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SSO’s Practice Observations (Defense)


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So first I want to just say that I think things are much more up in the air on the defensive side in terms of who is playing compared to my offensive breakdown I did on Tuesday. So who is with the 1s and 2s in scrimmages may just be them mixing and matching. I also want to throw the same caution up like I did in the previous practice observation that I’m not in coaches meetings, have no idea how guys are doing in terms of grasping the defense or grades in the classroom. What I see on the field is only the tip of the iceberg for who plays.

Defensive Line

With Ty Robinson out and Colton Feist deciding not to come back, there is a ton of opportunity on the defensive front for first-year players to make a name for themselves. And with a change in philosophy on defense, being heavy enough might not be as big of a deal. As we talked about in the S&C post this morning, Coach Knighton made mention how Hutmacher finally losing some weight is helping him. Our defense is no longer a 2 gapping hold the linemen off our second level defenders situation. It is more how I would play, knife up field and create disruption. So Nash’s strength (and Robinson for that matter) we need to try and morph more into quicker and more agile. We aren’t going to hold the line of scrimmage and plug gaps, we are going to shoot holes and try to alter where that RB goes or disrupt the QB.

The other 2 guys starting along the line with Nash with the 1s were Jeudy at the other “true” DT spot and Cam Lenhardt who should be getting ready for his senior prom instead of in spring ball. It shows just how ready he may be.

Along the second line we had Wynn Jr., JUCO transfer Kai Wallin, and walk-on Jacob Herbek from Grand Island Central Catholic. In the couple practices I watched, Wynn was the one I thought had the best chance of moving up to that front line. Wallin is still getting used to things and Herbek I would just need to see more of.

So now we get into why I think we may be ok along the DL, or at least i’m not as worried. AJ Rollins was along the DL and he did get a sack or at least a QB hurry in the scrimmage. So while I just thought he wasn’t going to get playing time at TE, he may be a viable option at DE. Prinewill Umanmielen has also shown me some flashes as well as a true freshman.

Then you have a few guys that aren’t here yet like highly ranked Van Poppel, i’m really high on Vincent Carroll-Jackson, and Sua Lefotu intrigues me as he comes from a major high school program. I think we have enough depth somewhere that we can redshirt a few of these guys and let them develop.

Buckley and Tagaloa are also there, but I just think both of them need a lot of work.

To end on a happy note, this doesn’t include Blaise Gunnerson who the coaches think very highly of as well.

It just seems Coach Knighton has some options when you are only playing 3 guys at a time and we might have 5 or 6 to choose from. What will be interesting is the same guys gonna be who we call on for 2023 when the ask is a bit different from what they’ve done before? Knighton is more of a technical guy with NFL experience, and with our scholarship chart we can afford to be pretty picky for the 2024 recruiting class.


We return Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer, and while Henrich is out this spring, it has been a walk-on filling in for him with the 1s with John Bullock from Creighton Prep. Behind those 2 we had Chief Borders and Mikai Gbayor at ILB.

I need to give Garrett Snodgrass some props here, as it seems he’s grasping the defense better than most of those guys and really helping people along with the new scheme.

Randolph Kpai and Seth Malcom I believe are both at ILB as well but honestly haven’t seen enough out of them to give an opinion one way or the other. Disappointing with Kpai but makes a little bit of sense to me with Malcom.

What I have found being an issue with our ILBs is they aren’t able to run as free anymore and diagnose. They have a gap they are responsible for and they don’t read and react, they head to it and blow things up. So “playing in the garbage” is going to be a much bigger thing for them now. The guy that can beat the OL to the spot is going to win.

I think Dylan Rogers and Eric Fields coming in as true freshmen will be on the inside as well, and that’s why they are so high on Fields. He is explosive and going to beat guys to the spot.

At the OLB/hybrid spot you have Jimari Butler running with the 1s. But MJ Sherman is right there with him. I’ll be curious to see what happens when bullets start flying. I love the Butler story, but Sherman is a beast.

They have put Kaine Williams at the OLB spot too and I have been less than impressed. And we have Maverick Noonan in as a true freshman learning the ropes. As I stated in my LB preview, he looks really good when going against guys like Gottula that are true freshman as well. However, against people that have been in college weight programs for a few years it’s a bit tougher for him. Understandably so.

New LB coach Rob Dvoracek I haven’t heard a ton from. But he’s going to have his hands full for a couple things. First, just implementing a new scheme with so many new guys. But the second is what worries me the most for our defenders. The biggest problem our defense has had the last 5 years is our “gap fits” against running plays. They are going to be playing in “less clean” spaces now and just having to fit where the scheme tells them, and i’m curious how we will do with that. Like this clip for example, while I blame the DT for trying to shed to the wrong gap, we end up with 2 guys in a gap and 0 where the RB is going:

That will be one of Dvoracek and White’s biggest hurdles with implementing this defense.


Running with the 1s you had the two you would think with Newsome and Hartzog. But now you have 3 other DBs still out there which were Omar Brown, Corey Collier, and Myles Farmer. This is the deepest position group on the team returning the most players, so I feel pretty good here. Again, it’s all about fit. Even Farmer wasn’t immune to mistakes last year:

And that’s all about run fits. I’m sure actually tackling in practice will help.

With the 2s you had Braxton Clark, Noa Pola-Gates, Deshon Singleton, Tommi Hill, and Gage Stenger. That one worries me a bit more, but guys like Clark and Stenger have really been having a nice spring camp.

I also didn’t see Isaac Gifford out there who I would assume is going to be in the mix when all is said and done.

We have so many guys out there to choose from at some point Cooper is going to need to make a decision. And speaking of that position coach, he impresses me quite a bit with how he goes about his business and how he presents what he wants from the guys. He’s much more energetic and personable than Coach Fisher, but we will see if that’s good or bad. Reminds me a bit of Terry Joseph to be honest.


As I said before, this would be the type of defense I would run meaning we would get upfield and try to create disruption in the backfield. I don’t want to sit back and get papercut to death. Now with that said, I think we are going to have to deal with possibly having some big plays go against us but that happened the last 5 years anyway. May as well try and create some havoc.

As i’ve said we are going to need to see how we can run fit though. I like our pass coverage, and who wouldn’t with us in Nickel most of the time.

Coach White wants our guys playing football fast and not thinking out there, I love that. Can they think fast correctly? Remains to be seen. With that said, I think our front guys are going to be more athletic in a year or two than we’ve seen in a long time. Guys like the Davis twins would wreak havoc in this defense. But i’m curious how teams like Illinois and Iowa will attack this 3-3-5.

Don’t forget to check out our S&C update that dropped this morning as well!

ShortSideOption Blog (Practice Observation Defense)

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