LINCOLN — Joshua Kalu didn’t play safety at Nebraska until spring camp. For one season under coach Bo Pelini and two under former defensive coordinator Mark Banker, he was a steady-if-unspectacular cornerback whose best accolade was an honorable mention All-Big Ten nod in 2015.
New defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is so certain Kalu has found the right position at safety that, after Tuesday’s practice, the coach offered rare, major praise.
“He would be a very, very good corner, maybe even a great corner, but in my mind there’s no doubt: He is and/or will be one of the best safeties in the country, if not the very best safety in the country,” Diaco said.
So the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Kalu isn’t moving from the spot, even though NU’s best cornerback, Chris Jones, is out for at least two months — and perhaps the whole season — after knee surgery. NU will go with two sophomores — Lamar Jackson and Eric Lee — at cornerback.
They’ve combined for two starts. Kalu has 28 starts at corner and five career interceptions.
But Diaco noted that Kalu’s size, speed and instincts are a “natural” fit for safety. Diaco’s defense also asks a lot of its safeties, so even though NU has two safeties who have started games — Antonio Reed and Kieron Williams — Kalu jumped ahead of them and will stay at his new spot.
“The safeties are really premier positions in our defense,” Diaco said. “So in our defensive system, it’s a big, big deal to have great safety play.”
When safeties talk in Diaco’s system, their teammates have to listen. Kalu is a “demonstrative” communicator, Diaco said.
Kalu’s new position coach, Scott Booker, agreed.
“He’s a natural-born leader,” Booker said. “He’s a guy that guys follow. And, as a senior, you see guys with that urgency. ... He’s making sure whatever needs to be said doesn’t go unsaid.”
As Kalu remains at safety, it means Jackson, Lee and Dicaprio Bootle have to come along quickly. Another player to watch may be Creighton Prep walk-on Jeremiah Stovall, who worked with the No. 2 defense on Sunday.
Jackson was the highest-ranked recruit in NU’s 2016 class. Lee was the highest-ranked recruit in NU’s 2015 class.
“Chris defended almost 500 passes last year,” Diaco said. “I’m not sure how many Lamar (defended) or Eric or Dicaprio Bootle or any of those guys. But they’re confident, they’re excited, they’re trying hard and we’re going to have ultimate faith in them. It’s going to be fun. Next man in.”
Is Joshua Kalu more valuable to the Huskers as a cornerback or a safety?
Joshua Kalu earned high praise from defensive coordinator Bob Diaco after Tuesday's practice and will likely be staying at safety after practicing at the position in spring camp. Is safety Joshua Kalu's most valuable position?