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Tuesday notebook: Jones takes on a different role

Related: Tuesday fall camp nuggets | VIDEO: Diaco talks Week 3 of fall camp | Finally healthy, Knevel aiming to make most of final season

As Nebraska makes its way through the third week of fall camp, senior cornerback Chris Jones has taken on a different role.

Instead of being the leader of the defense on the field for the Huskers, Jones has put on a new hat where he’s almost become an extension of the coaching staff.

Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams has always looked at Jones as one of the leaders of this defense, but it’s shown even more since the knee injury he suffered back in July.

“Everybody goes to (Jones) for help,” Williams said. “Chris is one of those guys, you get him once, you aren’t going to get him a second time. He’s able to pick things up fast.

“Sometimes when you get injured and you are able to watch practice and observe, the game slows down for you, and you get a chance to really truly see what coaches go through and say. I think the game has truly slowed down for him. He’s able to pick things up faster and pass things along.”

No player on this team may be closer to Jones than redshirt freshman cornerback Dicaprio Bootle. The two players live together and share the same bond of being from Florida.

Bootle said he’s confident Jones is taking the right steps to get back on the field for the Huskers.

“He just let me know he’s going to be back, but until then he needs us to hold it down,” Bootle said. “We’ve got his back just like he had ours when he was in there. We are wishing him a speedy recovery and we want him to come back as fast as possible.”

Jones got his knee brace off last week, but as far as a timeline, it remains very much up in the air if he could even return this season.

“I really couldn’t tell you that right now,” Williams said. “I’m really not a doctor. All I know is Chris looks good to me always. Even if Chris had one leg in a cast, Chris still looks good to me. It’s just how it is. It’s a day-to-day thing.”

- Sean Callahan

Diaco expands on decision to coach upstairs during games

For quite possibly the first time in Nebraska’s history, it’s defensive coordinator will be coaching from the coaches’ box during games this season.

First-year DC Bob Diaco said the decision not to be down on the sideline on game days had more to do with his own preferences and ability to dial in to what his defense and the opposing offenses were doing each play.

He also said being isolated from the 90,000 or so other people in the stadium was another added benefit.

“I just like to focus, the vantage point, distractions, lack of there,” Diaco said. “Hide from the masses. The pitchforks and the burning sticks.”

As for who would assume the primary sideline communication duties with the defense during games, Diaco said it would be a full-staff effort.

In fact, he said he and his coaches have already begun planning for how things are going to work on game days.

“The defensive staff, we’ll structure to perform at a high level on game day, absolutely,” Diaco said. “Everybody has roles, and we practice those roles. We don’t just talk about them, we talk about the roles, everybody knows what the roles are in detail, and then we’ll practice several instances of those roles being executed.”

- Robin Washut

Ben Stille has improved as much as anyone on NU's defense since moving back to defensive end this fall.
Ben Stille has improved as much as anyone on NU's defense since moving back to defensive end this fall. (Nate Clouse)

Stille impressing since moving back to defensive end 

After spending the spring as one of Nebraska’s top options at the hybrid “Cat” outside linebacker spots, Ben Stille moved back to a more familiar position at defensive end to start fall camp.

It certainly hasn’t taken long for the redshirt freshman from Ashland, Neb., make big strides since returning to the role he thrived in two years ago as an All-State selection for Ashland-Greenwood.

“Ben has done a great job,” Diaco said. “Ben has been one of the more improved players since fall camp started. He’s learning how to play harder. He’s learning how to cut it loose and not be thinking.”

Stille was able to bulk his frame up to 6-5, 255, during his redshirt year in 2016, and physically he was good enough to open camp working with the second-team defense.

Diaco said maybe the biggest thing that held Stille back was that he tended to over-think plays and assignments too often, which led to him hesitating and not playing to his full ability.

“He’s a very cerebral young man, very smart,” Diaco said. “In some instances in the past, he’d spend time thinking. This is a reacting man’s game, so he has done a really good job of cutting it loose, so to speak, and playing hard.”

- Robin Washut

Roberts, Barry will have roles on defense


One of the really interesting things to watch the next few weeks will be how Nebraska’s defensive coaching staff finds ways to get freshman linebacker Avery Roberts and sophomore linebacker Mohamed Barry onto the field.

Roberts appears to be a rising star in this football program, but finds himself behind the quarterback of the defense in Chris Weber. Linebackers coach Trent Bray said on Tuesday they are going to do everything possible though to get Roberts on the field and involved this season.

“We’ve got to develop (Roberts) as the season goes, because we know how the season goes,” Bray said. “Who knows what game it will be, but we’ll need him at some point to have a large role. We just have to develop him, and he’s got to learn from Chris (Weber), and the things that Chris does right, and just keep growing that way, even though he’s not going to keep getting as many reps as Chris. That’s always the hard part for young kids.”

When Bray looks at Barry’s role, it’s a very similar situation playing behind junior Dedrick Young at the other inside linebacker position.

“Mo Barry is going to be a part of the game, and he’s going to help and play, and he’s going to be a big impact for us, and he’s played like that,” Bray said. “We’ve got ways with how we are going to rotate guys, and where we are always fresh so we can play at maximum effort every play.”

Another name to keep tabs on will be true freshman Guy Thomas as the Cat outside linebacker position.

“We are still in the process with (Thomas),” Bray said. “He’s getting better in doing things well, and when he understands and cuts loose, you can see where he’s going to be a special player. He’s still learning, so we just have to keep developing him this week and next week and see where he’s at.”

- Sean Callahan

Nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg did not practice on Tuesday.
Nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg did not practice on Tuesday. (Tyler Krecklow)

Quick hits

***The Big Ten Network’s campus tour stopped in Lincoln on Tuesday. Along with tweeting several pictures and observations during the practice, BTN's analysts talked with cornerback Eric Lee and De’Mornay Pierson-El after practice.

***Wide receiver J.D. Spielman was back in action for Tuesday’s practice.

***Defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg and defensive end DaiShon Neal sat out of practice.

***Diaco said punter Caleb Lightbourn has really been working on consistent execution with every punt. Because there are so many “moving parts” to punting, Diaco said the key for Lightbourn was tuning out everything around him and focusing on his technique.

***Lightbourn said he’s been averaging around 48 yards per punt in practice this fall, adding that he feels he’s been pretty consistent in camp.

***Williams said he views it as there are three starting cornerbacks right now in Lamar Jackson, Lee and Dicaprio Bootle. Williams said all three could step in and would be counted on to play this year.

***Safeties coach Scott Booker said to call Aaron Williams a “good” safety would be selling him short, saying Williams was a “great” safety because of how he handles his business on and off the field.

***Williams said everyone knows that Bootle’s speed is one of his best assets, but noted that the redshirt freshman was really an aggressive player and didn't back down from anyone.

***NFL scouts from the Houston Texans, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Atlanta Falcons were at Tuesday’s practice.