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FREMONT — Erik Chinander held up a "zero" sign with one hand for the crowd of Nebraska football fans to see.

"There's this many Blackshirts right now on our team," the first-year Husker defensive coordinator said Tuesday during the Husker Nation Tour stop at Sid Dillon Chevrolet.

"And there will be this many Blackshirts probably until we see somebody play in a football game," he said. "There might be a couple guys we want to have them through (preseason camp) who may have earned them, but I want to see them play under the bright lights before they're going to go ahead and get them."

Nebraska opens the season against Akron on Sept. 1 in Lincoln.

Speaking to a crowd of about 100, Chinander elaborated publicly for the first time on his philosophy for awarding the black jerseys to defenders — a tradition at Nebraska that dates to the 1960s. His overall theme seemed to jibe with how former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini awarded the jerseys.

Chinander said he's unsure how many he'll ultimately hand out in 2018. There might be 14, he said, or there might be only four. Maybe fewer.

And those jerseys can be taken away just as quickly as they were awarded, Chinander said.

"Those kids are going to earn them," he said. "It's going to be back to where when that thing is in your locker, when you open your doors on Tuesday morning, there are probably going to be some tears rolling. I don't think that was always the way it was. But it's going to be a special thing. It's going to be back to being the greatest tradition in college football."

Chinander said he's worked behind the scenes to learn about the Blackshirt tradition. He's talked about it with Husker inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, the school's all-time leading tackler, as well as former Big Red cornerback Kenny Wilhite, currently NU's director of high school relations.

Several former Nebraska greats have given Chinander input.

"Then one day (former Husker defensive coordinator) Charlie McBride called and said, 'Hey, I'm going to come by and meet you,'" Chinander said. "He did and about four hours later, we were still talking."

Chinander said McBride, who guided the defense for Nebraska's three national championship teams in the 1990s, gave 11 starters Blackshirts because all 11 deserved it. That may or may not be the case this coming season, Chinander said.

"I told (McBride), 'Coach, I've gotta be honest with you, if we're going to live up to what you got done here, and I even want to be close to stepping in your shadow, I don't have 11 guys who you're going to be proud of to wear a Blackshirt.'

"He said, 'That's fine, Erik, then just give four or two or nine or give whatever you've got to give.'"

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost will have final say on the matter, Chinander said.

Husker secondary coach Travis Fisher listened intently as Chinander spoke on the subject.

"When he first took the job, he came to me and said, 'Hey, Fish, you know, they were passing those Blackshirts out like M&Ms,'" Fisher said of the former Nebraska staff. "That's not happening from now on. That's what he told me."

On the mend: Because of injuries, three members of the secondary — safeties Aaron Williams and JoJo Domann and cornerback Avery Anderson — will be held out of contact to begin preseason camp.

Williams and Anderson have shoulder injuries, and Domann is still recovering from knee surgery.

"He's going to start working out sometime in June," Chinander said of Domann, who injured his knee in the spring of 2017.

Fire starter: Tyrin Ferguson, a junior outside linebacker from New Orleans, has received plenty of offseason praise from the coaches. Chinander said Ferguson has a big personality. Although Ferguson may not be quite ready to assume a leadership role, he could be a "fire starter," Chinander said.

Leaders are developing, the coach said, mentioning, among others, seniors Williams, Dedrick Young, Luke Gifford and Mick Stoltenberg.

On the lookout: Both Fisher and Chinander said NU remains on the lookout for graduate-transfer defenders. Keep in mind, standout cornerback Mike Hughes didn't join UCF until the final stages of preseason camp last season.

"But once June 24 hits, they can't visit campus anymore," Chinander said. "That makes it a little bit more difficult."

Harsh tones: Frost has said it's not his style to yell at players. Chinander, though, made clear he will chew out a player in harsh tones if he sees a lack of effort or a lack of communication.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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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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