Nebraska vs. Iowa, 11/24/17

Nebraska linebacker Collin Miller (31) stops Iowa running back Akrum Wadley (25) during a November game at Memorial Stadium.

Things I know, and things I think I know:

You perhaps have noticed Nebraska trying to beef up its secondary this summer, particularly the cornerback positions.

Husker football coaches are seeking immediate help.

Whenever a new prospect appears in a media report as a possible transfer at corner — Cameron Jefferies of Bowling Green being the latest — my mind always flashes to Nebraska’s sack total from 2017.

It was a paltry 14, good for 119th nationally. Ugh.

A lack of pass rush coupled with suspect corner play is a wicked deficiency at any level of the sport.

Enter Erik Chinander, Nebraska’s first-year defensive coordinator, who obviously can help his corners by figuring out ways to get heat on quarterbacks.

“We have a lot of ‘pressures’ (in the new defense),” said NU outside linebacker Collin Miller, an intriguing possibility in the pass-rusher discussion. “Coach 'Chin' wants us to get to that quarterback. So he wants whoever can get to the quarterback to be on the field. Hopefully that’s me.”

A sophomore from Fishers, Indiana, Miller intrigues in that regard because he arrived at Nebraska as a hand-in-the-dirt end in a 4-3 system. He knows how to go head-up against behemoth tackles.

He also intrigues because he came on strong toward the end of last season, making nine tackles in the final three games, including four in the season finale against Iowa.

His game repetitions on defense began to increase noticeably in the ninth game, against Northwestern.

He’s healthy and upbeat as Nebraska pushes through summer conditioning, which began May 22.

“My speed is the killer for me — I use it to get around those tackles,” Miller said. “If they do get their hands on me, I’m good at getting their hands off my hands. I think I’ve done a pretty good job in the past of working on techniques and moves to beat those tackles, and get to the quarterback.”

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder’s speed and athleticism help him cover receivers, tight ends and running backs.

“You name it, we cover them,” he said of NU's outside backers. “You’ve got to be fast and physical on the line with the tight ends. I can handle it. I’m pretty strong for my size, and fast for my size.”

Although Nebraska lacks depth at the cornerback positions — and has no senior scholarship corners — Husker outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt has a full room of players. Competition for playing time is intense. I regard senior Luke Gifford, junior Tyrin Ferguson and sophomore transfer Breon Dixon as surefire major contributors. Ferguson has drawn strong offseason praise from Dewitt.

Meanwhile, Miller is among a half-dozen others vying for roles.

“We have a versatile group,” Miller said. “We have fast guys, strong guys. You can go up and down the list, and everyone has a key thing they bring to the table, so we can rotate.

“I don’t care if I’m a starter or I’m not starting. I just want to be on the field helping the team make plays, get interceptions, make big tackles, sacks, you name it.”

Bottom line, Dewitt’s crew has to somehow help those corners, new faces and holdovers alike.

* Jefferies, who made 12 starts the past two seasons at Bowling Green, looms as a possible option for Nebraska, although his situation is less than ideal in that he wouldn’t arrive in Lincoln until early August.

He’s busy this summer working toward graduation on Aug. 3. Nebraska will begin preseason camp Aug. 2.

In an interview with Huskeronline.com, Jefferies made some pretty strong demands of his next school — perhaps a bit too strong.

"The biggest factor for me is I want to come into a perfect-fit situation or close to one,” he said. “I’m not coming in to be anyone’s insurance policy. I don’t want to be in a situation where there are two young corners starting and you want a third guy just because. … Like I said, I’m not doing it.

“I started my freshman and sophomore seasons. I am leaving because I want to face better competition and I want to set myself up to go to the NFL. What I’m looking for is the ideal situation, and I want to come in and play against great competition and set myself up to play in the league. I really want to be able to trust the coaching staff that I’m not being brought in just as an insurance policy.”

An “ideal situation?” Nebraska has a few junior corners (Lamar Jackson, Eric Lee and Avery Anderson) and a sophomore (Dicaprio Bootle) who might make it less than ideal for Jefferies.

We’ll see where this goes.

* Jourdan Blake, who was dismissed from the Baylor football team last October during his junior season, is another corner on the transfer market. His father, former Nebraska defensive line coach John Blake, told me last week his son hasn’t been contacted by any Husker staff members. “But we would love it if they did,” John said.

* Jamie Belt, a 35-year-old Lincoln resident, is head strength coach for world-champion boxer Terence Crawford, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world in the minds of many.

Crawford has a fan in actor Mark Wahlberg, who spent ample time in Crawford's locker room before Saturday's triumph in Las Vegas.

"We call him 'The Hy-Vee guy' because he has a (nutritional) supplement line at Hy-Vee," Belt said. "He's a really good dude."

Belt, by the way, now has two world-champion fighters after Maurice Hooker of Dallas defeated Terry Flanagan Saturday in Manchester, England.

What a night for Belt, a former Husker assistant strength coach.

"It really hasn't all sunk in," he said Sunday.

* “You better You bet,” the tremendous 1980s song by The Who, popped into my cranium last week as I discussed Jordan Burroughs’ greatness with Nebraska wrestling coach Mark Manning. I wondered if USA Wrestling fully understands Burroughs’ value as an ambassador for the sport. The 29-year-old is a joy to interview — intelligent, upbeat, patient, willing to open up about himself.

There’s no doubt that Team USA officials appreciate Burroughs, Manning said.

They better.

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


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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