Steven M. Sipple: Barry speaks mind as a leader; Duval brings heat; and Suh gets a playoff ‘W’

January 14, 2019

Things I know, and things I think I know:

The Nebraska football team’s in the midst of winter conditioning. It’s a critical period as second-year Husker head coach Scott Frost continues to build his program in the mold he desires.

Work habits are being formed, and leaders are emerging. Or some are simply solidifying their status in that regard.

Senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry comes to mind as an example of the latter.

“He’s one of those guys who isn’t afraid to get after you if he thinks you’re not doing things right,” said Nebraska 2018 team captain Mick Stoltenberg, who just completed his eligibility. “Some guys weren’t as receptive to it at first, and he didn’t care. If he had an opinion about you, he was going to tell you.”

Let’s face it, we all need to be pushed sometimes. We all need to hear the news if we’re coming up short in certain areas of our life.

“I think that’s what the guys are trying to learn and starting to learn,” Stoltenberg said. “If someone goes after you or tries to correct you, it’s not because they hate you or they don’t think you’re adequate. It’s because they see the potential in you and have your best interests in mind. Mo’s one of those guys who I think is going to be a lot more vocal this coming season.”

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Barry, of Grayson, Georgia, is a favorite among media that cover Nebraska football because he is thoughtful and available for interviews in good times and bad. He led the team in tackles in 2018 with 112, 29 more than the nearest defender in that category. But he missed 17 tackles, more than any Big Ten linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus statistics tabulated by HuskerOnline.com.

My guess is Barry won’t miss nearly as many tackles in 2019. He takes pride in the way he plays. He’ll improve.

He’s an example of why I believe in the importance of leaders who aren’t formally designated as such. He helped lead the team last season even though he wasn’t one of four official captains. He won’t need a captain designation in the coming season to be a leader, although I’m guessing he’ll be elected.

Junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle also strikes me as captain material, in part because of his obvious maturity and in part because of his reliability: He played more defensive snaps than any Big Ten defender this past season. He’s also a shining example of a player who made easily discernible development in the first year of Frost’s program.

Meanwhile, Stoltenberg did nothing to detract from the notion of quarterback Adrian Martinez being captain material even though it’s only his second year in the program.

“It’s insane to see a freshman in college, an 18-year-old, go out there and perform the way he did after the crazy amount of stress we had early in the season,” said Stoltenberg, referring to Nebraska’s 0-6 start. “I think he got better each and every week. The way he commanded the huddle at 18, I could see him taking the (leadership) reins.

“He’s a special kid — not just with his ability and talent, but with his attitude, his approach to work and the way he handles and brings together a team.”

All that will be critical come fall. Come to think of it, it’s critical this winter.

* According to Pro Football Focus stats, 22 defensive linemen in the Big Ten played at least 424 snaps this season. Of the 22, Nebraska’s highest-graded player was junior Carlos Davis at No. 13. He was graded the 16th-best run-stopper — the Huskers’ highest-graded down lineman in that category. That’s not good enough.

Year two in the system should help matters, as should another offseason with Husker head strength coach Zach Duval. Make no mistake, Duval brings the heat to the winter months.

“You guys see it every day when you’re watching the sport,” Stoltenberg said. “The teams that play harder and are more physical are generally the ones that win the game. That’s pretty much how you win football games. I would tell you that’s where it starts, in that weight room. ... That’s the foundation of the sport of football.”

* Let’s stay in the trenches. Great to see former Nebraska great Ndamukong Suh get his first NFL playoff win with the Rams’ 30-22 triumph against the Cowboys. He was a force in that game, as was the Rams’ offensive line. Holy smokes.

Suh “is the Real Deal!” Duval tweeted. “His play defines the word Intensity! It is an Honor and Privilege to go to work in your Weight Room!”

Although Suh’s name is on Nebraska’s weight room, he never attended a Husker home game during the Mike Riley era. One reason is he didn’t always click with then-athletic director Shawn Eichorst.

Here’s hoping we see a lot more of Suh around here in the future.

* Speaking of dominant defensive tackles, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, who formally received his Outland Trophy on Wednesday night in Omaha, says he never considered leaving the South to attend college. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, his runner-up choice of schools? Clemson.

Go figure.

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