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Steven M. Sipple: Chinander tells why size matters on ‘D’; pass-rush talk; and flood of prayers

March 17, 2019

Things I know, and things I think I know:

Although he’s in his second year as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator, we’re still learning Erik Chinander’s philosophies about coaching.

One of his philosophies jibes with something I’ve long deemed important: Give me a bunch of dudes 6-foot-3 and taller coming off the bus.

Strength obviously matters in football, he said. But in many cases, so does height.

“People always say they love length, but I don’t think they always realize why,” Chinander said before providing an excellent explanation.

“When your playing radius is really big, you’re decreasing your chance of error by a lot. I mean, by a lot, lot. Especially with all the spread teams out there. Especially those guys on the edge (outside linebackers) and guys on the defensive line -- when they can touch the wall from here, that’s a big edge to be set,” he said while sitting about 12 feet from the nearest wall.

“Those tiny little short guys, you don’t want me out there. I want really long and tall guys.”

Of the 26 scholarship players in Nebraska’s class of 2019, 16 are 6-foot-3 or taller. The shortest defensive lineman/outside linebacker is 6-foot-3 Garrett Nelson of Scottsbluff. Two of the defensive backs in the class, Myles Farmer and Javin Wright, measure 6-foot-3.

Nebraska still needs more height and length at the receiver positions, although I understand that receivers the caliber of, say, Maurice Purify (6-4, 220) are difficult to lure to Lincoln. He made 57 catches for 814 yards and nine touchdowns in 2007. He ran well after a catch -- covered a lot of ground with his strides.

Think about Adrian Martinez throwing to Purify. Wow.

* Purify, a native of Eureka, California, was making small talk with reporters on a snowy day in Lincoln in 2006 when, wearing a wry smile, he told the group that he thought snow came up from the ground. No cheering in the press box, I know, but there are few Husker players I enjoyed watching more than Purify.

He also has a wonderful dry sense of humor.

* Chinander, when asked which Husker defenders are most likely to bring heat in the pass rush in 2019, reeled off three outside linebackers: seniors Alex Davis and Tyrin Ferguson and sophomore Caleb Tannor.

Davis and Ferguson both have recorded one sack in college. Tannor recorded one in 12 games last season. He missed practice last week because of injury.

Someone in that group is going to have to step up in a big way.

Don’t forget junior JoJo Domann, who has shown he can bring heat off the edge. The 6-1, 230-pounder obviously can play multiple positions.

“He had about two years where he wasn’t lifting weights (because of injuries),” Chinander said. “Now he’s on full feed and full lift and he’s continuing to grow and grow. I think he’ll get even stronger and more physical.”

Full feed. What a term. I think the racehorse trainer for whom I used to work, Danny Coughlin of Sioux City, Iowa, used to say that. I don’t think I had ever heard a coach say it until Chinander did. Love it.

* A week ago in this space, I mentioned a bygone era when Nebraska offensive linemen often waited two years or more before they sniffed meaningful playing time.

To this day, it’s difficult for true freshman linemen to make a sizable impact early in their careers, even if they are 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, as is the case with Nebraska rookie defender Brant Banks.

“His upside is tremendous, but he has a ways to go,” Chinander said. “Usually with those real big d-linemen, it takes them a little bit of time to get used to (the college game). Big o-linemen and big d-linemen, I think those are the hardest spots to play when you enroll in school early.

“With corners and receivers, you can jump out there in practice and take the top off of a defense or you can cover somebody man-to-man and everybody says, ’Yay, he looks really great!”

But think about a true freshman offensive lineman lining up across from, say, Khalil Davis, who turns 23 in August. Few high school linemen encounter 6-2, 315-pound athletes with Davis’ level of athletic prowess.

Check out pregame warmups when Big Ten teams come to town. I swear some linemen have specks of gray in their hair and mortgages to pay.

* I don’t think I would’ve recognized Jovan Dewitt last week unless someone told me it was him. The reality of the Nebraska assistant coach’s battle with a form of throat cancer hit home hard as he met with reporters. Make no mistake, this will be an emotional spring in the program as Dewitt continues his fight. Yes, cancer sucks.

On the bright side, cancer has a way of making small things in life (warm sun) seem even more beautiful while simultaneously bringing a dose of perspective to some things we take very seriously (spring football).

* Regarding widespread flooding in our state, this from Fremont Fred via Twitter: “Really cool 2 see people come together tho. While we were Baggin’ 2 save the south end of town there were peeps from all over. Spoke 2 a young kid from Winslow that lost everything & he said ‘couldn’t save all of our stuff so thought I’d come help you guys save yours’ Choked me up.” Right there with you, Fred.

Sending out a flood of prayers to all affected.

* Wonder if Michigan sharp-shooter Ignas Brazdeikis has seen a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas. He blows kisses to the crowd after making three-pointers. It’s sort of bizarre. He had to pick it up from somewhere.