Travis Fisher doesn’t want a complacent group of defenders in the secondary. The past few months tell him that won’t be a problem.
The Nebraska defensive backs coach gushed about most of the 14 scholarship players in his room Monday on the Huskers Radio Network. The position has depth — it lost only cornerback Dicaprio Bootle in the offseason — and perhaps more game-ready players than anywhere else on the team.
Returning starters are setting the tone in cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and safeties Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke, Fisher said. Coach Scott Frost has called Taylor-Britt the team’s best player after the junior turned down the NFL for another year of working on his technique and physicality, which were already strengths for the Alabama product.
Williams and Dismuke — both multiyear starters set for their sixth seasons of college football — are also leaders among the team at large. Williams in particular acts like the adult he is after graduating more than a year ago, Fisher said.
“Everything about Deontai is pro, from the way he carries himself around the building to the way he watches film,” Fisher said. “He has a kid, and he’s in here at night, the nights that he can (be) and he tries to be here every night. He’s not a partier around town (and is) a captain of the team. He runs the DB room.”
Third-year redshirt freshman Myles Farmer is also a safety starter in Fisher’s eyes. The defender suffered a freak ankle injury before the Purdue game in December but didn’t miss any time during spring ball and shed his limp less than two weeks into those practices. He will be good to go when fall camp begins next week.
Another class of 2019 safety, Noa Pola-Gates, has learned the playbook and become a vocal defender as well, Fisher said, adding “it’s only a matter of time for Noa to take this thing over.” The Arizona product is no longer homesick and would have an even larger role this year had the pandemic not given Williams and Dismuke the option to return.
“The difference between those first two guys and those second two guys (Farmer and Pola-Gates) is honestly just a mistake here and there,” Fisher said. “And I think this year in camp those mistakes disappear.”
The battle for the open corner spot opposite Taylor-Britt also continues. Fisher called sophomore Quinton Newsome a “young Dicaprio Bootle” for how quickly he’s learned the position and graded his performance a B by the end of the spring. Challenging him is classmate Braxton Clark, who missed the spring with a shoulder injury but is fully healthy now.
Other options lurk as well. Second-year freshman Tamon Lynum might be the No. 3 corner right now if a nagging hamstring injury hadn’t limited him in the offseason. He should be close to 100% by August, Fisher said. Meanwhile, touted junior college transfer Nadab Joseph is an “all-around freak” physically and is also near full health after a hamstring frustrated him in the spring.
“His body look like you drew it up, muscles popping out everywhere,” Fisher said of Joseph. “The struggle with him was learning the playbook at first, but now he’s starting to pick it up.”
Among the newcomers, Fisher said, freshman Marques Buford looks like he could return sometime this season from an ACL injury suffered on his first play in Lincoln in the spring. Fellow frosh Malik Williams arrived this summer “looking like a track star,” while Ohio State transfer Tyreke Johnson offers position flexibility — and competition.
“A lot of people may think he’s a safety; I think he’s a corner,” Fisher said. “Just by having those opinions about him right there, I think that’s good for us because I cross-train these guys anyway. ... He’s going to heat it up in the room extremely.”