Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle will be one of the anchors of this season's edition of the Blackshirts
If there's one thing Nebraska fans can be certain of, it's that defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is all about throwing different looks at opposing offenses. While officially declaring a 3-4 scheme, his defenses have switched up in almost every conceivable way. Expect to see more of this as a majority of the following names will be swapped across their respective groups. But here's a guess as to how Chinander's unit could look when the first depth chart comes out leading into the Cornhuskers' Oct. 24 opener at Ohio State.
Defensive End: Ben Stille
Backup: Deontre Thomas
Notes: The effort to replace everyone along the defensive line begins with Stille. This is completely understandable considering his production behind the Davis twins in 2019. Thomas likely sticks to shifting from edge to edge versus an interior role.
Nose Tackle: Ty Robinson
Backup: Jordon Riley
Notes: The evolution of this spot should be a treat to see. Robinson is already proving he can run with the big boys and Riley is sticking out as one of the most productive junior college transfers head coach Scott Frost has brought in to date. Watch for Keem Green and Damion Daniels to supplement here.
Defensive End: Keem Green
Backup: Garrett Nelson
Notes: While Green has all the talent to sustain healthy depth at nose tackle, it's hard to think Chinander won't get him on the field in some capacity. Nelson is technically an outside linebacker, but he's already been putting in work here. He may very well end up sticking not long after the season kicks off.
Outside Linebacker: JoJo Domann
Backup: Pheldarius Payne
Notes: A clear leader, Domann's spot isn't in danger. The clash for playing time behind him looks to be intense. Payne has the look of a defensive end coming in the door, but coaches have opted to shift him to the second level due to his impressive agility for his frame (6-3, 275). Likewise, Blaise Gunnerson gives Chinander and Mike Dawson another large body (6-6, 250) to usher in true Big Ten-sized linebackers.
Inside Linebacker: Luke Reimer
Backup: Will Honas
Notes: A recent scholarship recipient, Reimer has put in work to the point where seeing him start against Ohio State almost seems probable. After missing much of the 2018 season due to injury, Honas has yet to live up to the hype but there's still time. Eteva Mauga-Clements' development was significantly hindered by a lack of live action earlier in the year. Look for him to get on the field mostly via special teams work this season.
Inside Linebacker: Collin Miller
Backup: Nick Henrich
Notes: Miller came into his own last season truly cementing his status as a starter. Henrich still needs some time in the system to fill out and get comfortable. He's also been touted as a player that can shift to the outside, if necessary.
Outside Linebacker: Garrett Nelson
Backup: Caleb Tannor
Notes: While Tannor has shown flashes of impressive speed and aggressiveness, he simply hasn't matched what Nelson has brought to the table. The physicality of the Scottsbluff, Nebraska, native matches Domann and his mistakes have only continued to lessen. Tannor still has an opportunity to be a speed freak on the outside, but he'll have junior college transfer Niko Cooper to contend with.
Defensive Back: Cam Taylor-Britt
Backup: Nadab Joseph
Notes: Taylor-Britt continues to be an absolute superstar and All-Big Ten recognition is sure to come. Braxton Clark continued to impress but a recent shoulder injury looks to keep him on the sideline this year. As a result, more pressure is put on Joseph – an elite last-minute junior college steal – to step up and produce.
Defensive Back: Dicaprio Bootle
Backup: Quinton Newsome
Notes: The pairing of Taylor-Britt and Bootle at cornerback is among the conference's best, accented with style and swag. Newsome is another member of Travis Fisher's secondary continuing to thrive. Newbie Ronald Delancy III isn't giving the impression he's willing to wait long to stake his claim as starter post-Bootle, though.
Free Safety: Marquel Dismuke
Backup: Myles Farmer
Notes: Dismuke racked up a secondary-leading 67 tackles in 2019 with punishing efficiency. Farmer should see ample time when Nebraska features more defensive backs than usual. Tyson Guzman sticks out as a player who could be sneaky good when he gets his opportunities.
Strong Safety: Deontai Williams
Backup: Noa Pola-Gates
Notes: Several members of this defense love to lay a lick with Williams being near the top of the heap. Fisher might prefer some more size on Pola-Gates (currently listed at 5-11, 175). But he still provides both pop and versatility.