran safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke? Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has said the duo needed little to no coaching, such were their practice habits and attention to detail when it came to game preparation. 

How does Nebraska make up for the lost versatility of JoJo Domann at the nickel position? He played in 10 games last season before undergoing season-ending hand surgery. At the time of his injury, he ranked eighth in the Big Ten in both tackles for loss (nine) and tackles overall (72). 

Quotable: Fisher during the late stages of spring practice: "This kind of gives me exactly what I need to know going into the summer. When I get to fall camp (in late July), I'll already know who's playing. I'm getting ready for the first game, that's what I'm doing. In that first game, as soon as that offense gets in formation, those guys in the secondary (need to be) calling out exactly what it is before the ball's even snapped.

"But I find out in the spring who's going to play football in the fall."

Best-case scenario: Farmer continues to make steady progress at safety, and Buford's rapid rise continues. Coaches clearly are enamored with Buford's versatility (he also could play corner or nickel) and high level of aggression. The 6-3, 205-pound Singleton is intriguing because of his length, speed and overall athleticism. As usual, Fisher's secondary appears to be solid. 

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Husker sports 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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