Defense gets boost with bands together

In the past two games, Nebraska’s communication on defense has improved with the help of wristbands, like the one Jonathan Rose was wearing when he came up with an interception against Michigan State.

LINCOLN — It’s not every snap, nor is it based on scenario. But occasionally during the past two games, Nebraska’s defenders have been getting play calls from their wristbands and waistbands.

Look closely at images from wins against Michigan State and Rutgers — there are rectangular play sheets secured to the arm or belt of Husker defenders. Not everyone, but most.

And the results seem to be effective.

In an interview after Tuesday’s practice, defensive coordinator Mark Banker raved about his unit’s improved communication the past two weeks. It’s led to more playmaking on the field, he said.

Did carrying the mini-playbooks help?

In Banker’s mind, it can’t hurt.

For one, the wristbands and waistbands help condense verbose play calls and the corresponding sideline signs. Some of the more complex packages are 10 or more words, Banker said, so the players associate their responsibilities with corresponding numbers to avoid further confusion.

But just because the players look down doesn’t mean they’re blitzing or mixing up coverage.

“We’ll make a base call by using the wristband,” Banker said. “It’s just enough to throw the opposition off so they can’t just bank on what they’re seeing as we signal it in.”

That leads into the other reason for incorporating the play sheets, Banker said. The more predictable NU is, the more tempting it can be for opponents to start analyzing sideline signals.

This was a hot topic in college football earlier this month when Arizona State coach Todd Graham admitted to stealing signs — he presumed his opponents did as well. In a game against the Sun Devils a few days earlier, Oregon used 8-foot white sheets on its sideline as shields.

On the Nebraska sideline, its offense assigns the backup quarterbacks to stand around a signaler. Some teams have decoys.

Now NU’s defense has wristbands.

“Everybody in this conference, from what I understand — and it happens in the Pac-12, too — they spend more time on stealing signals than anything,” Banker said. “As the season’s progressed, we’ve kind of prepared for it, knowing that after awhile, people are going to start passing this stuff around.”

Cornerback Jonathan Rose appeared to convey added confidence as he talked about wearing wristbands after Nebraska’s win over Michigan State.

Said safety Byerson Cockrell: “When we do use it, they don’t know what we’re doing.”

But there have been a few growing pains.

Cockrell said he’s mixed up a call when glancing at his wrist. At times when Michigan State and Rutgers increased the tempo, perhaps going no-huddle, it’s made it more difficult to use the play sheets, Cockrell said.

Overall, though, Cockrell indicated that it has helped keep opponents off balance and helped ensure effective communication.

That’s the goal, Banker said.

From the field, to the sideline, to the press box, Banker said everyone has to be in sync. He likes what he’s witnessed the past two weeks.

The Huskers did give up 38 points and 491 yards to Michigan State — their inability to get the Spartans off the field on third down (MSU converted 8 of 14 tries) was costly. But Banker thought his players were regularly in the proper position to make the necessary plays.

They were able to deliver in important situations against Rutgers, which had just 259 yards and scored both of its touchdowns off turnovers.

“We’re all kind of speaking the same language,” Banker said. “We’re seeing the same things.”

Contact the writer:

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.