Nebraska Football: Projecting the Starting 11 on Defense for Spring Practice

Mohamed Barry is expected to lead the Cornhuskers' defense

We've covered the Nebraska offensive players ready to step onto the field come day one of spring practice. Now it’s time to flip to the other side of the ball. The defense will be key in increasing the Huskers’ win total from 2018. Things will still be shaky at times, but preventing problems down the line starts in earnest come March.

 

Versatility up front should provide some relief, but the outer edges of Nebraska’s defensive front seven show significant potential for frustration right now. Let’s review what coaches will be dealing with from possible Blackshirts-to-be.

 

Note: Players referred to as "sleepers" are those who are currently positioned to give starters the biggest run for their money over the course of spring ball.

 

Strong-side defensive end

 

Starter: Carlos Davis

We’re starting to see the proper size of a 3-4 defense take shape in Lincoln. It should come as no surprise that the Davis brothers are an integral part of that. Carlos is a few inches short of the ideal height for his defensive end role at 6-foot-2, but his weight is right where it needs to be at 325 pounds. A battle could brew between him and incoming transfer Darrion Daniels for the strong-side end and nose tackle roles.

 

Sleeper: Darrion Daniels

 

Nose tackle

 

Starter: Darrion Daniels

Half of another brotherly pair on the defensive line, the Oklahoma State graduate transfer looks to make an immediate impact up front. Mick Stoltenberg had difficulty plugging the middle in 2018 as his height (6-5) was a major disadvantage. Nose tackles in a 3-4 scheme benefit most from being not only squattier but even a bit heavier than Stoltenberg’s lean 315 pounds. Daniels (6-3, 300) offers a far more conventional frame.

 

Sleeper: Damion Daniels

 

Weak-side defensive end

 

Starter: Khalil Davis

The other Davis brother was the most effective Nebraska defensive lineman last season in terms of tackles (41, 24 solo), tackles for a loss (7.5) and trailed only Ben Stille in sacks (three vs. five). Now a senior, Davis is ready to take full control of the defensive front’s weak side.

 

Sleeper: Ben Stille

 

Outside linebacker

 

Starter: Tyrin Ferguson

Nebraska has smaller outside linebackers than you’d like in a 3-4 defense. However, it does afford defensive coordinator Erik Chinander the opportunity to gamble on blitzes and find success more often thanks to the speed his OLBs have. Ferguson offers a nice compromise at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds while still having the ability to attack ball carriers and cover effectively.

 

Sleeper: Caleb Tannor

 

Inside linebacker

 

Starter: Mohamed Barry

The Brendan Jaimes of the defense in terms of having a secured spot, Barry is the leader of the Blackshirts. One could make the argument that he might be the emotional leader of the entire team. Barry is a true enforcer on the inside and proved he can provide the fury that Nebraska’s defense needs now and in the future.

 

Sleeper: Jackson Hannah

 

Inside linebacker

 

Starter: Will Honas

Honas wasn’t quite ready for the spotlight in 2018, but he seems prepared to bounce back from a knee injury that sidelined him for much of the season. He mirrors Barry in terms of stature, but it may take a few games for him to settle in. It’s important to point out that Wisconsin and Iowa — two programs known for churning out quality linebackers — were both recruiting him hard for a reason.

 

Sleeper: Collin Miller

 

Outside linebacker

 

Starter: Jojo Domann

Domann is a curious case. An extremely dynamic athlete, he’s equally effective at the outside linebacker and safety positions. He’ll need to put on more muscle by the fall as his current frame (6-1, 225) leaves him susceptible to the Big Ten's larger, stronger running backs and tight ends. Regardless, he’s a fearsome player that provides the defense with a heat-seeking missile from wherever he is placed.

 

Sleeper: Breon Dixon

 

Boundary cornerback

 

Starter: Lamar Jackson

Jackson’s resurgence should serve him well as he enters his senior season. A larger (6-3, 215) cornerback, he’s finally letting physicality become a frequent part of his game.

 

Sleeper: Cam Taylor

 

Field cornerback

 

Starter: Dicaprio Bootle

It’s hard to deny that Bootle will keep his spot following a 2018 season that saw him chalk up 15 pass deflections. That almost puts him at the top of the Nebraska record books for breakups in a single season. The Huskers’ best true cornerback, he showed himself to be a pain for offensive coordinators that dared pick on him.

 

Sleeper: Braxton Clark

 

Free safety

 

Starter: Marquel Dismuke

The last remaining member of the previous talent influx from Calabasas, California, Dismuke appears ready to meaningfully contribute as a junior. His physicality has picked up over his underclassman seasons and his measurables (6-2, 200) allow him to clean things up on the back side without sacrificing agility and stamina.

 

Sleeper: Cam'ron Jones

 

Strong safety

 

Starter: Deontai Williams

Williams had limited snaps in 2018, but when he had the opportunity to play, he shined. There were momentary mental lapses, but he’s one of the most physical players on the roster. One year removed from Jones County (Miss.) Community College, his coverage skills have improved significantly. He should be able to affect the run game to a large degree, especially in Big Ten play.

 

Sleeper: CJ Smith

 

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.

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