Nebraska secondary coach Travis Fisher's position groups — corners and safeties — are stabilized. He feels confident in no fewer than seven players in the two groups combined.
In fact, one could make a case that the Husker secondary is the strongest area of the defense. Some would say the defensive line can make that claim. But remember, the line was pushed around much of last season, and most of the same players return. Meanwhile, Fisher's returning starters at corner — Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson — played some of their best football toward the end of the 2018 season as the Blackshirts ended up 34th in pass-efficiency defense.
So, with spring practice complete, Fisher takes to the road to recruit in coming weeks with a sense of confidence.
"Just being here in Nebraska, you're recruiting all over the country," he says. "It's a tougher task for me to get to know people from all over the country. It was a lot easier (at Central Florida from 2015-17) just staying in Florida. Knowing everybody across the country, it's a lot tougher especially because you're not 100 percent out recruiting all the time.
"When you do get a chance to get out, you have to make sure you have the right schedule so you get to see as many kids as you can."
Fisher's work on the recruiting trail since arriving at Nebraska in December 2017 has paid immediate dividends. To wit: Deontai Williams, a transfer from Jones County (Mississippi) Community College, is currently among NU's top three safeties, and Cam Taylor, a sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama, is among the top three corners, with veterans Bootle and Jackson likely to hold down starting jobs in the fall.
Junior Marquel Dismuke and senior Eric Lee join Williams in the top group of safeties. Lee made a quick impression this spring after his move from corner.
What a difference a year makes, Fisher says. He beams as he talks about the progress in his secondary since last season, his first at NU. Players improved their practice mentality and mentality in the film room, he says. They're even doing a great job of making a difference in the community.
Fisher appreciates all of it. Remember, this is a guy who played cornerback for eight seasons in the NFL and was a full-time starter for essentially six of them. So he's ultra-competitive and tries to draw that quality out of players. He can be blunt in assessing them, refreshingly so.
“I remember one time he got his teeth knocked back in a game and had to get braces for support — and still played the next week,” says former Nebraska corner great DeJuan Groce, who played three seasons (2003-05) with Fisher on the St. Louis Rams.
"I learned a ton from him," Groce told me last summer. "Yeah, that joker’s tough. He’s one of the toughest corners I’ve ever seen."
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Which helps explain why Fisher expects a lot from his group, particularly the junior Bootle (12 starts last season) and senior Jackson (11).
"I'm very comfortable with knowing exactly their strengths and weaknesses, and also they know what to get out of me as a coach," says Fisher, making sure to include Taylor in the discussion. "Those three guys at the corner position are guys that I feel very comfortable every time they're in (a game).
"Lamar is the oldest one. But Cam and Dicaprio mentally are just like seniors. Cam would be a little under a senior as far as what he knows. His ability makes up for it a little bit."
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Williams appeared in every game last season and made one start (against Purdue). He forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes despite being shaky in knowing the playbook.
"Now he's out there and knows the speed of the game," Fisher says. "He knows what to expect. He can take the coaching and now it's to the point of being a leader and talking a lot more. He knows his teammates. That's very important so he can call the names. He can be a great teammate and great leader."
As Nebraska players gear for the end of the spring semester in the classroom, Husker coaches are in a crucial part of the recruiting calendar — evaluating prospects on the road through May. Fisher is particular about which players he watches and when he sees them. Although no in-person contact with recruits is permitted off campus this time of year — other than a brief "hello" — coaches can evaluate practices and events and also assess academics.
"I don't have a whole bunch of time," Fisher says. "There's a lot of guys I want to go see, all the kids I'm on. There's a lot of great talent out there and some talent I want to go see right away that's already started spring ball. There's some talent out there that hasn't started spring ball yet. I just want to kind of wait until they get the pads on before I show up. I don't want to be watching kids in shorts. I want to watch them when it's going down so I know exactly what I'm looking at."
Fisher knows exactly what he wants from defenders and verbalizes it well. It's no wonder the Husker secondary seems stabilized.