The Huskers need JoJo Domann and Collin Miller to anchor the middle of their defense
The second level of the Nebraska Cornhuskers' front seven doesn't suffer nearly as much in terms of losing experience as the defensive line. However, it remains a major x-factor for yet another year. With assistant coach Mike Dawson rejoining Scott Frost in Lincoln, this time to work with the outside linebackers, let’s review both what he has at disposal and the unit as a whole this spring.
To no real surprise, the interior was the strength of last season's Blackshirt linebacking corps. Mohamed Barry led all tacklers with 89 (41 solo), while Will Honas and Collin Miller checked in at Nos. 2 and 4 on the leaderboard with 72 and 67, respectively.
While he didn't have eye-popping numbers, walk-on Luke Reimer performed well as a reserve and on special teams. His tenacity bodes well for him getting plenty of quality snaps over the next month or so.
The exterior was largely a crapshoot and results were mixed at best.
JoJo Domann proved to be arguably the defense's biggest asset playing with an intensity rarely matched by any other player on that side of the ball. Garrett Nelson showed flashes as an enforcer during his true freshman season having played in 11 contests.
Alex Davis simply was never able to catch fire as had been expected by plenty of fans with only 30 total tackles in 12 games. Tyrin Ferguson was also largely forgettable with four total tackles in his five appearances during the season.
This unit's biggest problem in '19 was harmony. The Husker linebackers frequently found themselves being pulled out of position by several offenses they faced. As a result, further stress was put on the secondary not only to defend the pass but supplement with run support.
Key Departures: Mohamed Barry
Key Returnees for 2020: JoJo Domann (Sr.), Collin Miller (Sr.), Will Honas (Sr.)
The interior linebackers appear to be Nebraska's strength again, while the outside likely remains up in the air well into the fall. The good news is that Miller and Honas have the ability to provide solid starters in the middle.
It's hard to see Miller getting bounced by someone like Reimer or any redshirt freshmen such as Nick Henrich, Jackson Hannah (who may end up switching outside) or Garrett Snodgrass. However, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is still waiting for consistency from Honas. Junior college transfer Eteva Mauga-Clements should be able to immediately provide him a run for his money and further solidify one of these spots.
Dawson begins to address solidifying the outside with Domann easily locking down a starting spot. Beyond him, it’s a guessing game. Nelson, Caleb Tannor, David Alston, and early enrolee Blaise Gunnerson all have valid claims for playing time.
The biggest goal for inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud will be finding who he feels most comfortable with opposite Miller. He's likely able to have a two-deep he feels good about heading into the fall when he’ll have some additional bodies to test it with.
For Dawson, the immediate need is laying a foundation that helps find a compliment for Domann. He'll also see some new faces added come the fall, but finding someone worthy of wearing a Blackshirt comes first and foremost.
Position Grade for 2019: C
(Top photo courtesy of huskers.com)