Blackshirts thriving in new defensive scheme
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[rl]If there was one major theme to take away from Nebraska's annual fall camp press conference on Wednesday afternoon, it was that it's been a while since the Blackshirts have been this amped up going into a season.
Why? For one, the Huskers' new coaching staff has brought a new energy and an opportunity for a clean slate that were both desperately needed after seven seasons under the previous regime.
But most of all, it's because their new scheme under defensive coordinator Mark Banker is making it feel like they're back to just playing football again. In fact, players from all three levels of the defense continued to rave about how much more comfortable they feel in the defense as opposed to the previous system.
"It's so much more aggressive," defensive end Jack Gangwish said. "The No. 1 focus now is always to be playing fast, keep playing hard, hit hard. Your steps may not be perfect, your hand placement may not be perfect, but even if it's not perfect, we want you in there going hard. The main difference is that this is kind of a pin-your-ears-back-and-go-kill-somebody type of defense. Well, maybe not kill somebody, but go tackle somebody."
Gangwish said there were times last season that he had to slow himself down during plays to make sure his technique was as close to perfect as possible while also worrying about making a wrong decision and getting himself out of position. As was seen so often in recent years, when one player was in the wrong spot on a given play, it could quickly result in a touchdown for the opposing offense.
Josh Banderas said the case was the same with the linebackers, and maybe even more so given how much more responsibility was on their plates before the snap in terms of identifying formations and making the necessary adjustments at the line. Now Banderas said it was like NU is running "the skeleton of the old defense", which he described as "an encyclopedia" compared to the new playbook.
That means players are able to focus far more on their own jobs and getting to the football as opposed to knowing what everyone else around them is doing as well. As a result, Banderas said incoming freshmen should have a much easier time picking up the defense than those in years past did.
"We get one read and then you go," Banderas said. "It's just like high school was. There's no thinking. Before in our old defense, it kind of got you paralysis by analysis. You start thinking too much and you freeze up. That's what kind of caught some of us. But this defense is new. You guys are probably going to think we're blitzing every play."
Even back in the secondary players are noticing a significant difference in Banker's system. However, because the front seven is more free to attack the ball and be more aggressive, it will put a bit more pressure on the defensive backs to hold their own in man-to-man coverage without as much help as they had before, cornerback Daniel Davie said.
However, given the natural swagger of most cornerbacks and safeties, the unit looks to be more than up for the task.
"I think when you play corner, you want to be out there playing man," Davie said. "That's part of the position, is covering. I enjoy it, and that's something I've been working on throughout the summer. That's part of the challenge."
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