Tuesday Rundown: Banker hoping Collins returns for senior year
OAKLAND, Calif. - Defensive coordinator Mark Banker watched Maliek Collins once again wreak havoc on Nebraska’s offense during the team’s first on-site bowl practice Tuesday morning at Laney College.
It certainly wasn’t a new sight for Banker, but he couldn’t help but wonder how many more he’d get from the junior defensive tackle as a member of the Huskers.
Rumors of Collins potentially foregoing his senior season have been swirling since the summer, and even though he hasn’t put up the type of numbers many expected from him in 2015, Collins is once again being regarded as one of the top NFL defensive tackle prospects by some notable draft gurus.
Collins has downplayed his football future as NU gets ready to take on UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl on Saturday, but once that came wraps up, he’ll undoubtedly be faced with one of the biggest decisions of his career.
Banker said he would offer up any advice to Collins if he asked, but if he had it his way, Banker would obviously prefer his star lineman to come back for one more year.
“I’m not a real fan of guys coming out early,” Banker said. “I’m not a fan of that. Because No. 1, college and the development is so important from a standpoint of what a guy can do and from a standpoint of totally being ready.
"There are a lot of players out there. What separates them? I don’t know. You get into the NFL, and just like people say, it’s truly a business. Somebody has to like your skill set, and not only like your skill set, they like it because they can utilize it in their scheme. You have to truly be a program guy."
Coming off a breakout 2014 campaign where he started every game and racked up 14 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors, Collins took a bit of a step back statistically this season. He’s only posted 29 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
But Banker said the impact the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is making on the game doesn’t always show up in the final box score.
“I think he was disruptive,” Banker said. “There were a lot of games that we just didn’t get calls against him. Any time he got any kind of penetration … he was getting held, and the ball had to be directed elsewhere…
"What makes him different from a lot of different guys is get-off. He’s explosive. He has good size, and a lot of times good size doesn’t necessarily mean they’re explosive off the ball between the time there’s movement and between the time they actually move. His reaction time is good, so therefore he’s explosive. He can get into the blocks, and therefore he can get off faster.”
Banker has little doubt NFL scouts will be able to see Collins’ ability on film, so the opportunity will almost certainly be there for him to make the jump to the next level. Banker said he could see Collins as either a tackle in a 4-3 scheme or an end in a 3-4, and that versatility for his size is what makes him such an intriguing pro prospect.
Another factor that will weigh in on Collins’ decision is having the opportunity to provide for his young son with an NFL salary. That’s why Banker insists it will be entirely on Collins to make the best choice for him and his family.
“That type of decision is a personal decision on his part,” Banker said. “I would really just feel terrible if I counseled a guy to not come out and stay who could in fact come out, and then he gets hurt - a career-ending type of injury. That’s a tough deal. So if they ask, I’ll give them my opinion, but they still have to make the decision.”
Williams settling in fine at new role as No. 1 nickel
Due to suspensions and general attrition that have occurred in Nebraska’s secondary throughout the season, true freshman Aaron Williams has been asked to play a variety of roles both on defense and on special teams.
That’s why his latest assignment of taking over as the Huskers’ new No. 1 nickel back for the bowl game wasn’t a very big deal for the standout safety.
Having already served as one of NU’s primary dime backs, including starting at the dime in the season opener against BYU, the move into the slot has only been a minor adjustment for the native of Atlanta, Ga.
“The difference has been in preparation and knowing different alignments and pass coverages,” Williams said. “Nothing is really uncomfortable, it’s just more preparation and more understanding the system and what you have to think about.”
Williams was the natural choice to take over the nickel when senior Jonathan Rose was dismissed from the team after the regular season for a violation of team rules and fellow senior Daniel Davie missed the first part of bowl practices while catching up on academics.
“He’s a football player,” Banker said. “He’s done well for us this year as a true freshman and everything he’s done. He’s not going to be perfect, but he’s going to allow us to win the game.”
Williams’ debut at the No. 1 nickel certainly won’t be easy, as he’ll have to do it against a UCLA passing game that ranks among the best in the Pac-12 Conference.
“I’m excited,” Williams said. “I like the challenge they bring to us. I fell like as the season has been progressing they’ve been getting better, and I feel like we’ve been getting better in pass coverage-wise. So I like the challenge it brings to our secondary and our linebackers to show the improvements we’ve been making.”
Former Husker safety Gomes gets first taste of NU under Riley
There were plenty of new faces on Nebraska’s sideline on Tuesday since the last time DeJon Gomes was at a Husker football practice.
The former NU standout defensive back, who now resides in his native Hayward, Calif., just 20 minutes south of San Francisco, made his way up to Oakland to take in his old team’s first on-site bowl practice.
While it took a bit to get used to seeing an almost entirely new coaching staff running the show, Gomes said it was good to finally get to see head coach Mike Riley and Co. at work.
“Yeah, it’s a lot different,” Gomes said. “Especially when you haven’t had the opportunity to meet them, that makes it a lot different. But there’s a handful of guys that are still here.”
Gomes, who played at Nebraska from 2009-10 after transferring from City College of San Francisco, said he first met Riley last year before he was even being considered as a head coach candidate at NU. Riley had been recruiting Gomes’ cousin - now a defensive back at Cal - to Oregon State, and the two met when Riley came to one of his cousin’s high school games.
As for his take on Riley’s performance with the Huskers, Gomes said he hasn’t evaluated things closely enough to comment. But as a former player, Gomes said he always keeps track of how Nebraska is doing.
“I definitely do,” Gomes said. “Playing at Nebraska, it’s a big thing. Especially being a Blackshirt. I still have that player mentality. I still text and tweet with some of the former players on game day or leading up to it.”
Gomes was a member of two of Nebraska’s best secondaries in recent memory, and played three seasons in the NFL with the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions. In a 2014 preseason game between the Lions and Oakland Raiders, Gomes suffered a career-ending shoulder injury.
Since hanging up his cleats, Gomes has had much more time to watch the Huskers on Saturdays. One player who has already jumped out to him is cornerback Joshua Kalu. He also mentioned Williams and safety Nathan Gerry as others who have impressed.
“I actually like Kalu’s play,” Gomes said. “I’ve been watching him a little bit. He’s stepped up a lot. I think I actually may have met him on a recruiting visit while I was in town once. I like his game… They’ve got a good core group who will be pretty solid."