Michigan State vs. Nebraska, 11.17

Nebraska's Damion Daniels and Ben Stille (95) recover a fumble against Michigan State on Nov. 17 at Memorial Stadium.

Darrion Daniels, as many folks seemed to anticipate, has made a sizable impression during the early stages of Nebraska's spring football season.

A graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Daniels obviously brings experience to the defense. He played in 41 games at OSU, recording a total of 9½ tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

But Daniels brings more than just playing experience, says Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander.

"He's not afraid to speak his mind, and he does it in a proper manner," the coach said. "He's not trying to be the guy who comes in here and thinks, 'I'm going to run this team right away.'"

Daniels trains hard and runs hard to the ball, Chinander said.

"Those guys (linemen) naturally are starting to listen and follow along with him," the coach said.

Says new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti: "I see Darrion just every single practice becoming more and more vocal. It’s one thing to be vocal, it’s another thing to show it by example, and he does both. He checks off both boxes for us."

It appears that Darrion Daniels and brother Damion Daniels, a 6-3, 340-pound sophomore, could become a one-two punch in the middle of the defense.

“Damion Daniels and Darrion Daniels, those guys are alpha males," Tuioti said. "That’s great to have. That’s one thing that we always try to find is a nose guard that’s a real war daddy. Those guys have that mentality, so they give us a chance up front to dominate and win A-gap to A-gap. Then you’ve got some athletic guys in the Davis brothers (Khalil and Carlos). Those guys are really, really good players."

Ben Stille, a 6-5, 288-pound junior, obviously is also prominent in a D-line group that is long on experience.

"I think we have a group of guys that have a good skill set that we can mix and match to find personnel groupings for what we want to play up front,” Tuioti said.

More tempo talk: Through five spring practices, it's become a theme in Nebraska's camp: The Huskers are practicing with a faster tempo than they did last year in Scott Frost's first season as head coach.

It really comes as no surprise.

"Even talking to some of the parents (who watch practice), they notice it," Chinander said. "It's faster-paced, it's cleaner. The guys know how to practice. They know how to transition from drill to drill. We don't have to tell them."

He even cited improved stamina as a reason for the faster pace.

"It was hard at first for these kids to get through practice the way we wanted them to, with the tempo we wanted … I think the strength and conditioning has a huge part in that improvement, with coach (Zach) Duval and also just being in the second year and used to it. Your body's used to it, your mind's used to it," Chinander said. "I think the tempo of practice is the most impressive thing right now."

Turnover talk: The defense has been forcing turnovers in practice at a rate that pleases Chinander.

He said he's seeing defenders getting to the football faster. The line is playing with "violence," he said. That's helping matters.

He said he's seeing the secondary intercept more passes rather than just batting them down.

Plus, "The guys are getting to the passer," he said, noting the outside linebackers are playing a lead role in that regard.

Granted, it's just spring. The defense has a long way to go to get to a level that this staff wants. But Chinander's assessment sounds like progress.

"When that defensive line knocks people in the backfield, and that ball's got to spin around, it's a lot easier for those linebackers to stay clean and make tackles," Chinander said. "Also, it's easier for the defensive backs. Some of those (passes) are coming out pretty hot because those guys are pushing the pocket pretty good right now.

"When you're good up front, it helps everybody do their job."

Safety's growth: Deontai Williams, a 6-1, 200-pound safety, flashed play-making ability last season during his first year in the program. A junior college transfer, Williams made 23 tackles and was one of three Huskers with two interceptions.

It seems he's raised his game to another level.

"He's always played with speed and violence," Chinander said. "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."

Dixon draws mention: Seniors Tyrin Ferguson and Alex Davis are leading the way among outside linebackers, Chinander said.

Plus, "JoJo Domann's been very impressive," the coach said. "Those three have been really impressive. Breon Dixon can do some things. He's got a good skill set. And Garrett Nelson, a young guy, has come along pretty good. All of those guys are playing well."

Sophomore Caleb Tannor has been sidelined by an undisclosed injury.

"I think that group as a whole has some interesting pieces," said Chinander, noting the OLBs are showing a better understanding of how to rush the passer.

"I think last year, it was, 'Let's try to line up and let's try to run fast around somebody.' That's not pass rush unless you're one of those guys who can't get touched."

— Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel


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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