Tuesday notebook: Blackshirts haven't been earned yet
One of the biggest lingering questions left to answer going into Nebraska’s season opener on Saturday is what new head coach Scott Frost and his staff plan to do regarding handing out the Blackshirts.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said the coaches had had plenty of discussions on the black practice jersey tradition, but until the Huskers get a real game under their belts against Akron, it’s a situation that is still to be determined.
“There’s two contributing factors right now,” Chinander said. “No. 1, the ‘ands’ and the ‘ORs’ (on the depth chart). Some of those battles are still being fought, so didn’t feel like handing out a Blackshirt to one of those guys that’s an ‘OR’ or an ‘and’ would be fair until we get a live (game) evaluation.
“Another thing we decided was the last time we took the field (a 56-14 home loss to Iowa last season) - and I say ‘we’ because I signed up for this, I’m part of it - it was not a very great performance for the Blackshirts. So we don’t feel like anybody deserves one yet until we see what they do in Memorial Stadium (on Saturday).”
Previous coaches have used all sorts of approaches to the longstanding tradition, which started under former defensive coordinator Charlie McBride as a way to identify the 11 defensive starters.
Chinander wasn’t sure how many they would eventually hand out but was fairly confident in the maximum number of Blackshirts there would be each season.
“We’ll go with who deserves them,” Chinander said. “It might be one; it might be 11. I doubt it’ll be more than 11, but it could be anywhere in between.”
With seven “ORs” and four co-starters listed on the initial Week 1 depth chart, Saturday’s opener could go a long way in trimming down the list of potential Blackshirt candidates.
“A lot of the evaluations have been made, the only evaluation left is to see what they can do under the lights and live bullets are firing at them,” Chinander said. “Sometimes you put those ‘ORs’ on to keep people happy. Sometimes it’s to try to out-scheme people. But most of these really are ‘ORs’ and we’re going to figure this thing out here this week and next week.”
- Robin Washut
Who will be the No. 4 quarterback?
With the recent news at quarterback, Nebraska currently sits with just three active QBs going into the 2018 season, two of which being walk-ons.
So that leads to the question of who would be the No. 4 quarterback if they had to look that way? Junior cornerback Lamar Jackson, senior linebacker Luke Gifford, sophomore safety JoJo Domann and freshman cornerback Cameron Taylor all played quarterback in high school
“We don’t even think like that; we are just expecting Adrian (Martinez) to run the show and stay healthy and make plays,” Jackson said. “Hopefully it never comes to that.”
However, Jackson said if his team ever needed one of them, he’s sure the ex-quarterbacks on the roster would step-up, but let’s hope it never comes to that.
“We could do something if wanted to, but we are going to put it in Adrian’s hands,” Jackson said. “I’d rather put it in Adrian’s hands than me.”
- Sean Callahan
Bootle, Cox working as top nickel corners
A notable position left off of Nebraska’s Week 1 depth chart was the nickel corner, a role that could see plenty of snaps against some of the spread offenses awaiting on the 2018 schedule.
Fisher said right now the top two players working at the nickel were sophomore Dicaprio Bootle and redshirt freshman Ethan Cox.
Bootle, one of the starting cornerbacks in the base defense, wasn’t much a surprise to be in that role.
But Fisher said that Cox, a walk-on from Blair, Neb., forced his way into the mix for playing time with his steady performance in practice all offseason.
“He’s been solid,” Fisher said. “He’s been flying around; he’s been doing a lot of great things for us. Most importantly for Ethan is he’s been competing. He’s been doing a great job of competing and coming back at night watching extra film. So he’s been doing everything we’ve asked him to do.”
- Robin Washut
Finally healthy, Aaron Williams has best practice yet
As if the influx of new competition at the safety position wasn’t enough on Aaron Williams’ plate this offseason, a shoulder injury he suffered during the Red-White Spring Game complicated his situation even more.
By not being fully cleared for contact until last week, the senior missed out on valuable practice reps during fall camp. As a result, Williams found himself as the third safety listed on NU’s Week 1 depth chart behind co-starters Antonio Reed and Deontai Williams.
But according to defensive backs coach Travis Fisher, Williams has already made up a lot of ground since getting the green light to practice fully, including arguably his best day of the fall on Tuesday morning.
“Man, he had a great practice today. He really had a great practice today,” Fisher said. “I know his urgency in wanting to get back on the field, and he was a little behind because he missed so many days of live contact.
“But he showed up today. We went live a little bit today and he showed up and showed himself that he’s getting in shape and getting ready to play. It’ll be good to continue to push Aaron and get him going, and hopefully real soon he’ll be back where he wants to be.”
Fisher said Williams’ injury put him in a bad spot not only with the extensive recovery time, but not being able to fully compete against new safety additions like Tre Neal and Deontai Williams and improved returners like Reed, JoJo Domann, and Marquel Dismuke.
Despite his difficult circumstances, Fisher said Williams maintained the right attitude throughout, which allowed him to make up quite a bit of ground over the past week and a half.
“That’s very important for a guy like that,” Fisher said. “He’s played a lot since he’s been here, and you come in as a new coaching staff again - this is probably the fifth (defensive backs) coach for him. So he’s taken on a lot as a senior, and on top of that, we wanted to wipe the slate clean and say this is full competition.
“There’s no entitlement deal going on. It’s just, hey, everybody has to learn the defense, everybody has to go out here and compete for a starting job. For him not to be able to really go as hard because of his injuries, I can see it being kind of tough for him. But for the most part - he’s only been back a week, but he handled it very good today.”
- Robin Washut
Domann back better than ever after second ACL injury
Perhaps no one on the Nebraska football team has had a more tumultuous past two years than Domann.
The sophomore safety was making some noise in the spring of 2017 before suffering an ACL tear that cost him all of last season. Just as he was becoming healthy again, Domann then suffered a second ACL tear during a pickup basketball game last November which put him back on the shelf.
Going through the coaching change while unable to compete was difficult, but the Colorado native says he attacked his second rehab differently which ultimately put him in the best shape physically and mentally.
“It was tough because I trained football when I tore my ACL the first time,” Domann said. “I kept on doing DB drills and all that kind of stuff. Then when it was taken away when I tore my ACL again during basketball, I had to focus on me becoming the best athlete possible, the best human being possible, the best man possible. That was kind of my mindset.
“I am hands down in the best shape of my life. Physically, I’m moving better than I thought I would be at this point and spiritually and as a man. I’m in the best shape of my life in every single aspect.”
Domann has made up a lot of ground since the coaching change happened last winter. The coaches barely knew his name six months ago, and now he’s listed as the No. 2 safety on the Week 1 depth chart.
The biggest play of Domann’s fall camp happened on the last day, and he’s ready for what the season holds for him.
“I made a few plays, but none of them were like a stamp," Domann said. "None of them had like an exclamation point after them until I had a pick-six, an 87-yard pick-six on the last day of fall camp. That was kind of the icing on top.
“I envision myself making plays on Saturdays, making plays during the week, earning trust from the coaches and then just being able to play the game I love on Saturday.”
- Nate Clouse
***Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said he doesn’t like to rotate much at cornerback in games, so expect to see a lot of Jackson, Bootle, Taylor, and Clark on Saturday.
***Chinander said Taylor and Clark will definitely play a lot vs. Akron, and he credited both freshmen for they way they “jumped both feet first into the deep water, kept on swimming and never looked back.” Chinander said he wasn’t sure how Taylor and Clark would respond inter first-ever college games, but noted that “sometimes baptism by fire isn’t a bad thing.”
***Domann said safety Tre Neal was like the kid in school who had a “cheat sheet” for every test because of how well he knows the defense. Domann said Neal had been an invaluable resource for the entire secondary since arriving this summer.
***Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said that Noah Vedral had been a great asset for the defense working as the scout team quarterback. Ruud said the defense quickly learned that no one can ever take a play off or Vedral will make them pay.
***Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt said they planned to ease in freshman Caleb Tannor early on and “keep it simple of him”regarding his role in games.
***Dewitt didn’t want to reveal NU’s plan for handling kickoffs under the new college football rules but said every team was going to go about it differently. “Either it’s going to be really exciting or really boring.”