LINCOLN — Because of his size and versatility, Nebraska senior Austin Cassidy is somebody who could stay at safety or replace Eric Hagg at the nickel spot on defense.
Cassidy knows both. Can do both. Is OK with both.
So his preference?
“My preference is to be on the field, so that doesn’t matter what I’m doing,” Cassidy said. “I’ll play whatever. Whatever they ask me to.
“I know they’re going to put the 11 best guys out there. If I’m at any one of those positions, it’s encouraging just to be out there.”
Cassidy was listed as the No. 2 nickel behind Hagg from the start of last season through the Holiday Bowl. However, he moved into a starting position at strong safety after seven games and relished the full-time work.
With NU heading into its third spring practice Wednesday, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder knows that it’s too soon to predict how it all shakes out.
“I’m sure it’ll be like spring ball last year, when they kind of mess around and experiment with a couple different things,” Cassidy said. “So I’m sure we’ll do that again, just to test a couple different guys out, test a couple different schemes out, and see how it all works out.”
Hagg was one of the most important pieces on a Husker defense that ranked second in the Big 12 in both yards and points allowed last season. The NFL draft prospect made 49 tackles, intercepted five passes and broke up five others, and both forced and recovered a fumble.
Nebraska had Hagg on the field about 90 percent of the time.
“We already have our ideas about guys who might fit in there,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “But the bottom line is you’ve got to come up with your base first, your 11 best, who you feel best with in each personnel grouping.”
From there, Pelini said, the staff decides who would be good in that nickel role. At nickel and dime, it also considers something like NU did a year ago with DeJon Gomes, who would play safety until the Huskers moved to dime, then slide to that spot and be replaced with a safety.
“It’s just kind of like putting a puzzle together,” Pelini said. “It’ll probably be late in the spring before we figure out exactly what the puzzle is going to look like in the end.”
For now, it’s the least of worries for Cassidy, who said “competition is the most important thing” in spring practice and focus should be on things such as technique and fundamentals.
He earned a Blackshirt for the first time last season and wants another in 2011. But he understands that so do a lot of other players in what Pelini has called perhaps his deepest defensive unit at Nebraska.
“I remember when I wasn’t one of the main guys that I wanted to be one of them so bad,” Cassidy said. “So I know those guys, those younger guys especially, are really gunning for me. It’s just going to help us all as a team.”
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