PARKER GABRIEL Lincoln Journal Star
The Nebraska defense will feature some familiar faces in 2022, but the Blackshirts are also tasked with replacing four sixth-year seniors who were regular starters with defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt and defensive linemen Damion Daniels and Deontre Thomas.
No coach relishes the loss of experienced and reliable players, but Husker defensive coordinator Erik Chinander on the first day of spring football looked like a guy who relishes the challenge of advancing his unit without guys like Taylor- Britt, JoJo Domann and Ben Stille – plus the safety pair of Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke.
“It’s always fun for me to figure out who’s the best 11 in the field and then find a position for those guys,” Chinander said Monday.
The front and rear levels of the Husker defense are full of questions, but for very different reasons. The secondary features seven new players and abundant competition for (at least) three starting jobs. The defensive line, meanwhile, has no new players yet, but has suffered four starts in Daniels, Thomas, Stille and transfer Jordon Riley.
People also read…
At the middle level, NU have plenty of experience as a linebacker – their starting pair inside of Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer plus Chris Kolarevic and a pair of regulars on the outside as well, in Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor .
However, thinking about replacing – and, ideally, overtaking – the 2021 group’s output isn’t as simple as plugging in a new Domann here and a new Stille there. This year’s core group is likely to have at least somewhat different strengths than last year, and personnel may well be deployed in a way that reflects exactly that.
One point that can be made without exception is that the Huskers need to build depth on the inside defensive line behind Casey Rogers and Ty Robinson. NU are hoping for another step forward from at least two groups of young players and could also turn to the transfer portal this spring and summer.
Outside of those spots, however, there are a ton of players competing to increase playing time. This includes a group of versatile nickels such as Isaac Gifford and Javin Wright, and outside linebackers such as Blaise Gunnerson and Jimari Butler. .
Exactly what Nebraska looks like on defense this fall will depend in part on who from this group shows they can’t be left on the bench.
Nelson, for his part, says his teammates Gunnerson and Butler are ready to take the plunge.
“Spring is huge for them to up their game and get a ton of reps,” Nelson said. “I would put them on the pitch right now. I have full confidence in them. They’re great guys and great players and they hold themselves to a huge standard, just like we try to do as a defense.
Gunnerson (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) and Butler (6-foot-5, 245) each have the type of frame coveted for playing on the edge of the line of scrimmage. In fact, Chinander said on Monday that “it’s almost like Jimari is a little bigger than Caleb and Blaise is a little bigger than Garrett, but they’re kind of built the same way those guys are.” .”
They are behind the older players on the depth chart, but Gunnerson and Butler have both moved up the ranks now that Pheldarius Payne has re-entered the transfer portal and left NU.
“Those three were kind of next level guys,” defensive forward coach Mike Dawson said Monday. “Someone left, the other two will have the representatives. The benefit could be that they get a lot more reps. They were tired after practice today, that’s for sure, but it will pay off later.
Gunnerson was pushed to play against Wisconsin last fall after missing much of his first two seasons with injuries.
Butler played basketball in high school and only really played football as a senior and Chinander said he was ‘proud’ of how the Alabama native overcame his early struggles at the college level .
“He comes out (in high school) and he’s the best player, then he comes to Nebraska and all of a sudden you’re kind of buried in the depth chart and you’re on the scout team. It would be easy to say, ‘Hey, I’m going back to Mobile, Alabama’ and he didn’t. He fought there. He worked on it. He did everything the right way and now this spring he’s going to get the chance to show his talent up there racing with No. 1 and No. 2.”
The 2022 Nebraska Football Schedule
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
South Georgia Eagles
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Illinois Fighting Illinois
Minnesota Golden Gopher
Contact the writer at [email protected] or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.