Bill Moos and Greg Austin held up four fingers as they arrived at their final stop Tuesday evening. Fourth quarter. Time to finish strong.
A crowd of about 100 descended upon Spikers, a Gretna sports bar, to listen to Nebraska’s athletic director and offensive line coach, and it was impossible to tell the duo had already visited Falls City, Auburn and Plattsmouth earlier in the day as part of the Husker Nation Tour.
Moos himself raised his booming voice to calm the crowd, then he spoke for nearly half an hour about the paths he and coach Scott Frost took to wind up in Lincoln. A ringing phone at the bar behind him interrupted one story, but the A.D. didn’t miss a beat.
“Get that, will you?” Moos said as the crowd roared. “Tell Kendra I’m not here.”
Moos said in an interview before the speech that he can “play well” with rural crowds in western Nebraska or suburb dwellers. And there he was, talking seriously about last year’s “fracture” in the NU fan base one moment, then joking about Washington State’s first football loss of the season after he took the Nebraska job in October — because “that didn’t happen on my watch.”
The A.D. also weathered some pointed fan questions in a way that had many clapping by the end of his response. One man asked why he should keep paying for season tickets and making donations if Moos favors an eight-team playoff that could render home games less meaningful.
Moos said he liked the optimism and hopes such a situation will be pertinent to Nebraska soon.
“Keep your season tickets,” Moos said, “and let’s win a national championship.”
Another question about how to better engage the next generation of fans led Moos to implore students to attend games from beginning to end and be involved. An amped crowd, he said, could be the difference between wins and losses a couple of times a season.
“Put the phone in your pocket and be engaged,” Moos said to applause.
Austin also warmed up the crowd, talking for 15 minutes about his journey. He came to Nebraska in 2003 from Cypress, Texas, and played four seasons as an offensive lineman, then made multiple stops as a coach in college and the NFL.
One key to success he’s seen every place he has been? Guys want to compete.
“They compete their ass off — butt off, I’m sorry,” he said as heads nodded.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander says Huskers will stop handing out Blackshirts like ‘M&Ms’
Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said Tuesday that he may hold off on giving Blackshirts to players until after the season begins, according to media reports from the Husker Nation tour. Chinander dropped the news at the Fremont stop after being asked by a fan; The World-Herald attended the earlier Wahoo stop for Chinander, but several other media outlets went to Fremont.
According to reports, Chinander talked to former Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, current inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, a former Husker, and other former Blackshirts in his research of the tradition. He said he may hand out some before the season, or none at all until NU has played some games. Chinander said players have to “earn” Blackshirts with their play, their academic performance and their practice work. Some Blackshirts might not even be starters.
“Once we hand out a Blackshirt, that thing can be taken away as fast as you got it,” Chinander said according to media reports. “They’ve got to know that, ‘Listen, you don’t own that Blackshirt. You’re renting that Blackshirt, and rent is due every day, Bub. If you can’t handle it, then you don’t need to be a part of it.’”
Nebraska last waited until the season to hand out Blackshirts under former coach Bo Pelini, who instituted the policy upon his arrival in 2008 and deviated from it in 2013, when he handed out a handful of Blackshirts before the season. That season was notable because the defense’s best player, Randy Gregory, didn’t receive one. Gregory didn’t receive a Blackshirt until Oct. 21, 2014 — halfway through his junior season.
For the past three seasons, Nebraska defensive coordinators Mark Banker and Bob Diaco handed them out before the season, citing tradition. Last season, Diaco handed out 16 before the year. On Tuesday, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher, according to media reports, said Chinander told him NU had been handing out Blackshirts like “M&Ms” before their arrival.
Nebraska’s veteran corners must improve with pressure from newcomers, Travis Fisher says
WAHOO, Neb. — In the quiet and mostly empty clubhouse of Hilltop Country Club Tuesday morning, Travis Fisher balled up his fist and tapped the chest of his black polo.
Nebraska’s secondary coach didn’t have to say the word “heart,” but there wasn’t any doubt what he meant. And it’s what he wants from NU’s defensive backs — particularly the cornerbacks. He knows eyeballs will be on the defenders who struggled most in 2017. His eyeballs are on them, too. He wants them to play with the kind of toughness and technique that will allow defensive coordinator Erik Chinander to be as aggressive with his schemes as he likes to be.
Lamar Jackson, Eric Lee and Dicaprio Bootle — the three corners who started for Nebraska but had a combined zero interceptions — are thus on notice. Get better, or Fisher’s playing the freshmen. He met Monday night with the entire secondary to drill home the message.
“They’re not here to wait and they’re not here to sit around and they’re not here to be babysat. They’re here to take over this deal,” Fisher said of freshman defensive backs Cam Taylor, Cam’ron Jones, CJ Smith and Braxton Clark. “They’re expected to play this year. I wanted the older guys to hear that. I also wanted the older guys to hear, ‘It’s not your job to give that spot up.’ Let’s make this deal competitive.”
Over 15 minutes, Fisher was candid about the progress and status of his defensive backs, who gave up a Big Ten-worst 7.3 yards per pass attempt last season.
Fisher said he’ll continue to challenge Jackson, Lee and Bootle. Lee, for example, “set himself back in the spring” and “felt like he had to question the love for the game a little bit.”
“The three guys that played corner last year … those guys need work,” Fisher said.
He tapped his heart.
“You work your butt off, if you don’t have it in here, when the lights comes on, it won’t show,” Fisher said. “Sometimes you can get a younger guy, maybe like a Cam Taylor, who has a whole bunch of (tapped his heart), he don’t really have the knowledge that Lamar would have, and we’d rather roll with that guy. Because you know that guy’s going to give you everything he got. He’s not going to shy away from tackles. He’s going to compete. Those are issues. The good thing is, now you have guys to push guys. That’s when it really starts.”
Chinander sang Fisher’s praises at the Wahoo stop of the Husker Nation Tour. When Chinander followed his friend and boss, Scott Frost, to Central Florida, the plan had been to “clean house” on the remaining UCF coaching staff. But Chinander heard too many good things about Fisher from players, boosters and other coaches.
“He knows how to coach technique better than anybody in the country,” Chinander said. “We’re very lucky — I’m very lucky — to have him as part of the staff.”
Fisher, who played eight seasons in the NFL, is a stickler for good technique, but he also wants the right attitude — an understanding of why guys want to play and a strong grasp on why they love the game.
Jackson — the top-rated prospect in NU’s 2016 recruiting class — was among the players who “came a ways” in spring practice.
“He’s not there yet,” Fisher said. “He’s still going back and forth with some of the things he did last year. He’s inconsistent, but at least he shows it. He’s not just a blank body out there. He actually has potential.”
Ditto for safety Antonio Reed. Reed “is not mentally there” yet, but physically, Fisher said, “he can do probably as much as any safety in the country.”
“I’ve got to keep grinding him, grinding him, stay on top of him, don’t let my foot off him,” Fisher said. “He’ll be a good one.”
Fisher said Aaron Williams had shoulder surgery but will be ready for preseason practice. Hybrid corner/safety Deontai Williams from Jones County (Miss.) Junior College is probably the best overall athlete among the defensive backs. Marquel Dismuke is a “late bloomer” whose body doesn’t look like he’s been at Nebraska two seasons. That will get corrected, Fisher said, during strength and conditioning sessions in the summer. Like most defensive backs, Fisher said, Dismuke is not an “80-, 90-rep” guy.
And Fisher fully expects Nebraska’s defense to face that many offensive plays at times this season. Frost’s spread, no-huddle, fast-paced offense puts a defense on the field more than most, so Fisher wants to rotate his defensive backs often. He barely has enough depth for one unit. He wants to have two solid groups.
“I’m going to need more than just a starting four or starting five,” Fisher said. “I’m going to need eight guys to rotate in a game. That’s how I had it at UCF. Those second-string guys are first-string guys. That’s why I try to make it so competitive in the room at all times.”
Tight ends coach Sean Beckton says Florida would not take whole staff
Nebraska tight ends coach Sean Beckton dropped an interesting piece of information in Blair, divulging that Scott Frost was in fact offered the coaching job at Florida. But, according to Beckton, Florida would not have allowed Frost to bring his entire UCF staff. So Frost said no.
Beckton said the entire UCF coaching staff was “pretty involved” during the final few weeks of the season in the decision to come to Nebraska. Beckton said there was a meeting in which Frost asked the entire staff who would join him in Nebraska, and all the coaches went around and, as Beckton said, “committed.”
Chinander praises local players
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander had fans’ heads nodding through much of the Husker Nation Tour event in Wahoo as he described the ethos of his defense and recruiting in the Midwest. Local players’ ceilings are higher, Chinander said, because they’re often not concentrating on one sport and are working jobs in the summer instead of working with personal trainers.
“When it’s knee-high by the Fourth of July, I was going to be out there detasseling,” said Chinander, who is from Iowa. “And throwing bales. And that’s what these kids are doing. They’re not with a personal trainer. Let’s not get crazy here. They’re out workin’.”
Moos: NU looks to grow roster
Athletic Director Bill Moos said the football roster is holding at about 135 right now, but NU is looking at options to expand it in the next couple of years. That could include adding another women’s sport to remain compliant with Title IX or trimming numbers from another men’s sport.
Enough training space for now
With growing rosters, Moos said NU doesn’t want to get to a point that athletes lack the space to train. But any expansions or renovations to the weight room are still theoretical.
“We’ve got good weight-training facilities as they are,” Moos said. “But we’re always looking. We’ve got several things on the board that we’re just considering at this point.”
Frost’s idea to play old rivals
Frost was the one who suggested to Moos that the Huskers should look into scheduling former conference rivals such as Kansas and Kansas State. Moos said he would like home-and-home series with many of NU’s old enemies because of driving distance for fans. It doesn’t hurt that Colorado (Pac-12), Missouri (SEC) and Kansas/KSU (Big 12) would give Nebraska exposure in other leagues.
Success across all sports
Moos said he follows the Directors’ Cup standings — “I keep an eye on that pretty close” — for gauging Nebraska’s status on the national landscape. Nebraska ranked 40th as of June 7, and Moos would earn a bonus of $100,000 if the university cracks the top 30, with additional payouts for 25th, 20th and 15th.
Would he keep the bonus money or disseminate it among his staff?
“I haven’t got it yet,” Moos said. “But that’s not the reason I’m watching this.”
Domann getting close
Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said sophomore safety JoJo Domann expects to be cleared to start running again and begin more intensive work with the strength and conditioning staff. Fisher wants Domann to be smart and slow about his return.
“I may keep him out of some of the bangin’ in the beginning (of camp),” Fisher said. “We need JoJo for the long run, not just the beginning of camp. JoJo wants to come back. I want him for the long run than just one or two games.”
Bits and pieces
» Chinander said he’ll be an on-field defensive coordinator, partly in reaction to the NCAA’s new “20 headsets” rule that limits the number of headsets coaches and players can wear during a game.
» Sophomore tight end David Engelhaupt from Norfolk is not with the program. Beckton said he’s been on the recruiting trail the past few weeks, and when he returned to Lincoln he found out Engelhaupt wasn’t with the team anymore. Beckton said he hasn’t had time to look into it yet, but he will over the next few days to figure out if Engelhaupt will return .
» Jack Stoll is the front-runner to start at tight end, Beckton said. Stoll has received the go-ahead to run meetings and workouts this summer for the tight ends. The rest of the depth chart, Beckton said, goes redshirt freshman Kurt Rafdal and then redshirt freshman Austin Allen. Engelhaupt would be fourth.