Perhaps no Nebraska positions feature as much as much range in potential outcomes as summer winds down than inside and outside linebackers.
The groups, overseen by Barrett Ruud and Jovan Dewitt, respectively, have options that the staff is high on but also feature question marks. Neither bunch is particularly deep, especially inside, where half of Ruud’s six scholarship players are freshmen.
To wit, Ruud said on the "Sports Nightly" radio program on Tuesday evening that his top four coming out of spring were stalwart senior Mohamed Barry and junior Collin Miler, followed by freshman Nick Henrich and redshirt freshman walk-on Joey Johnson.
The Huskers also get back junior Will Honas, who was limited in the spring as he completed the end stages of recovery from a September knee injury. Ruud said Tuesday that Honas is “full-go,” and expects the former junior college standout to make noise in the room early.
“He’s all clear now, and Will’s a guy we’re expecting a lot out of,” Ruud said. “Before he got hurt (against Michigan on Sept. 22), it was really starting to click for him. Now it’s maybe a little bit of a blessing in disguise that he got hurt in the fourth game of the year.”
That allowed Honas to redshirt without having to apply for a medical waiver, meaning NU has him the next two seasons.
Ruud also had the first update on Henrich, who suffered a shoulder injury during spring that required surgery, in some time.
“I doubt he’ll be ready to go right when we open fall camp, but it will really be on him for when he does get back,” Ruud said. “We don’t want to throw him in there too early and now, with the luxury of the new redshirt rule, we can really be safe about that. …
“He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s very athletic, he’s dependable, he’s got a natural feel for the game. He was on track to play a lot of football this fall and I still think he’s going to play a lot of football this fall, but it will probably be a little later on down the line.”
Outside features just as many question marks. Senior Tyrin Ferguson’s been limited to 13 games the past two seasons, while junior JoJo Domann will be playing his first full year at the line of scrimmage.
“There’s been some disappointment for 'Ferg' in terms of consistently staying healthy, and his health is the only thing that’s really held him back,” Dewitt said. “… Now it’s just a matter of managing reps and managing his body so he doesn’t burn himself out and create more potential for injury early in the season.”
The outside linebackers coach had high marks for the work put in this offseason by senior Alex Davis, who had just four tackles in 12 games played last fall.
“When he walks in a room, he’s everything you’d want a person to look like that plays outside linebacker,” Dewitt said. “… He has really, really dedicated himself to getting better throughout the course of the summer. One thing that held Alex back in my opinion was his almost doubt in himself of, 'Should I do this, should I not do that.' Now I think you’re seeing him just cutting it loose and not being afraid of making some mistakes.”
Sophomore outside linebacker Caleb Tannor played in a way that exposed him to injury last fall, said Dewitt, who added that the Stone Mountain, Georgia, native hadn’t really lifted weights before arriving on campus last summer.
“I’m really looking forward to him having a full summer of feeling good,” Dewitt said. “… If he doesn’t have a really good year, I’m going to be surprised and disappointed.”
After that, a pair of intriguing freshmen, Garrett Nelson and Jamin Graham, will vie for roles. Nelson is primed to be a significant special teams contributor and perhaps earn a situational role on the defense, too, his position coach said.
“(Nelson) has learned more about the speed and tempo of college football compared to the tempo out in Scottsbluff,” Dewitt said. “… He’s what you want. He’s old school Blackshirt football. He’s in the office 24-7. He’s watching film. If he’s not over here and he’s not in class, he’s over in the indoor facility working out.”