Husker notes: 'Grown men' on Nebraska's defense; Eric Lee moves to safety

Eric Lee has moved from corner to safety this spring. “It forces me to keep thinking on every play. It’s like a puzzle trying to get everyone lined up together,” Lee said.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s defense may be ahead of schedule after this spring, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said.

“I don’t think we’re ready yet to go play in a College Football Playoff right now, but I’m pleased with where we’re at,” Chinander said.

Maturity and good leadership, Chinander said, personifies NU’s defense. Graduate transfer Darrion Daniels, who plays nose tackle, has been a “grown up” for the defense.

“He was a huge addition to our team,” Chinander said. “Regardless of age, it feels like we’re coaching grown men this year.”

New position for Eric Lee

After spending nearly every snap since 2015 at corner, senior Eric Lee has moved to safety.

He loves it.

“I love coming down there with the big uglies, bumping down into the lineman, coming down, making tackles,” Lee said.

In Chinander’s defense — like most defenses — the safeties are the quarterbacks of the Blackshirts. So Lee said he’s still getting used to putting the 10 other guys on the field in the right spots and trying to remember where he’s getting help on certain coverages.

“It forces me to keep thinking on every play. It’s like a puzzle trying to get everyone lined up together,” Lee said.

But he’s enduring it, and accepting it, in part because Lee really hasn’t seen the field a lot in recent years. He appeared in six games as a sophomore and nine as a junior. He started in 2018, but only after Lamar Jackson’s benching. Jackson won the spot back two weeks later.

The safety positions are not that deep, and Lee said he wants to open up his options.

“The more versatile you are, the more opportunity you have to play," Lee said. "So I'm just trying to expand my package.”

'I'll do anything'

Cam Taylor plays everything.

The corner/nickelback/safety will be all over the field during the spring game Saturday, and likely in the fall, too.

“Coach doesn’t know where to put me right now,” Taylor said. “And I told him, ‘I’ll do anything that’s best for the team.’ So he knows I wanna play defense and make big plays, and he’s gonna put me on the field to make those plays.”

Taylor, a sophomore, found a role in the nickel spot last year. He said he’s significantly more comfortable with the defense as a whole thanks to 1-on-1 sessions with defensive backs coach Travis Fisher this offseason.

“I’d come in for treatment, go right upstairs and stay in the office with Coach just to talk sometimes or watch film,” Taylor said. “He tells me things that he doesn’t get to express to us as a whole in the meeting room, so I get some 1-on-1 time with him, so that really helped in this offseason and coming into the spring.”

Taylor said he’s playing faster and thinking less.

“I’d say it was a good spring there, got in there, I was very comfortable, I didn’t have any problems, so playing full speed, not slow because I’m confused,” Taylor said. “Playing fast like college football is supposed to be.”

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Quick hits

» Frost said NU’s team grade-point average was over 3.0 for the first semester — the highest since Husker football began tracking it.

» The Huskers will hit the road recruiting Monday, as the NCAA’s contact period begins April 15. NU is allotted 168 evaluation days — spread among all of its assistant coaches — between April 15 and May 31.

» Though NU’s overall head count of football personnel has not changed, Nebraska has rearranged some duties and brought new personnel aboard.

Jessica Stinger, who previously worked at Middle Tennessee State, has now become the Huskers’ Director of On-Campus Recruiting. Orah Garst, who previously worked at Baylor, has become Nebraska’s Director of Football Creative and Engagement.

Former Oregon outside linebacker Tony Washington has become a graduate assistant for NU’s defensive line. Washington, a starter on Oregon’s College Football Playoff team, played briefly in the NFL.

» Nebraska defensive line coach Tony Tuioti asked if the concession stands will be open at the spring game because he wants a red hot dog. He’s already had a Runza — Frost told him to get one upon arriving in Lincoln. Tuioti liked the swiss mushroom Runza.

» Three offensive assistant coaches from Cal were at Nebraska practice Wednesday: offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, O-line coach Steve Greatwood and receivers coach Burl Toler. Tuioti worked with all three at Cal last year before joining the Huskers. Greatwood and Frost were on the same staff at Oregon in the early 2010s.

"During the offseason everyone tries to get some professional development in," Tuioti said. "So they're out here just trying to pick up some nuggets and see what we do. It's a good time to share information, especially on the offensive side."

» Tuioti said quarterback Adrian Martinez broke loose for a run of "at least 70-80 yards" during a scrimmage portion of practice.

» Defensive linemen playing at a high level include Darrion Daniels, Khalil Davis, Carlos Davis and Deontre Thomas, Tuioti said. That means they are attacking and producing consistently.

If he sees someone who doesn't rally to the ball?

"He can't play for the Blackshirts," Tuioti said.

» Fisher was asked about Martinez, with the reporter acknowledging Martinez wasn't in his position group.

"What do you mean that's not my guy?" Fisher said with a smile. "That's my guy. That's my guy. That's everybody's guy."

» Of the incoming true freshmen this summer, Fisher said those beginning at cornerback will be Noa Pola-Gates, Myles Farmer and Quinton Newsome.

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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