As preparation for the Nebraska football season continues, two second-year defensive players have impressed the Husker coaching staff.
The two standouts are both in their second year at Nebraska but come from opposite spectrums of the recruiting world.
Nebraska’s 2019 recruiting class ranked 17th in the nation according to 247sports.com, yet walk-on sophomore inside linebacker Luke Reimer finds himself in the lineup. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound graduate of Lincoln North Star high school has the chance to cement his place as a potential key cog for the Husker linebackers.
“Luke’s been very good since the day he’s come here,” Inside Linebackers Coach Barrett Ruud said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “He was a guy that after going through his first couple shuffle drills as a true freshman walk-on, I figured that wasn’t going to take long.”
Reimer earned a scholarship after just one season with the team. He played in 11 games last season as a true freshman, totaling 11 tackles and one tackle for loss. Reimer also recovered a fumble while on kickoff coverage in Nebraska’s loss to Colorado. Now, Reimer looks to enter Nebraska’s rotation of inside linebackers in 2020.
“As far as rotation, you want as many able bodies as possible,” Ruud said. “You don’t want to just have to play two [inside linebackers]. You want to be able to play three to four, maybe even five to keep guys fresh.”
Reimer’s rise from walk-on to scholarship player gives Ruud another inside linebacker to utilize. Senior inside linebackers Colin Miller and Will Honas also return to bring some experience to Nebraska’s linebacking core.
Miller, Honas and Reimers combine with a healthy redshirt freshman Nick Heinrichs to give the Husker depth at a position that they struggled with last season.
That has created competition at the inside linebacker spots that Miller said is something the group excels at. Miller said that he even plays with the second string at times in practice due to the depth at the position.
“[Reimer]’s one of those kids that wants to perfect his craft,” Miller said in the press conference. “He’s going to play good ball for us.”
Unlike Reimer, redshirt freshman Ty Robinson came from the 2019 recruiting classes as a four-star defensive end who came to Nebraska at 6-foot-5 and 283 pounds. The highly-touted player entered Lincoln with high expectations.
Robinson sat out for most of 2019 due to redshirt rules but was able to get some playing time against Iowa and Wisconsin. Those were his first games and good experiences, according to Robinson.
“It finally made me realize I wasn’t in high school anymore when I played against these grown men,” Robinson said in the press conference. “I also realized that I can’t rely on my talent anymore...it definitely helped open up my eyes to see the bigger picture of what I needed to get better at.
The games at the end of 2019 prepared Robinson for what he needed to work on during the offseason. The immediate stand out for Robinson was his football IQ, something he worked on with senior defensive lineman Ben Stille.
There, Robinson took the role of the student, asking about what to do on the field and how to read Big Ten offenses.
“[Stille]’s definitely heightened my football IQ,” Robinson said. “Everyday, we’ve been watching film after practice. He’s helped me understand why I should do this technique over another technique, make this decision over this decision.”
Robinson came in as a defensive end but has learned how to play both on the interior as a nose tackle or on the edge as a defensive end. This excited defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, because of what the redshirt freshman brings to the defensive line.
“Ty has made some tremendous strides,” Tuioti said in the press conference. “He’s going to be a combination player for us, similar to what we did to Carlos Davis last year."
Robinson’s growth on and off the field brings a potentially deeper rotation to the defensive line. As of now, Tuioti said Nebraska has six or seven players that will be a part of the line rotation, including Robinson.
Those defensive linemen, as Tuioti stated, are important. Junior Jordon Riley, a junior college transfer, is another standout thus far, according to Tuioti. Combine the defensive line rotation with Nebraska’s linebackers and it reveals a defensive front seven that could hold its own against the physical ground games in the Big Ten.
"We know that the challenge is out there. That is why these young men come here because they know they are going to be playing against some of the best offensive linemen in the country,” Tuioti said. “These young guys are eager, they are prepared, they are fighting every day to get themselves ready to show up when it’s game time.”