2023 Preview: Defensive Backs

Scholarships Returning: Quinton Newsome, Omar Brown, Javier Morton, Tommi Hill, Marques Buford, Isaac Gifford, Phalen Sanford, Tamon Lynum, Malcolm Hartzog, Koby Bretz

Scholarships Lost: Myles Farmer (Syracuse), Noa Pola-Gates (New Mexico), Braxton Clark (South Florida), Tyreke Johnson (Retired) , Jalil Martin (Syracuse), Jaeden Gould (Syracuse)

Scholarships Incoming: Corey Collier (Florida), Dwight Bootle II, Syncere Safeeullah, Ethan Nation, Rahmir Stewart, Eric Fields, D’Andre Barnes

Phil Steele B1G Position Ranking:
Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State

While we are shifting to the 3-3-5, the DB room becomes the biggest group on the team. The DBs and OL start the same amount of players, but DBs are needed on special teams as well, so that gets you to 18 scholarship players in the room. As you can see from the top, we return a ton of players. We also lost 6 scholarship guys that could have came back, 3 of which headed to Syracuse. 2 went Go5. And one retired. You also have 7 new faces coming into the mix, 6 true freshmen and 1 transfer from Florida.

Phil Steele has this as our third best position group (behind QB and RB), but I could make the argument we have as much talent here as any other group on our team. While we do lose our second leading tackler Myles Farmer to the transfer portal, we return Quinton Newsome who has 24 consecutive starts for us and was honorable mention All-B1G. We also return second year Malcom Hartzog, who led our team in INTs for 2022 after starting 8 games as a freshman. Isaac Gifford returns as he was our primary nickel player in 2022 where he had 10 starts. That is a great foundation, and if Farmer was returning that would have been 4 returning starters. While I only mentioned 3 guys there that are coming back and one that has left, that leaves us with two spots to figure out. We are deep and have plenty of options to fill the last ones. That doesn’t even include Buford Jr who started 11 games last year before being injured against Wisconsin, hoping he can get back sometime this year.

We also have Evan Cooper as our defensive backs coach, who I believe is one of if not the best coaches on our staff. He is Rhule’s go-to guy for recruiting, film watching, and i’m just hoping that he is the kind of guy that is cool with the role he has and doesn’t want to move up. I feel like what makes him great may get lost if he turns into a defensive coordinator, as there’s not enough time in the day to watch as much film as he does and also come up with gameplans.

Let’s get into the players…


Quinton Newsome – Let’s just start right here, Newsome has been a staple on our defense since 2021 where he began starting as only a sophomore. Now a senior, I fully expect him to earn a single digit number and be the leader of our backend. Not a ton to say here, but Newsome is going to be needed to help us solidify things and stop passing attacks.

Malcom Hartzog – If healthy, I believe these are your starting two cornerbacks for the Huskers in 2023. As mentioned, he led our team in INTs last year as a true freshman and started 8 games, the first true freshman to start at corner since Lamar Jackson. He also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown last year. Hartzog gets a little tough to figure out as they have been cross-training him at safety as well. Much like Corcoran on the OL, I think Hartzog is their guy where he can move to either spot if they find another corner they need to get on the field. I believe if Buford struggles to get back, or if Hill starts coming into his own, you could see Hartzog shift back to safety.

Tommi Hill – Hill has been getting heaps of praise this fall camp. Where he struggled in the spring, seems like “the lightbulb has come on” for him in August. If you remember, Hill started two games last year at corner before being removed for Hartzog and switched to WR. He’s back on the defensive side of the ball now. He’s been out a bit this camp with an injury, so if it stays that way I expect Hartzog to stay down at corner, for now.

Ethan Nation – This guys name has came on strong the last week or two, and it’s somewhat a surprise why no one was really talking about him. Nation was ranked the 20th best corner in the country but one recruiting service, but the knock on him is his size. At only 160 pounds he may be in a tough spot with man or press coverage, but he is an absolutely electric player that may see the field on special teams returning kicks or punts as well.

Dwight Bootle II – If the name sounds familiar, it should, as he is the younger brother of Dicaprio Bootle. Not bad pedigree. Bootle is only slightly bigger than Nation, but may not quite be as explosive so a redshirt year would probably do him good.

Tamon Lynum – Tough one for me, as I was high on him a bit when I saw him as a true freshman. But things really haven’t materialized much for him. Cooper has even given him the “I don’t see you on the field much” talk, but he has had a good attitude. Would expect a transfer at the end of the season.


Isaac Gifford – We will start here, as he may be our #1 rover. Gifford is doing everything necessary to be in the good graces of the new staff. Expect a start out of Gifford here, as he has earned one of the sacred single digits from Coach Rhule and the team.

Marques Buford Jr – Buford Jr started 11 games last year for Nebraska before suffering a season-ending knee injury against the Badgers. The coaches have said they are going to take it slow with him, and he’s been out a majority of fall camp still, but if healthy this is another starter for you in the back 5. He was second on the team in interceptions, and he hails from Texas which can only help Rhule and staff with recruiting down there.

Omar Brown – If you remember, Brown came to Nebraska from Northern Iowa with huge expectations as he was a First-Team FCS All-American. But he started slow in 2022, and didn’t make any starts. It seems now he has made some strides and is battling for a starting spot. He has been dealing with a back injury but it doesn’t appear to be prolonged.

Deshon Singleton – If you believe the coaches, this may be one of your 3 starters at safety. A JUCO transfer in 2022, he saw limited action, but he seems to be one of the players that took the new staff as an opportunity rather than a reason to be upset. With what Rhule said recently, you almost have to believe he’s played his way into a starting spot.

Corey Collier – For now, I don’t see a ton from him other than some depth. With minimal experience coming in from Florida, not a ton to know or what to expect. We’ve heard and seen a ton of DBs mentioned this fall, but not a lot on Collier.

Phalen Sanford – A former walk-on, Sanford transferred to Nebraska from Hastings college where he did football and track. He earned a scholarship this year, and has been a staple on special teams for us, which is where I see a majority of his role this year. He can add some depth in tight spots with injury, but we have some really good options currently.

Syncere Safeeullah – A spring enrollee who played with Lenhardt at IMG Academy, he may be a year away from seeing meaningful snaps as well. With that said, I have seen some nice plays from him in a practice or two. He’s long and athletic, but we may have too many upperclassmen options in front of him currently.

Rahmir Stewart – A high profile recruit out of Pennsylvania, he reminds me a bit of Safeeullah in the fact that we just have a lot of options from people that have been around Power 5 football before. That will allow him to take a redshirt year and grow into what he is going to become.

Eric Fields – Besides Lenhardt, Fields is my favorite defensive recruit, but he’s probably the guy i’m most excited to see develop. He committed as a linebacker but they moved him to the DB room as I suspect they have him as the backfill for when Gifford departs. He will absolutely play this year on special teams because he hits like a truck (see below). He may just need some time to learn the defense first. Watch his speed on the first play and the hit on the second:

D’Andre Barnes – Not a lot on him, may be taking a redshirt

Koby Bretz – The former Omaha Westside standout may also be lost in the shuffle a bit. I was extremely high on him out of high school, so i’m hoping he turns it on. Just not a lot of chatter about him.

Javier Morton – I haven’t heard a ton about Morton this fall either, so not a ton of info.

Projected Depth Chart:

I’m sure you all have your eyes going crossed here and are confused. I haven’t done this with other spots but i’ll try and do it here. This is what my projected 2 deep looks like, even though i’m not entirely sure who is playing where and other things. Just going off of what i’ve seen in practice and what coaches are saying:

1 – Quinton Newsome – Sr
2 – Ethan Nation – Fr

1 – Deshon Singleton
2 – Phalen Sanford
Corey Collier

1 – Marques Buford Jr (depending on health)
1 – Omar Brown

1 – Isaac Gifford
2 – Eric Fields

1 – Malcom Hartzog
1 – Tommi Hill


So there you have my best guess… a lot up in the air. And I have to admit, the practices I was at it’s so confusing back there. 5 people playing, some guys like Newsome weren’t even wearing the number they were going to be wearing, and just a ton of new faces and a ton of people gone. I hada tough time keeping them straight. So this is my best guess on top of what coaches have stated.

The first thing i’ll point out is if Buford Jr isn’t ready to go (he basically hasn’t practiced yet), I could absolutely see Rhule/White/Cooper shifting Hartzog to a safety spot and starting Hill. So that’s something to watch. But we have a good mix of upperclassmen as well as talented first-year players. I think they feel very comfortable with starting Brown though, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that Hartzog WILL move.

In my opinion, 4 starters are solidified with Newsome, Gifford, Singleton, and Hartzog. They are trying to figure out who the fifth best is between Tommi Hill and Omar Brown. If it’s Hill, I think you may see Hartzog slide up to a safety spot. If it’s Brown, Hartzog may slide down. Will be very interesting to see how this lands tomorrow when the real depth chart is released.

What is going to be key with this group is physicality and helping in the run game, especially the safeties. Unlike the 3-4, we don’t have 2 OLBs setting the edge right at the line of scrimmage. On the side opposite our JACK/EDGE LB, we more than likely will have a defensive back responsible for that. The other piece of this, is that the backend DBs are responsible for making the DL and LBs “right” in gap fits. If a player in front of them gets “washed” or pushed out of where they are supposed to be, the “backfill” has to make up for that. I expect some growing pains here, as it’s difficult to learn but we also struggled with it the past few years (save 2021).

I’m also very intrigued with what happens with Stenger and Fields. I felt that Fields would be an unbelievable “Lavonte David type” linebacker, and that Stenger would be a staple in our DB field once our upperclassmen were gone. Those two swapped positions. Was it a body type thing? Stenger is listed at 6’2″ 190 pounds and Fields is 6’1″ 195 pounds. Maybe they thought Fields wouldn’t be able to put on weight? Maybe they thought Stenger could be the next Reimer? I trust this staff, so i’m just curious to see how this goes.

We should have plenty of options to be average to good in our secondary this year. While we will lose Quinton Newsome and Omar Brown next year, we will return at minimum 3 starters to our secondary for 2024, very similar to our DL situation. This staff is building for the future for sure.

Join us tomorrow when we have a quick special teams rundown. Monday we will have our lengthy season prediction post!

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14 thoughts on “2023 Preview: Defensive Backs

  1. Yeah want to see what happens with Fields…seemed perfect for a sideline-to-sideline wrecking ball for LB. Can see him doing some good damage at Rover too, could be great at disguised blitzes, but wonder about the coverage aspect, if he has much experience there in that spot?

    Also, thoughts as to what the substitution packages look like in this scheme? Like for obvious passing downs where you’d see Nickel/Dime packages, does rover shift to LB, and we substitute an extra CB for the LB?

    1. Ya, I was pumped for Fields for that exact reason. Thought he could run anything down and blow stuff up, but I trust this staff.

      Ya, we are basically in a nickel right now, from what i’ve seen they may take a DL out and put an extra DB in, if that makes sense.

  2. As usual, you give us such great info!
    One question I have, would be what if newcome or Hartzog goes down and we have Hill and the non-injured one starting, then do you think Nation is the first backup (#3) if another injury occurs?

    1. You know, I was actually thinking that as I put the 2-deep out there. I don’t know if Nation is “first in” if Newsome goes down. I think he is behind Newsome because the staff needs Newsome out there on every down. So it’s a situation where he can be behind him and not be forced into duty. As opposed to the other side where there are two really good guys battling it out, Maybe the other one that doesn’t win the job is “first in” if that makes sense.

      1. It feels like after Newsome and Hartzog, we are really gunna need some young guys to step up. Newsome is gone next yr so we really need depth

      2. I think they have some guys that they believe will be ready, maybe not quite just yet? With a new system I think they are going to rely on “seniority” since those guys know what P5 football is all about while also learning a new scheme? Just speculating.

  3. I thought I heard D’Andre Barnes was moved to WR but could be wrong. He might be bouncing around right now.

  4. While I am not dismissive of Farmer’s having the second most tackles on the team last year, how big of a loss is he really, both of and on the field. Is Farmer’s departure a case of addition by subtraction or am I being one of those Husker fans who are always claiming we are better off without player X.
    This indirectly raises an issue I have been chewing on for a while. Early on in Frost’s tenure, I felt like there was a lot of chatter about how hard he was working and recruiting and that the players were finally going to be held accountable, there would be discipline, etc., etc. I feel like there is nearly the same chatter going on now with Rhule. Is this a fair assessment? If so, why is Rhule going to be different (or why is the current chatter more accurate). You have been around both staffs and/or practices. What is your sense of the overall vibes in the two programs. Keep in mind that what I really want is that everything is great but I will reluctantly accept reality.

    1. As far as accountability, I guess that could look different depending on who you ask. There’s video of him sending teams away for not running to the huddle, etc. You could argue that’s for show/video, but at least there’s glimpses.

      His track record more than anything gives me some assurance we are at least being physical in practice. Everything I’ve heard from prior players and staff is his practices were just really physical and tough. Our QBs were live in the spring game. I feel like there’s at least a track record to fall back on with him as head coach and the standards he held people to.

      1. We are finally practicing football. We didn’t do that before. So missed tackles and gap fitting were huge issues for our defense when we didn’t practice it. Holding on to the ball was difficult for our offense since they didn’t get hit like that during the week.

    2. I didn’t really want to diminish him being the second leading tackler in my post, but with that said, I kind of agree with you. While I wouldn’t say it’s “addition by subtraction”, I think this staff just values athleticism and explosiveness to which Farmer didn’t have a ton of that. I don’t think he would have left if he for sure had a starting job waiting for him (though I think he would have won out in the end).

      The Frost stuff was weird, people thought that automatically it was an upgrade, to which it probably was on the surface. But he didn’t have to work hard to land the 2019 in-state kids recruiting, and he had a ton of momentum from his undefeated UCF team coming in. So his message was easy, it resonated, and didn’t take as many touches. To the accountability piece, I heard that too, but there were stories early about how players weren’t happy with favoritism.

      I agree, same chatter. But what makes me “believe” Rhule is going to get it done, is because there’s just no excuses going on. If you remember, Frost kept saying all the things they needed to change and how bad things had gotten. Rhule acknowledges challenges, but doesn’t look at them as something that will stop them from where they are going.

      In the end, I think Rhule drove some guys out that could have helped us this year, mostly due to the fact he was starting to ask more of them than they had before. Practices are now tougher overall, and it’s a “no mistakes” practice as opposed to “how many reps can we get” practice.

      I think Frost was the perfect hire when we made it, and things got so bad that Rhule is the perfect hire. I can’t go 0 for 2.

  5. Malcom Hartzog was terrific last year as a play-making Corner. I was a little surprised that the coaches are talking about moving him to Safety. He’s listed at 5’10”, 175 lb. Is that big enough to last a season at Safety in the B10?

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