LINCOLN — Junior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey said he jokingly appealed to his position coach Monday, hoping that a couple of his worst practice moments wouldn’t be dissected in meetings.
Rose-Ivey was kidding around, fully aware of the absurdity of his request.
Assistant Trent Bray doesn’t let anything slide.
Especially not now, with five healthy players battling for in-game reps within a system that places a great deal of responsibility on its linebackers. The second-team walk-through rep in practice now has just as much value as the full-speed first-team rep. There’s no margin for error.
“No one’s sitting back, relaxing in their chair,” Rose-Ivey said. “You never know when your rep’s going to pop up. It’s just another way of keeping you accountable.”
True freshman Dedrick Young and sophomore Marcus Newby have emerged as promising underclassmen. Young, proving to be versatile, didn’t come off the field at Rutgers. Newby had a sack and a forced fumble in that game. Junior Josh Banderas and sophomore Chris Weber each have stood out at various points in the season — they split reps at middle linebacker against the Scarlet Knights. Now Rose-Ivey’s back in the mix as he continues his recovery from nagging injuries.
The unit’s not been perfect this year. The coaches aren’t at all comfortable with the depth at linebacker, either.
But each guy is improving, building confidence and gaining the staff’s trust. The players all can sense it.
Coach Mike Riley complimented the linebackers Monday. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker said last week that their collective performance has allowed him to more confidently use Nebraska’s 4-3 base personnel group — his preference against three-receiver formations on first and second downs.
Playing time at linebacker isn’t based on injury status anymore. They have to prove themselves each time out, which is exactly how they want it.
“Take advantage of your reps,” Rose-Ivey said.
Said Newby: “Once they call the play and your number’s called, you just go out there and have fun.”
They expect to have plenty more chances against Iowa on Friday. They’ve studied the schematic design of the Hawkeyes’ offense, particularly the zone-blocking style of their ground game. They can see the chances for linebackers to impact the game.
You just have to take advantage of those, Rose-Ivey said.
Two years ago against Iowa, Rose-Ivey piled up 16 tackles — four for loss. Linebacker Zaire Anderson finished with 14 stops, a sack and a forced fumble against the Hawkeyes last year.
“Their zone scheme, that’s one of the better schemes for a linebacker to go against,” Rose-Ivey said. “It’s kind of a cat-and-mouse game.”
The linebackers will need to absorb contact and bounce off blockers, all while properly reading the play. One mistake, and you’re toast, according to Rose-Ivey. He thinks Iowa’s that good.
The linebackers are looking forward to the test, though. They know they’ll have plenty of opportunities against the Hawkeyes.
“They’ve been able to, I would say, darn near perfect their scheme,” Rose-Ivey said. “It’s going to be a tough task. You know what they’re going to do. I like that about them. You know what (they’re) going to do. You’ve just got to stop it.”
Contact the writer: