There were plenty of unknowns attached to the Nebraska football team this offseason.

How would Tanner Lee perform on Saturdays? Can the Huskers' offensive line find that edge? How will the 3-4 look? Will more playmakers emerge?

But when senior cornerback Chris Jones was sidelined with a meniscus tear earlier this month, suddenly the questions shifted to Nebraska's thinner defensive backfield.

Who would step up opposite Lamar Jackson? Would Joshua Kalu move back to corner?

Some answers became a bit more clear during the opening day of fall camp Sunday at Hawks Championship Center.

The true sophomore Jackson, redshirt sophomore Eric Lee and redshirt freshman Dicaprio Bootle are clearly the top three players at the cornerback position, coach Mike Riley said after the two-hour practice. Keep in mind the Huskers are one practice in, and that outlook could change over time, but all three saw extensive work during Sunday's drills, which were open to the media.

The trio has combined for just one start (Jackson in the Music City Bowl), though all three corners arrived on campus with commendable credentials, especially four-star recruits Lee and Jackson.

Needless to say, Riley and crew will be watching their development closely.

"I think probably as we go forward with the corners, they're all young, so their experience isn't big but they are talented and they are smart," the third-year Husker coach said. "So what we'll be looking for immediately is being sound, just being real smart."

You heard it here: Mike Riley audio from after the Huskers first practice

As for Kalu, Riley and the Huskers are standing pat (for now) in keeping the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, who played opposite Jones at corner last year, at safety. Kalu was moved there from cornerback during spring ball, and coaches like Kalu's speed at the position.

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"We understand we have a little bit of versatility there with (Kalu)," Riley said of the Houston native, who theoretically could be slotted at nickel back. "We have been excited about his fit at safety. We like that look and we are hesitant to move him."

The 6-3, 205-pound Jackson is the most experienced corner in fall camp. He appeared in 13 games last year, learning behind Jones and Kalu.

Eric Lee, at 6-foot and 195 pounds, appeared in eight games last year, primarily on special teams. The former Colorado prep star had a promising spring season.

Meanwhile, Bootle will likely see his first snaps as a Husker when Nebraska opens against Arkansas State on Sept. 2. The 5-10, 185-pound Miami native redshirted last year.

When it comes to learning to play cornerback at the college level, Jackson, Lee and Bootle are at the same level.

"They understand their assignment, they understand what they have to take away at their position and that they are really sound down the field," Riley said.

Riley said the Huskers will be looking for that fourth cornerback to step up while Jones continues to recover from injury. Typical recovery time for a meniscus tear is 4-6 months, and a redshirt is possible for the 6-foot, 195-pound senior. Jones was on crutches and watching Sunday's practice from the side.

Among other corners getting reps Sunday were sophomore Avery Anderson, senior Boaz Joseph and Creighton Prep graduate Jeremiah Stovall, who earned a roster spot via team tryout.

Nebraska knew before Jones' injury that its secondary depth would be tested. Nebraska had only one cornerback recruit in its 2017 recruiting class. That was Elijah Blades, a prized four-star recruit who never arrived on campus after failing to qualify academically.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


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