Nebraska’s defensive unit is fired up.
With two weeks remaining until the team’s season opener against South Alabama on Aug. 31, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander worried that the team might struggle with the “hump week” before a week of game preparation.
Instead, he said the team came out laughing, smiling and excited to play football, a testament to the continued attitude of the team’s players throughout fall camp.
“There hasn’t been one day where I’ve been disappointed with the energy of the team,” Chinander said. “We definitely have a lot of things to work on, we’re not quite there, but the energy’s been good.”
The job of keeping young players focused on the goal ahead often falls to veteran team leaders such as senior cornerback Lamar Jackson.
“Everything’s happening fast and we have to practice the same way we play, so mistakes are going to happen but we’ve just got to keep the morale up, just keep everybody motivated and wanting to get better,” he said.
Keeping focus ahead of a long season took on a new meaning Monday as the Associated Press released its preseason rankings with Nebraska at No. 24 despite a 4-8 campaign in 2018. As has been the case from Nebraska’s coaching staff throughout fall camp, Chinander placed little value on the ranking.
“Ranking 24th don’t mean didilly to me,” he said.
While the national media may have weighed in on Nebraska’s future, there are still many positions up in the air ahead of the team’s first depth chart. For Chinander, there will be several headaches over deciding which players deserve to start, particularly along the defensive line and in the secondary.
“Those are good problems and what everyone’s going to see is a lot of guys rotating in and I think we need that whether you’re a quote—unquote starter or not,” Chinander said. “I’d love to have 22 starters.”
Nebraska coaches have had a good chance to evaluate players in the past few weeks as Chinander said head coach Scott Frost has been emphasizing physical practices. The team’s top offensive unit has practiced against the top defensive unit, helping give players more reps against talented players.
That evaluation hasn’t made things any easier for Chinander when it comes to filling out the middle linebacker position. Senior Mohamed Barry will anchor the defense, with juniors Collin Miller and Will Honas battling it out for the second starting spot.
“You feel like those guys can make the calls if Mo’s not in there,” Chinander said. “...They look big, they look fast and they look like how Big Ten linebackers are supposed to look right now.”
There are still two more weeks until the Huskers return to Memorial Stadium to begin the 2019 season and expectations are high locally, nationally and within the team itself. The potential is clearly there, but as Jackson puts it, it’s up to the individual players to realize it.
“The sky’s going to be the limit for this defense just depending on if guys go out on Saturday and do their jobs and show up,” he said. “I see the potential and I’ve got high expectations for everybody on defense.”