The Nebraska football team will return to work on Tuesday after taking a week off from spring drills. With the Red-White Game looming on April 15, Mike Riley and his staff have only 20 more days before the curtain lifts on one of the country’s best-attended spring games.
Below is a breakdown of the linebackers that Trent Bray has been working with this spring. You can also check out analysis on the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, and special teams.
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The most experienced returning starter is junior Dedrick Young, who started his first two seasons on campus and is slated to be an inside linebacker. He’ll be joined inside by Chris Weber, who had 17 tackles last season but started games — and played well — in 2015. Dynamic but inconsistent Marcus Newby moves to a true outside linebacker spot in his final year on campus.
CALL FOR BACKUP
In the move to the 3-4, Nebraska has added several outside linebackers who were once defensive ends. The top guy among those players is Alex Davis, who, along with Sedrick King, is battling to be the top boundary outside linebacker. Davis and King played sparingly last season — combining for six total tackles — so they’re being asked to upgrade in a hurry. Ditto for Luke Gifford, now a junior, who’s battling Newby for the field outside linebacker spot. Gifford has bulked up to 235 pounds and looks like a different player. Other backups at outside linebacker include Quayshon Alexander, Ben Stille and Tyrin Ferguson. At inside linebacker are Mohamed Barry, Avery Roberts, Collin Miller, Pernell Jefferson and Greg Simmons. Simmons looks slimmer at 230 pounds. It’s a deep group without much experience — yet.
WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT
Nebraska lost its No. 1 and No. 3 tacklers from last season, Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey. That duo started strong but tailed off a bit by year’s end. Outside of those two, the only significant loss was Brad Simpson, one of NU’s best special teams players. Newcomers include Roberts — a top 100 recruit who’s already on campus and making waves at inside linebacker; outside linebacker Guy Thomas — who will need to gain weight; and likely inside linebackers Willie Hampton and Andrew Ward. Jordan Paup also could play linebacker.
Without a doubt, it’s the outside linebackers, all of whom have new duties, to some extent. Newby and Gifford seem on firmer footing than Davis and King. Since Nebraska switched to a 3-4 defense after 90 percent of the recruiting cycle was over, it will have to make do with what’s on hand, or hope the 200-pound Thomas, who projects well to OLB, gains a lot of weight before he arrives.
» Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and Bray played linebacker in college. Diaco played at Iowa; Bray played at Oregon State.
» Barry speaks four languages — Creole, Fula, Arabic and English.
» NU has as many scholarship linebackers from Florida (Simmons, King and Davis) as it does Nebraska (Weber, Stille and Gifford).