Now is the time to give a position preview that I feel good about finally! We return both of our starters, and we have plenty of depth and good recruiting behind them.
Let me start with Coach Ruud is a bit like Coach Held in my mind. I see a lot of “not sure he’s a good coach” on social media and message boards, and I continue to defend them. While our ILBs have underachieved a bit, it’s tough to argue with the talent that has been stockpiled there. And quite frankly it’s a reason that I believe we need to hit Nebraska harder than we have for recruits, no matter what a kids rankings are.
Let’s start with our returning guys, in Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer. As many of you recall, Reimer was committed to go FCS before Ruud convinced him he needed to walk-on. It took about one season before we knew we had to get the kid on scholarship. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum you have Nick Henrich from Omaha Burke. One of the highest ranked recruits the state has produced, Ruud went into Omaha and persuaded him to come here instead of places like Iowa or LSU. Reimer and Henrich were 1-2 in tackles on the team this past year, Reimer with 108 total tackles in 12 games and Henrich with 99. With these two back we have a great foundation to get things right at this spot for 2022.
If there is one knock on Ruud I will acknowledge, it’s the fact that he basically just rode with these two all fall. Reimer really trailed off towards the end of the year as he dealt with an injury, and the last I had heard was he was going to have surgery and more than likely miss the spring. Henrich blew out his shoulder as a true freshman, but has been steadily improving each year since then. But when you look at it, both of these guys played over 700 snaps a piece. That will take a toll on you, and you need a 3rd/4th guy to spell them from time to time. Especially when we leave them on the field in our nickel situations.
Now that we are getting into the 3rd/4th debate, I can bring up our two transfers from the ILB spot in Will Honas (Kansas State) and Jackson Hannah (Tennessee). Hannah is one of those that makes sense, really wasn’t going to play. and had been passed by guys. But Honas I was really hoping to be our 3rd guy next year. Will Honas has had a rough go at it here, blew his knee out first year, then blew his knee out again this year, it’s just so tough to come back from that. But he’s a great run stopper and late in the year against Wisky and Iowa where Henrich and Reimer struggled, he would have been a great piece. He wanted to know he was going to get major PT, and we just couldn’t promise it to him. I do think Ruud should have just had him run with the 1s while Reimer is out this spring, but it’s tough for me to be upset with the honesty that you don’t see much anymore in college football. Plus I have zero idea how he’s looking after the injury.
So that brings us to our “next man up” Chris Kolarevic who was actually first in the game if one of our starters was out. He averaged roughly a dozen snaps per game, and made tons of noise last offseason with his workout numbers. He never really got to the point where Ruud trusted him, so he was used sparingly. Hopefully with another year under his belt and more snaps this spring with a starter out we can have him take that next step. We can’t have Reimer and Henrich play as much as they did, you just can’t. Otherwise you see the trail off that we saw at the end of the year.
The next two i’ll lump together is Garrett Snodgrass from York, Nebraska, and Eteva Mauga-Clements the JUCO product out of California. Both of these guys averaged about 2 snaps per game this past year, with a bulk of those coming against Fordham and/or Buffalo. Snodgrass gets the nod here for me as the #4 ILB, he’s smart and is growing into his body, and being a coaches son he has instincts that can’t be taught. Mauga-Clements made waves when he signed with us because he was one of the sack leaders in JUCO that we so desperately needed. However, things just aren’t materializing here and unless we put him in a spot where he’s just rushing the passer, he has a tough time dissecting the play in front of him so i’m not sure we will see much from him.
Our next group that is really exciting is the 3 guys in our 2021 recruiting class Randolph Kpai from South Dakota, Seth Malcom from Iowa, and Mikai Gbayor from New Jersey. Kpai and Gbayor were four star prospects, and Malcom was the guy that was overlooked but produced on the field in high school. The unfortunate thing with our top 2 of this group is they all had severe setbacks due to injury in their first year. Kpai tore his shoulder and Gbayor had a shoulder injury as well. Malcom is the guy that needed the most development, so hopefully he was able to take advantage of the added reps. But I have a tough time believing he’s ready to overtake our top 4 mentioned earlier.
Our lone 2022 commit for ILB is Ernest Hausmann from Columbus, Nebraska. While I don’t think Hausmann is an ILB and fits better at OLB, he is a little small to be setting the edge. Nebraska has their ILBs do things a little differently, and that is they run a bit more and cover the C gap, while the NG and DEs take care of the A and B gaps. I’ll be curious if he stays at ILB, but rumor is he’s already doing great work in the weightroom (as we hear every year with every recruit lol). He will need a year or two to develop, but he was a great get from the state.
The ILB room is exactly how you want things built. Veterans starters returning like Henrich and Reimer, a veteran backup like Kolarevic, and then four stars to choose from or stud local guys. Ruud has a bevy of talent to choose from, now it’s just keeping them healthy.
I think our top 4 is pretty well solidified with Reimer, Henrich, Snodgrass, and Kolarevic. The real jockeying will begin with who asserts themselves to take over when Reimer and Henrich eventually leave. How do Kpai and Gbayor recover from the injury? Can Malcom’s extra year over those two get him over the top? Will Hausmann use this redshirt year to his advantage?
The long and short of it is there isn’t a whole lot to say when it comes to ILB because it’s pretty solidified. Keep Henrich and Kolarevic healthy, and develop the heck out of your back half guys and keep them motivated for when their turn is called in the next year or two.
That was finally a fun one to type.
*feel free to post to your message board*