Husker LB coaches say Miller will play multiple spots

July 28, 2018

One week from today, Nebraska will be through its first practice of preseason camp and headlong into preparations for the Scott Frost era’s debut.

What better way to hit the summer’s homestretch than by talking about linebackers? Both position coaches — Jovan Dewitt outside and Barrett Ruud inside — appeared on the Husker Sports Nightly radio program Thursday evening and both had revealing comments about their respective groups as camp approaches.

Perhaps the most newsworthy item is that the staff is challenging redshirt sophomore Collin Miller to play both outside and inside.

Miller, a native of Fishers, Indiana, worked exclusively at outside linebacker over the spring, but he’s going split time going forward.

“He’s such a smart kid that I don’t think it’s going to limit his growth or his potential in what he’s trying to do,” Dewitt said. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, you want me to play both? I’ll play both. I’ll play all four if you want me to.’” For us to get that kind of guy who’s got that kind of buy-in for us, that’s really good and it’s going to be a critical part for us, finding guys who can play more than one spot mentally and physically.”

It’s no small task. Ruud, in discussing his own group, outlined some of the challenges of learning both inside positions, let alone inside and outside. The program’s all-time leading tackler and first-year assistant hasn’t had any on-field instructional time with Miller specifically just yet, but expressed confidence in the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder’s potential.

“When you ask a guy to play multiple spots, he has to have some savvy and some intelligence, and we feel like he has that,” Ruud said. “The body type and the movement set has to be like that, too. You have to be really versatile, have to have enough athleticism to play in space and enough power to take on blocks. We feel like with the combination of his intelligence and his skill-set, he’s a guy who could potentially play four positions for us.”

Miller played more as 2017 went along, earning snaps at outside linebacker late in the season and finishing with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery.

A guy who did not play as much as he would have liked last fall: Tyrin Ferguson. The junior outside linebacker battled turf toe and appeared in just five games.

Dewitt, though, was complimentary of Ferguson’s work throughout the spring and gave a ringing endorsement Thursday.

“Oh gosh, Ferg, with as fluid as the depth chart is right now, he certainly left spring ball, I think all of our guys would agree, as one of our top few guys that we’ve got,” Dewitt said.

Fluid is right. Luke Gifford spent the spring rehabilitating after November hip surgery. The Huskers didn’t know about Breon Dixon’s eligibility status at the time. Caleb Tannor and David Alston hadn’t yet arrived on campus.

Even with a big group at full strength, though, Dewitt has high expectations for Ferguson.

“He’s really athletic out in space, really explosive, plays with a lot of violence and does a great job in the meeting room and learning how to play the position,” Dewitt said. “He attacks the defensive scheme as well as anybody I’ve ever had. He is one of the guys that I’m extremely excited about watching develop throughout the course of the fall.

“I think he’s going to be a great player.”

Dewitt said Tannor “has some unique talents and abilities in terms of being able to rush the quarterback and quick-twitch. … He could be an early-impact player for a lot of different people around the country.

As Steven M. Sipple wrote in a Heat Index entry about inside linebackers earlier this week, Ruud is very high on Dedrick Young. His ability to play both inside spots separates him even from juniors Mohamed Barry and Will Honas.

Ruud called Young his most versatile inside linebacker and added, “He would be the guy I would probably put the most on his plate in terms of making calls, making checks, playing multiple positions. I think he can handle that the best of our group.”

Ruud also said he’s excited to see how Avery Roberts comes out of the spring after Ruud bluntly, publicly challenged the sophomore to have a productive summer.

“He’s a smart and intelligent guy but I didn’t feel like he was in good enough condition to play Big Ten football in all honesty, so I really challenged him this summer not only with strength and conditioning but with his diet. It’s an all-day, 24-7, 365-day-a-year deal now in college football.

“His whole lifestyle I really challenged and I’m excited to see where he comes out.”

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