Following the conclusion of the Nebraska football season, The Daily Nebraskan will be examining the success of each position. This is the sixth part of this series, evaluating the linebacker position.
It can be difficult to evaluate the success of a linebacker considering their hybrid role on defense. The defensive line stops the run and rushes the quarterback, while the secondary stops the pass. Linebackers, however, must be multi-faceted and able to contribute to both the run and pass-stopping efforts, making them crucial to a team’s defensive success.
For any football team, its middle linebackers should lead the team in tackles, which often come on runs which make it past the defensive line or on short passing plays. That was the case for Nebraska in 2019, as all three of its leading tacklers were middle linebackers.
Senior captain Mohamed Barry led the team in tackles for the second straight season, although his numbers dropped slightly as the Huskers had a consistent three-man rotation at the position. Barry finished the year with 89 tackles, down from his total of 112 a year ago, but had four games where he recorded 10 or more tackles.
His partners at middle linebacker, juniors Collin Miller and Will Honas, also had respectable seasons after having limited playing time in 2018, when Miller served as a backup and Honas was hurt for much of the year. Heading into the season, the duo combined for 43 tackles in their Husker careers, but both players surpassed that mark individually this year. Honas had 73 tackles and Miller had 67, with both players recording a sack as well. Miller forced two fumbles and recovered another, as he started alongside Barry throughout the season.
With Barry graduating, Miller and Honas should be the team’s starting duo next season; however, Nebraska will need to find some depth behind them, perhaps from freshman Omaha-native Nick Henrich, who redshirted this season after dealing with a shoulder injury.
While there was a set three-man rotation at middle linebacker, Nebraska’s outside linebacker position had many different contributors. Junior JoJo Domann was the best of the bunch, as he operated both as a nickelback in some passing situations and as an outside linebacker the rest of the time. He made 52 tackles, recorded 2 ½ sacks, forced two fumbles and defended six passes as one of Nebraska’s most consistent defenders all season long.
With Domann listed as Nebraska’s starting nickel, senior Alex Davis and sophomore Caleb Tannor were the Huskers’ other starting linebackers. Davis never recorded more than four tackles in a game, but was a solid contributor in his final season with the team, finishing with 30 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
Meanwhile, Tannor began the season as a key contributor on defense, making 17 tackles and recording 2 ½ sacks in the team’s first five games, but faded as the season went on. In fact, Tannor didn’t record a single tackle after the Northwestern game as true freshman Garrett Nelson saw an increase in playing time later in the year.
The first-year Husker from Scottsbluff, Nebraska was dubbed one of the team’s hardest workers by head coach Scott Frost, and that effort showed on the field. Nelson made 15 tackles, including a five-tackle performance against Wisconsin, and showed flashes of his potential.
With Domann, Tannor and Nelson all returning next year, Nebraska’s starting linebackers have gained valuable experience during the 2019 season which should serve them moving forward.