The new man in charge of the Blackshirts has already imparted a few key messages to his players, but there is one saying in particular that has settled at the top of Mick Stoltenberg's mind.

"He just kind of preaches that effort is the ultimate eraser," said Nebraska's junior nose tackle. "If you screw something up, your assignment is 100-percent correct if you throw in some really fired-up effort and fly with the ball and do the right thing there."

Bob Diaco has been Nebraska's defensive coordinator for all of six weeks, but they've been busy weeks that have included some days with eight-hour defensive staff meetings.

Heading into Saturday's first spring practice, Diaco is also not walking in completely blind to what he has on the roster. He's already seen players beyond just old game clips and office visits.

There was a rule passed not so long ago that allows college coaches to watch offseason workouts. You know who that rule really helps right about now? A coach who just arrived to a new job trying to learn his personnel.

Nebraska has three such coaches on the defensive side of the ball: Diaco, safeties coach Bob Elliott and cornerbacks coach Donté Williams, though Williams has had the advantage of being here since December and viewing bowl practices.

"We can watch players move, we can direct some drills and doing that, he has been able to learn more than just, 'There's that guy walking down the hall," Husker head coach Mike Riley said of Diaco. "That's very helpful being able to sit down and say, 'This guy looks like a field-side outside linebacker.'"

Diaco has put names to paper of a pre-spring depth chart of sorts, which Riley named off during Wednesday's press conference.

It's just a starting point, but does provide insight in how Diaco may use Husker players differently in his 3-4 scheme.

For instance, while Stoltenberg and Khalil Davis are set to work at the nose tackle spot, Carlos Davis and Peyton Newell are listed as "short-side defensive ends." It's a position, Riley notes, that will be similar for Carlos Davis to the defensive tackle role he had in Mark Banker's 4-3 scheme.

Then there are Alex Davis, Sedrick King and Ben Stille. All listed as defensive ends a season ago. They are considered boundary-side outside linebackers in Diaco's defense.

Diaco has Chris Weber as the strongside inside linebacker, and Dedrick Young as the weakside inside linebacker. Marcus Newby, meanwhile, is a field-side outside linebacker on the opposite side of Alex Davis, who as a boundary backer would patrol the short side of the field.

Figuring out who goes where is only Step 1 as Diaco sees what players are really made of when actual football breaks out.

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But Riley said he's enjoyed being around Diaco and his enthusiasm in these recent weeks. "He's a pretty contagious guy listening to talk about football and be a teacher," he said.

And while figuring out who to move where in the 3-4 defense is of critical importance, it's also been "actually kind of fun" in Riley's view.

He warned not to put too much stock into who takes the first snaps at certain positions early in spring. It's evaluation season.

But in a general sense, Riley thinks Nebraska's defensive personnel "looks good" in how it fits into the new scheme.

"The recruiting will change a little bit for sure as we go recruiting a little bit different style linebacker, outside linebackers, inside linebackers, more linebackers," he said. "So a lot of things change with the advent of a new front and it's very exciting."

That change is significant not just to players, but to the two returning defensive assistants on staff -- defensive line coach John Parrella and linebackers coach Trent Bray.

"Everybody understands that we have to be open to a new person that we have to work with," Riley said. "The dynamics that I've seen so far have been outstanding. ... Let's just be blunt about it. Trent Bray, you know, he's got a new coordinator. John Parrella has a new coordinator. Are they professional enough to handle this change and trust what's going on?"

Yes, it seems.

Riley thinks both coaches have embraced the change with a whole lot of energy.

He also believes that his most recent hire, Elliott, fits the bill for what he was looking for in that position: a coach in that secondary who has a wealth of experience to call upon. In Elliott's case, he's been doing this 36 years.

"We're really excited, I am, about Donté Williams, but he's young, he's growing, he's a good coach, he's a good recruiter. We're good. But a guy that has been around the block and seen a lot of stuff was a part of it," Riley said of hiring Elliott. "And then the other part of it was, 'Can we help Bob Diaco in this transition?' And (Elliott) fits both of those really well."

Now, the Huskers take all those puzzle pieces to the field. It's there, starting this weekend, where the picture must truly begin to come together.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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