Nebraska Spring Preview: Linebackers
The Nebraska football team officially starts spring practice on Feb. 28, as they practice for two weeks, take a week off for spring break and then are back for three more weeks before the spring game set for April 9.
As spring practice approaches, it's time to take an in-depth look at each of Nebraska's position groups.
What we know: Linebackers are the deepest and most experienced position on team
Nebraska's linebackers were one of its greatest strengths in the 2021 season and the Huskers are returning all four of its starters. There likely won't be much movement at inside and outside linebacker in terms of starters.
At inside linebacker, Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich will work side-by-side with Chris Kolarevic as the third man in. Garrett Snodgrass will sit out during spring camp due to an injury. Eteva Mauga-Clements will provide depth at the position.
Outside linebacker Caleb Tannor is returning for his fifth and final season as a Husker. Garrett Nelson will be starting for his third consecutive season after playing in 11 of 12 games as a freshman.
The big surprise though was Pheldarius Payne's entry into the transfer portal before the start of spring practice on Friday. Payne entered the portal in December but then decided to come back. Now he's back in the portal.
Finding another pass rusher type will be important of the Huskers in the transfer portal moving forward.
Biggest question: Who will be the nickel?
The biggest hit Nebraska's linebackers took was the loss of JoJo Domann at nickel back to the NFL. Domann was one of the top defenders in the Big Ten during the 2021 season and was a second-team All-Big Ten and All-American selection.
Head coach Scott Frost and Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander essentially created the nickel defense around Domann to highlight his unique abilities. Now, Isaac Gifford and Javin Wright are the top two candidates for the vacant nickel position.
Both Gifford and Wright are built differently than Domann and there will likely be an adjustment to the position based on skill.
Gifford seems to have the edge as he started at nickel against Wisconsin and Iowa in the final two games with Domann out due to an injury. He recorded seven tackles and one pass breakup.
Wright has battled injuries during his entire career as a Husker. He tore his MCL as a senior in high school, then again before the 2020 season and then was diagnosed with blood clots at the beginning of the 2021 season. Husker coaches planned for him to take over Domann's position but the injuries have set him back tremendously.
Frost said Wright is healthy and that the blood clots aren't genetic so there is hope Wright will still be able to make a run for the nickel position if he can stay healthy throughout the spring.
Spring darkhorse: Blaise Gunnerson and Jimari Butler
Blaise Gunnerson and Jimari Butler played with Payne injured in the final two games. Both could have a big spring with outside linebacker Damian Jackson out with an injury, leaving room for more reps.
Gunnerson, a redshirt freshman, played 24 snaps against Wisconsin and had two tackles. While the 6-foot-6, 255-pound linebacker didn't put up big stats, he earned a 74.7 tackle grade from PFF on the game.
Butler, who was also in the class of 2020, played against Fordham and Buffalo at the beginning of the season.
Gunnerson and Butler could earn opportunities to play more as edge rushers with limited experience at defensive end and Mike Dawson becoming the defensive front coach.