Adjusting to college football is tough for any freshman, and probably particularly so if you’re being asked to play in the middle of a college defense.
Nebraska inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud called walk-on freshman Luke Reimer the “surprise of camp” because he picked up the Husker defense so quickly and made plays so early, but it’s been a bit of a slower transition for scholarship players Jackson Hannah and Garrett Snodgrass.
“I think the biggest thing is to stop thinking and start doing,” Ruud said of his two freshmen. “That takes a lot of reps, and for some guys it clicks faster than others, but the biggest thing is for them to start playing fast. No. 1, you’ve got to know the scheme better and the X's and O's, trust your fundamentals, trust the techniques we’re teaching, but at some point it’s going to click for them and then they’ll stop thinking and just do it.”
That’s no knock on Snodgrass and Hannah, whom Ruud says have both, “put a lot of effort into trying to do it the right way.”
NU is currently without a couple of other young players in freshman Nick Henrich (shoulder) and redshirt freshman walk-on Joey Johnson (undisclosed), and Reimer is also still out after getting nicked up last week, meaning Snodgrass and Hannah are getting a lot of work as camp goes on.
“There’s one standard on the practice field, and that’s what we’re trying to develop,” said Ruud, who thinks the Huskers will need more than just their veteran trio of Mohamed Barry, Will Honas and Collin Miller as the season progresses. “As long as those (young) guys keep putting in the work and doing everything right in practice, it will all translate over to games.”
Depth chart not settled: As Nebraska gets started on its final week of workouts before game prep begins, NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said there are still decisions to be made when it comes to setting a defensive depth chart for Week 1 against South Alabama.
"I think there’s some hard things going on yet. The (defensive backs), there’s five or six guys that could be starters, and we’ve got to find a way to figure out who’s going to walk out there for the first snap. That D-line’s pretty deep; what do you do with JoJo (Domann) — is he ready? The inside linebacker spot you’ve got three guys," Chinander said. "But those are good problems, and I think what you guys are going to see and what everyone’s going to see is a lot of guys rotating in, and I think we need that. Whether you’re a “starter” or not. I’d love to have 22 starters so we can roll that thing through and keep everybody fresh as many reps as we play on defense."
It certainly appears the grind of fall camp and the pressure on players to earn starting roles has done little to dampen the enthusiasm percolating on Nebraska's roster.
"Me and Coach Fish (Travis Fisher) talked about it; this is always hump week. It's the week before you start getting to game prep. And those guys came out laughing, smiling, wanting to play football," Chinander said. "I didn't see any mush faces out there, didn't see any gloomy Guses, any of that."
Domann getting closer: Junior linebacker JoJo Domann has returned to working in full pads, but coaches are still managing his practice reps as he works back from an offseason injury.
“He’s been going for quite a bit now. We’re actually easing him back into some reps, just because what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to take a guy who’s been out for a while and then put him into the full allotment of reps. You’ll subject him to soft-tissue injury," outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt said. "So I try to pick and choose them and make sure he’s getting different calls on different days and getting a variety of calls and we’re not subjecting him to injury. If there were 60 reps a day, he probably got about 35 of them today, give or take. It will keep increasing and increasing and increasing."
It's clear Domann is set for a big role with the Blackshirts after a strong end to last season. Dewitt said Domann participated in Friday's situational scrimmage, and Chinander said the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder has remained sharp through his rehab.
"You don’t know what to expect out of a guy like that, but then we throw him in a couple days ago for his first go-around and he looks like he didn’t let off at all from the spring," Chinander said. "He’s a very sharp kid, he knows what he’s doing, he knows how to use his body, and he’s just a different kind of guy that we have out there. You put a true cover guy in there and they can do some really nice things, and you put a true outside backer in there and he’s more physical, but JoJo’s got a good mix of both.
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Situational scrimmage fruitful: Nebraska's top two defensive units were strong in Friday's situational scrimmage, Chinander said, while NU's younger players showed that there is still plenty of development that needs to take place.
It was good work for the Blackshirts, Chinander explained, as the team went over several scenarios during the workout.
"For instance, we picked off a ball to end the game and we didn't get down with it. We tried to run it back for a touchdown. Those guys just have to learn those things,"Chinander said. "So I think it's really important that coach (Frost) puts us in some situations so we can have it happen on Aug. 18 instead of Sept. 30 or whatever."
Fisher likes production from secondary: Since Travis Fisher arrived in Lincoln as Nebraska’s secondary coach, he’s extensively referenced his production chart.
It's the way success is measured among defensive backs in practice. Each player is tracked and his production — interceptions, break-ups, coverage, tackles, etc. — or lack thereof is listed in order in Fisher’s meeting room.
So far in August, Fisher likes the way it looks.
“That production chart is thick at the top with guys that are maybe one or two points away from each other,” he said Monday. “Those guys are competing. The first thing they do when they come in (the meeting room) is they want to see who’s climbing and who’s dropping. Who got caught and who’s in the lead. That’s the first thing they want to see.
“So I have to make sure I get out of here and go get that thing right. They stay competitive throughout the day.”
Bowel bid: It wouldn't be a Chinander press conference without some colorful descriptors.
While talking about how Nebraska's upperclassmen on the defensive line are good leaders, Chinander provided a metaphor that was memorable, if nothing else.
"If your great players are turds, then the young guys are going to act like turds, right?" Chinander started.
Then he really got going.
"We say it all the time; there's two types of turds — you're a sinker or a floater, but you're still a turd, right? When you have really good people that are the best players, that helps the locker room tremendously."