Monday notebook: Williams finally full-go again
It’s been a long August for senior Nebraska safety Aaron Williams.
The Georgia native has started 20 games over his Husker career but has been limited for all of fall camp since suffering a shoulder injury during the Red-White spring game.
Monday was the first practice Williams has been cleared for contact, as before that he was only allowed to do limited work in practice.
“I had to be very careful with Aaron during camp,” secondary coach Travis Fisher said. “He had a shoulder (injury) from the spring game. I had to be very careful with his reps as far as putting him in live periods. I did get him in some periods that weren’t live in camp, so he’s gotten his feet wet a whole lot. Today was his first day back live, so he got in some live periods and did a great job.
“I think he healed very quick. I’m not a doctor, but I saw him move around earlier in camp, and I believe I probably could’ve popped him in there and made him live then, but it’s not my call. I think our training staff has done a great job with him on that end. My job is to make sure he doesn’t sit on that sideline. That he stays getting reps and stays getting mental reps when it’s live. And then when we go seven-on-seven, I can get him in.”
Fisher added that Williams had kept a positive attitude, despite being limited in practice the last few weeks.
“I think it’s been hard for him mentally because every athlete wants to be on the field,” Fisher said. “You don’t want to be on the sideline hurt. So, I can just imagine how he’s been feeling. He’s been wanting to get out there with the guys. We have a close group, so I can just imagine how much he wanted to get out there and help those guys in the scrimmage and stuff like that, but he couldn’t go out there. He’s been great in the room though. He comes sharp, every day in meetings. He brings his notepad, he’s taking notes. He helps the young guys, he’s asking questions.
“I barely have to talk sometimes. He’ll speak up. On the field when he’s taking his reps, he flies out there. Today I had him on the one’s group, the two’s group, the three’s group – I had him in all of the groups. I just get him reps. I tell him don’t worry about the group.”
Williams currently finds himself in a battle with players like Antonio Reed, Tre Neal, Deontai Williams and JoJo Domann. All four of those players have had good camps, and the competition will continue another week.
“It doesn’t matter what group you are in,” Fisher said. “What matters is guys run on the field. That’s how you want it to be. You want guys not being selfish and not worrying about what group they are in. When their number is called, they are out there. That’s what I really want the culture to be like. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about first group, second group or third group. It’s about who’s out there. Whoever is out there, that’s the first group.”
- Sean Callahan
Defensive depth chart nearly set, coaches not giving any hints
With Nebraska’s season opener vs. Akron now less than two weeks away, the Week 1 depth chart is coming into shape more and more by the day.
In fact, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said that if the Huskers were going to play right now, he and his defensive staff had a pretty solid idea of which players would make up the two-deep game day roster.
But while the coaches might have a pretty good handle on the lineups, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to tell anyone else just yet.
“We’ve got it figured out who the ones and twos are, now there’s still a few position battles that are probably going to go down to the wire,” Chinander said. “If we had to name a depth chart today, we could. When the head coach tells us to release it, we will. But I think we know who the ones and twos are at least right now at every position.”
Some of those final remaining position battles are playing out in the secondary. As the staff continues to wait for clear starters to emerge at some of those spots, Chinander said he thinks the defensive backfield might be the most improved units on the defense.
“I thought they would make a big jump,” Chinander said. “We thought some of those additions would be pretty good. I think that the best part is the guys that were here before, some of the older guys, they’ve kind of fed off the competition the new guys brought.
“So those guys made a big jump along with the new guys giving us a lot of depth and some guys challenge for starting jobs.”
- Robin Washut
Dewitt high on Tannor's growth in camp
Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt would like to have a group of five players see the field this year.
You get the sense that Luke Gifford, Breon Dixon, and Tyrin Ferguson are going to make up three of those spots, but at this point, Dewitt is not in a position to announce that.
“I feel fairly good about four of them,” Dewitt said. “There’s really a mixture of about six of them, and they are kind of battling it out who’s going to be that fifth one or that fifth one. It’s kind of a revolving door for some of those spots. Some of those guys have done a really good job. You never know, one play could change everything.”
However, another player that will make his way into that group it appears is true freshman Caleb Tannor.
“He’s up there for sure,” Dewitt said. “He’s done a really good job for sure. He’s adapted to college football as fast as any freshman I’ve seen. I’m pleased, and I’m impressed with how he’s been able to grasp the concepts.
"His attention to detail is really good, which is not very common for a true freshman to have.”
- Sean Callahan
Run defense shaping up, but real test won't come until Big Ten play
As previous Nebraska defensive coaches quickly learned, stopping the run is one of the most crucial elements to success in the Big Ten Conference.
The good news for the Huskers thus far is that going up against their own spread offense, at least, the defense has held its own against the run in practice.
But Chinander said it wouldn't be until they started to prepare for the true run-heavy offenses of the league that NU would truly know where it stood in that regard.
“We get a lot of practice against the offense we see day to day,” Chinander said. “The real test obviously as you guys all know is when people start running downhill and getting in big-people groups in the Big Ten and start smashing us.
“That’s when we’ve got to get the scout team rolling and it’s so important to get some of these new guys (walk-ons) in here so we can line up with a fullback and a tight end or two tight ends and a fullback and really play against power and iso and lead strong and all those types of things. I think that’s going to be the true test of how we can stop the run.”
- Robin Washut
Turnover mentality more evident with NU secondary
One of the main points of emphasis in Chinander's defensive scheme is forcing turnovers, and lots of them.
Chinander doesn’t get too wrapped up in how many yards are given up, but he wants to take the football away and get the football back to the offense. That being said, one of the weakest spots on a poor Husker defense last year was the secondary creating turnovers.
Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said the mentality of the defensive backs has shifted to be much more aggressive in getting getting to the ball and creating takeaways.
“We get our hands on a lot more balls,” Bootle said. “Whether it be fumbles, interceptions, picks off of tipped throws, we’re just trying to get the ball however (we can).”
Bootle feels he has grown a lot in terms of his overall approach to creating turnovers.
“If the ball is in the air, I want it,” Bootle said. “If it’s on the ground, I want it. I just want the ball. If it’s in your hands, I want it.”
- Nate Clouse
***With Monday being the first day of classes at UNL, the Huskers added a number of additional walk-on players to practice who weren’t on the original fall camp 110-man roster. Those players weren’t in pads and did mainly individual work as part of the mandatory practice acclimation period, but Chinander said some would have a shot at earning some special teams roles this season.
***Chinander said Mick Stoltenberg had emerged as a player who had earned enough trust from the coaches that they now feel comfortable going to him about certain issues and having him deliver the message to other players. Chinander said they had a few guys like that and it was invaluable for a staff to have that type of player leadership.
***Chinander said Collin Miller could play either inside or outside linebacker, but right now he was focusing more at inside because of the depth situations at both position groups. Chinander said he thinks Miller could be “an impactful player” wherever he played up this season.
***Fisher said Marquel Dismuke was the most improved player in his group from the start of spring practices to now.
***Fisher said Will Jackson was still coming along at cornerback and had a way to go before he secured a permanent role in NU’s game rotation.
***Fisher praised freshman Braxton Clark, saying he’s made a lot of progress over fall camp. Fisher said Clark was a physical player who had the right mentality they were looking for at the cornerback position.
***Fisher said he was really excited to continue to work with Moses Bryant at cornerback. Fisher said Bryant played like “a mongoose” because of how quick and aggressive he was.