LINCOLN — Two rising underclassmen and an offseason transfer are the early highlights of Nebraska’s inside linebacker group this spring.
With senior Will Honas limited following offseason groin surgery and former team captain Collin Miller retired, the themes of spring have been evolving and acclimating, inside ‘backers coach Barrett Ruud said Wednesday.
The addition of Northern Iowa transfer Chris Kolarevic continues to benefit the Huskers, Ruud said. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, the junior has proven to be a “pretty well-developed guy” and a “ready-made product” both physically and with his football instincts. All of it mitigates his adjustment to the speed of Power Five football.
Meanwhile, a pair of third-year linebackers from within the state are traveling different paths to similar roles. Nick Henrich is settling in following a heralded recruiting process and two seasons battling injuries. Luke Reimer is continuing his rise from walk-on to key contributor after making 40 tackles last fall.
With Henrich, Ruud said keeping the Omaha Burke product healthy is job No. 1. Then it’s been about adding muscle to his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame.
“He’s a natural football player,” Ruud said. “Really intelligent, great football movements. He’s going to make a big jump from his first year starting to this year.”
Reimer completed a strong winter of conditioning to become bigger and faster, Ruud said. The sophomore from Lincoln North Star is confident, he said, and is well beyond a walk-on trying to prove himself.
“Luke can be as good as he absolutely wants to be,” Ruud said. “And I think he could potentially play football when he’s done here.”
Ruud said Honas will be limited this spring in order to be full speed not only for games in the fall but also for practices during the season.
Reimer wants to 'play fast,' add knowledge
Reimer is in the heat of competition to earn a spot at the top of Ruud's position group during spring practice.
He said the competition in the room has increased with the addition of Kolarevic. He said that Kolarevic has "played a lot of football" and is a "really good player" with good habits such as taking care of his body.
Reimer made his first career start against Northwestern last season and recorded 10 tackles. He earned a career-high 12 tackles against Illinois, including 11 solo tackles. In total, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker made five starts in 2020 but said he needs to continue perfecting his game.
"During the Northwestern game, they kind of just threw me in there," Reimer said. "I was just running around and I played OK but there were some mistakes and things I needed to clean up."
After a year of experience at linebacker under his belt, Reimer is adding knowledge of the defense to improve his game.
"Once you understand the defense, you can fly around and be fast in the right position," Reimer said. "So that's just the whole goal — getting better. Understanding the defense, understanding what the offense is trying to do in specific formations. Being able to play fast and know what you're doing."
With Honas limited, it leaves room for players like Reimer and Henrich to get more reps.
"Nick's playing a lot right now and is staying healthy,” Reimer said. "He's getting a lot of good reps right now and is playing really well."
Reimer said he feels Nebraska's defense will continue to grow and improve with multiple returning seniors, especially in the linebacker room.
"It's definitely a strength on our team," Reimer said. "Especially given we have guys like JoJo (Domann), Will Honas is back. We have a lot of good players at that outside/inside position. So I think we're going to be a really good group."
Rogers will keep working for Blackshirt
Casey Rogers had 25 tackles last season — five more than Damion Daniels and eight more than Ty Robinson. Rogers started a game, too.
But he did not get a Blackshirt from defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. Among defensive linemen, only Robinson, Daniels and Ben Stille did.
“It’s all up to Coach Chinander,” Rogers said. “I’m just going to work my tail off every day. There’s really nothing I can do other than work as hard as I can. A Blackshirt would mean the world to me, but it’s not going to stop me, once I get it, from working as hard as I can.”
NU defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said Rogers, from Syracuse, New York, has improved his game this spring. He’s getting more reps in part because Stille, a sixth-year senior, is sitting out the spring while recovering from surgery.
“It gives Stille a different way,” Tuioti said. “He’s doing a great job of meeting with the guys, watching extra film outside of my meetings. He’s doing a great job with that. Guys like Ty (Robinson) can get more reps, Casey can get more reps. There’s already not enough reps to go around for everybody, especially in spring ball.”
Tuioti said Stille was going to be “on the shelf” in spring camp even if he had been healthy.