Tuioti hoping to play eight on his defensive line in 2019
A year ago at this time, Scott Frost said when his defense is playing well, guys are rotating in like "hockey lines."
This is what NU desired to have on their defensive front seven, but the reality was they didn't have enough quality defensive players to make it happen.
On the defensive line, NU had to lean on guys like Carlos Davis (579 snaps), Ben Stille (514), Freedom Akinmoladun (503) and Khalil Davis (489) to play a lions share of the 78 defensive snaps the Huskers averaged per game.
After those four, Damion Daniels (171) and Mick Stoltenberg (181 over eight games) played the next most defensive snaps.
As new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti evaluates what he has to work with this spring, finding a solid rotation of at least six is where it starts.
“This game is fast. Especially our big guys," Tuioti said. "They got to be able to substitute and be fresh. We need anywhere between six to eight guys, depending on the pace of the game. To us, it’s about being able to play fresh and play as fast as we can, as long as we can and as hard as we can. I’m going to roll a lot of guys.”
When you start to look at who those potential six to eight guys are, they have a pretty solid group returning to build around.
Carlos Davis, Khalil Davis, Stille, Damion Daniels and Oklahoma State transfer Darrion Daniels figure to be five of the desired eight Tuioti would like to rotate this fall.
“I feel like we have six,” Tuioti said. “I feel like we have six really solid players I feel comfortable with. I want to find who that No. 7 and No. 8 guy are.
"I think when we continue to practice each and every day, we’ll figure out who that person is. We probably won’t even know until we get to training camp and start the season.”
Guys like senior Vaha Vainuku, sophomore Deontre Thomas, senior Daishon Neal, sophomore Chris Walker, senior Fyn Anderson, sophomore Damian Jackson and redshirt freshmen Tate Wildeman and Casey Rogers will battle for those final two to three spots this spring.
Vainuku's connections to Tuioti makes him one of the more intriguing names to follow.
Tuioti recruited him hard at Cal, and was very familiar with what type of player he was out of high school. He's seen Vainuku shake off a lot of rust after coming out of medical retirement at Utah.
“He’s making big improvements,” Tuioti said of Vainuku. “He’s made big improvements with his hands being able to strike. He’s really solid and very strong. He’s aggressive in the run game, so we are going to need that from him.
“When I was at Cal I actually tried to recruit him. He’s actually got a lot of family in the Bay Area, and it just didn’t work out where we were able to get him. When I came to Nebraska, I texted him and said we are finally going to join together and join forces. I’m glad it worked out the way it did. Because besides being a good football player, he’s also an also awesome guy to have in the room.”
Damion Daniels is another guy NU would like to get more out of this season. He was only able to give the Huskers about 14 snaps per game in 2018.
Ideally, they'd like to see him get into better condition and have that number increase to take the load off other guys.
“He’s a drag car racer. He burns gas really fast,” Tuioti said of Damion Daniels. “Big guys are like that. We just have to make sure we do a good job of taking care of him. He’s really putting a big effort in terms of trying to push his threshold to three good plays in a row to try and get to five. That’s something I’ve talked to him about.
"After three there’s a big drop off for him, and he knows that and we know that up front. When teams scheme us they know that when No. 93 is in they try to get him tired right away. Try to throw screens and make him run sideline to sideline. When you try to run the ball inside, he’s going to be a beast for us. He’s trying to push himself to five plays, which would be great, and then we could bring the next guy in to sub for him.”
And when it's all said and done, Tuioti doesn't envision a "starting three." He would like to have about six guys up front that all have starter type roles on the defensive line.
“That’s why you have to have a solid group,” Tuioti said. “You have to have six or seven solid guys ready to go. I talk to the guys all the time. It’s about having a solid group of guys that can come in and play in waves.
"I really don’t see a starting group. I see six guys being the starters. It’s just a matter of who starts the game, but everybody is probably going to have the same amount of reps by the time the game is over.”
The Huskers will take the field for their ninth of 15 spring practices on Saturday.