With spring ball squarely in the rearview mirror, Nebraska rolls into the summer having answered some questions over the course of its 15 spring practices and with some still remaining. The Journal Star is looking at each position to recap what's been learned, what hasn't and who stood out this spring.
Today, we look at Mike Dawson’s outside linebacker group.
Today: Outside linebacker
Wednesday: Inside linebacker
Saturday: Defensive depth chart projection
What we learned
Nebraska’s rotation coming out of spring ball projects to look similar to the 2020 season, which makes sense given every player returned to the group. JoJo Domann was limited during spring ball, but he will be the anchor and likely joined at various points by Garrett Nelson, Caleb Tannor and Pheldarius Payne.
What we didn’t
Whether the group can functionally go any deeper than that. There are a bunch of candidates, from veteran Damian Jackson to younger players such as Blaise Gunnerson and Jimari Butler, or the heirs apparent to the Domann spot in Javin Wright and Isaac Gifford.
The best bet for the group in that regard might just be Payne, who played hard and showed a bit of a knack for it despite playing “like a robot.” His 2020 was as disjointed as anybody's on the team. A full offseason, a trimmer figure and some confidence could go a long way. He had a good spring and said along the way that he feels like he’s in a much better spot than last fall.
There are a few candidates (Payne could have been in either spot here), but let’s go with Wright. He seems to have a little clarity about his position going forward, and it’s the Sam/nickel spot Domann plays. The roles might be slightly different because the skill sets are slightly different, but Wright has all kinds of potential at 6-foot-4 and 210. He didn’t play in the spring game and likely won’t be a starter right away (or potentially at all) in 2021, but one of the highlights of the open portions of spring ball was the twisting one-handed interception he made deep down the field on April 17.
Summer to-do list
Dawson’s group has more answers than it did at this time a year ago, but questions remain. Can Gunnerson or Butler build on a healthy spring and make a run at real rotation snaps this summer? Is there a six- to eight-sack player in the group? Will Wright and/or Gifford be ready to help spell Domann so that he isn't asked to play every single snap as he did a year ago during a shortened season?
— Parker Gabriel