Linebacker is an intriguing position for the Nebraska Huskers. On one hand, they were arguably the strongest positional group on defense a season ago (if we count safeties with cornerbacks). On the other, the new staff decided it takes two coaches to undertake this group and there are a good amount of uncertainties among who will get playing time.
Between a transfer, a JUCO player, underclassmen and the veterans, there are going to be some interesting positional battles at both outside and inside linebacker.
Ruud on the Inside
Barrett Ruud, the Huskers’ all-time leader in tackles and a solid NFL player for eight years (including four straight of 110+ tackles), has returned to Lincoln. He became the new full-time assistant that all teams got, where he coaches inside linebackers specifically, while Jovan Dewitt coaches the outside linebackers. Ruud has mentioned four names specifically to look for on the inside.
Senior Dedrick Young is an obvious starter in the middle, seeing as he has been starting the last three years. He has room for improvement, though, as many Huskers fans have clamored for a replacement with Frost incoming. Ruud has disputed that, praising Young and saying he only needs to work on running through tackles and worry less about his balance. He is dependable, but is there another level?
Most people think JUCO transfer Will Honas will slide right into a starting gig and dominate the Big Ten. Has he given them reason not to? He was solid in the Huskers’ Spring Game, but he will need to become a much more vocal leader to really take the next step and be a game-changing linebacker. Considering his other offers were Wisconsin and Iowa, I think he’s going to be alright.
The third rotation into this group will almost certaibly be Mohamed Barry. While he doesn’t have eye-popping stats and won’t wow you with anything else (you’ll see later), Barry has two years of experience and good athleticism to play in this speed defense. Plus, the third inside linebacker will be very important, as they will be the first, fresh body into the game. He misses on plays, but Barry’s downhill speed and overall athleticism are admirable.
The one guy who is a question mark here is Avery Roberts. Roberts was a four-star recruit who played in every game for the Huskers as a true freshman, but he was called out by his position coach. Ruud said that Roberts doesn’t have the athleticism or conditioning to be a major star like many thought he was destined to be. This summer will be important to see where Roberts is at.
Up in the Air
Moving to the outside, there are a lot more uncertainties, with injuries, eligibility and incoming commits that can all change the situation once the season rolls around.
Luke Gifford, a senior and one of Nebraska’s hardest working players, put together a solid junior campaign, at least for the seven games he played in. A hip injury has kept the senior out of spring practice, but I still expect him to have a major role on the outside. He is as consistent as they come from this group of outside linebackers.
While we know Breon Dixon is immediately eligible, the question now is his playing time. He has stood out in spring practices and in the scrimmage, but there will be a lot of competition for snaps, a lot of which will have more experience at the collegiate level. But you can’t deny his talent. He flies around and can be the perfect fit and complement to the sturdy, dependable Gifford.
Run coverage and pass coverage are handled by Gifford and Dixon, respectively. The last important piece from these outside linebackers? Pass rush. While none of the names on the roster jump out at you, an incoming recruit just might. Caleb Tannor, a four-star recruit who chose the Huskers over Florida and Auburn, will, perhaps, be the best raw pass-rushing prospect to walk through the doors since Randy Gregory. I expect him to play immediately and contribute a good amount as a true freshman. He’s that good.
Good question. Well, most importantly, Tyrin Ferguson is.
Ferguson has never had much of a chance in his two seasons. He got playing time his freshman season, then redshirted the next year. Many thought he would be a solid rotation player, perhaps even start in 2017. He disappeared midway through the season.
Now he has a new staff and new opportunity, and he’s making the most of it. Coach Dewitt has repeatedly talked about how many notes Ferguson takes. He’s dedicated off the field and has athleticism on the field. Can he put it together?
The next three guys are all in similar positions. Alex Davis, who got into football late, played a lot in the second half last year, but still looks a little lost playing against bigger competition.
Collin Miller, a lesser-known sophomore from Indiana, got to see the field at the end of the year and was solid, yet uninspiring. The same can be said for Sedrick King, who was an average-at-best linebacker who will be much better utilized as a rotational piece rather than a full-time player.
One player I’m intrigued about is Guy Thomas. He has had a solid spring (as have many of the linebackers, which is encouraging) and absolutely looks the part with his size, speed and athleticism. He needs to learn the nuances and how to win with not only his athleticism, but his mind also. Knowing where to be and not being lost are key ingredients to a successful linebacker.
Know My Name
2015 Defensive Scout Team MVP and special teams ace, Jacob Weinmaster, could carve out a role as an inside linebacker. He will be ready when and where his number is called. The same can be said for three-star prospect David Alston, who will most likely take a redshirt year with the amount of depth at the linebacker position.
Two sophomores that have had productive springs and could work their way into the rotation: Pernell Jefferson and Quayshon Alexander. While they may not be ready to be major contributors just yet, one of them could carve out a niche role on the defense.
A name you should know is Anthony Banderas. Don’t expect to see him on the field, but he is the brother of former Huskers and NFL linebacker Josh Banderas. He will walk-on and try and make the Banderas name like that of the Ruud’s.
Other linebackers on the roster: Jake Archer, Chris Cassidy, Willie Hampton, Joseph Johnson, Grant Jordan, Spencer Jordan, Ryan Schommer and Andrew Ward.
Next Week: The secondary needs a lot of work and could see a lot of new faces.