In every position group, it’s important to have a leader who sets the standard for the rest of the room.
At Nebraska's EDGE position, there are two of them — Caleb Tannor and Garrett Nelson.
During a Monday night appearance on “Sports Nightly,” Nebraska defensive line/edge rushers coach Mike Dawson identified Tannor and Nelson as the trendsetters in his room.
It’s not much of a surprise, considering the duo totaled 17 tackles for loss and seven sacks a year ago. But, there’s still plenty of work for those two veterans to accomplish this fall.
“With both of them, it’s about continuing to progress,” Dawson said. “Garrett’s body is continuing to grow and mature; he came from playing as a freshman undersized, where now I’d think pound-for-pound he’ll be as strong as most of the guys in the league. He’s got to understand that we need the production.”
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While Nelson’s growth has been in a physical sense, Dawson said Tannor has come along with the mental side. Tannor is growing more familiar with the EDGE position, and attacking different types of blocking schemes will help the senior make more plays this season, Dawson said.
Nelson and Tannor’s work ethic has already rubbed off on redshirt freshmen Jimari Butler and Blaise Gunnerson, who Dawson said have been standout performers in the offseason training program.
“They’ve gotten to train under Garrett and Caleb for the last two years and see what it really means to work,” Dawson said. “That’s why you saw such a big jump from those guys from two springs ago to being out there in the spring game this past year.
“Those guys changed their bodies; you see them working out with no shirt on and you go, ‘Whoa, those guys look like the Adidas mannequins over there.’”
In addition to growth from NU’s returning contributors, junior Ochaun Mathis will be counted on for production immediately. Mathis recorded 25 1/2 sacks in the last three seasons at TCU and has quickly become a regular part of the room.
That was an initial concern for Dawson — would his veteran leaders be able to add another experienced, vocal player into the mix? Those worries soon faded.
“He’s (Mathis) a great guy, he’s got great maturity, he’s fit into the room really well and the guys embraced him, which is important to me,” Dawson said.
Dawson also offered a positive assessment of Lincoln Southeast graduate Jake Appleget, a player who joined the program this summer. A second-team Super-State selection at Southeast in 2021, Appleget played at 205 pounds in his senior year of high school.
From when he last saw the in-state talent at a team camp last summer, Dawson said Appleget had added 20 pounds of good weight to bulk up for the position and is “picking up the defense quickly.”
With Nebraska looking to run four-man fronts for the bulk of the team’s defensive packages, depth at edge rusher will be important for fresh legs throughout games. Whether it’s his veterans or newcomers, Dawson has made a point of it — the production must come this fall.
“Figuring out different ways to get creative with all those guys is something that coach Chinander and I have to do a great job with,” Dawson said. “These guys are really looking forward to playing with each other.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or at LMullin@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LjsLuke