Nebraska spring football consisted of just two practices before it was halted due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, conversations with head coach Scott Frost, several players and almost every assistant coach provided at least some information about every position on the field.
The Journal Star is taking a position-by-position look at the Huskers, what was learned early in March and what to look for whenever NU returns to the field.
Scholarship players (13): Seniors Dicaprio Bootle (25 starts), Marquel Dismuke (13) and Deontai Williams (2); junior Cam Taylor-Britt (10); sophomores Braxton Clark (1) and Quinton Newsome; redshirt freshmen Myles Farmer, Noa Pola-Gates and Javin Wright; freshmen Henry Gray, Jaiden Francois, Ronald Delancy and Tamon Lynum.
A year ago, much was made about a talented, incoming four-man recruiting class in Travis Fisher’s secondary. Now, another is inbound and there is again plenty of reason to think that 1) the future is bright for Fisher’s group and 2) the youth movement is going to arrive en masse at some point and it could be this fall.
But before we get too far down that road, let’s get one thing straight: This is a veteran-led group and the veterans have every chance to make it difficult for those young, talented guys to get on the field extensively in 2020.
"Overall, we just want to be a great group of guys that the team can depend on,” senior Dicaprio Bootle said before spring ball was shut down. “We know that football games can be easily won or easily lost based on our play.”
One starter is off to the NFL in cornerback Lamar Jackson, but another returns in Deontai Williams, who missed the final 11-plus games of 2019 after a season-ending injury in NU’s opener against South Alabama.
Williams joins fellow seniors Marquel Dismuke and Bootle plus junior Cam Taylor-Britt in the group that you figure is going to be on the field in some way, shape or form. Dismuke is as close to 100% safety as Fisher, known for cross-training and cross-playing his guys, will get. Williams will probably stick at safety, too, though Fisher said even he took some corner reps during the first day of spring practice.
Bootle and Taylor-Britt bounced back and forth between corner and safety in 2019 as injuries thinned out the group.
So, is it as simple as those latter two become the starting corners? Sophomores Braxton Clark and Quinton Newsome will want to have something to say about that. Perhaps Bootle or Taylor-Britt will man the slot when NU plays nickel.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said Williams’ return could have a cascading effect on the other veterans.
“When he got injured, I thought he was playing as good of football as anybody on the defense,” Chinander said. “That hurt us a lot just because of his play, and also Cam Taylor-Britt did a great job for us, but he was a lot better when he was playing nickel or corner and then when he had to play all three, that became a lot for any kid.”
Unless one of the veteran quartet is unseated by a younger player, there are essentially part-time roles to be filled in. Can a young guy like Myles Farmer make a push for a rotational job at safety? Can Clark, Newsome or a freshman corner lock up a sub package role or something closer to a full-time job? Odds say depth will be needed at some point on the injury front.
Regardless, Fisher liked where his group was at before the sudden hiatus.
“When I first got here (in 2017), it was a pretty deep group, but it was just that I had a lot of pieces where nothing matched,” Fisher said. “Now you’ve got guys on the same page. It feels like I’ve got guys on the same page. … When I speak to one, I speak to all of them and they all listen.”
Farmer is clearly one of the most highly thought-of young players in the program. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman safety from Atlanta draws rave reviews from people around the program, and Fisher didn’t hold back in early March.
“Did I want to play Myles Farmer? Yeah, sure did. A whole bunch,” Fisher said. “… Myles Farmer is one of the top guys, I think, on the team. A guy like that, you really want to make sure he has everything he needs before he steps on the field. Because if he is struggling with this or struggling with that or struggling with weight, you don’t want to throw him out there just because he’s Myles Farmer. You want to make sure he’s ready. …
“He’s physical, he can run. Great to have in the room. He came to Lincoln, ever since he committed, he’s been all about this place and he’s still the same way.”
The secondary in 2020 is shaping up to be something like the NU defensive line was in 2019. It’s expected to be the strength of the defense and it will likely be largely comprised of veteran players. We’ve got a long way (and a lot of uncertainty) to go before we even get to the 2020 season, so it’s too early to look ahead to 2021. But with three seniors likely to start on the back end this year, that youth movement is going to have its time before too long.