There's a lot of competition in practice that remains before Nebraska opens the 2021 season this coming fall.
That said, Nebraska sophomore Quinton Newsome has moved in front in the battle for one of the starting cornerback jobs.
That was the word Monday from Husker secondary coach Travis Fisher after the team pushed through another spring practice.
"A lot of guys are doing a good job, but Quinton Newsome is doing a great job at that spot," the coach said.
Asked what has been the key to the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Newsome moving to the front of the pack, Fisher said, "It's all about just being able to take the coaching and being able to go out and take the classroom teaching to the field, and then being able to make mistakes in practice and come back and correct the mistake."
Sophomores Nadab Joseph and Braxton Clark are among those battling for the spot. The 6-2, 210-pound Clark missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and has been limited this spring.
"I'm keeping him out of all of the live periods right now because I don't want any setbacks," Fisher said. "So right now you don't get a chance to see him really go 'live.' But I do see some great things out of him."
In addition, talented freshman Tamon Lynum is sidelined with an undisclosed ailment.
However, "It's going good," Fisher said of the competition. "The guys are working hard — working very hard, making plays, taking to coaching."
Star is shining: Of course, junior Cam Taylor-Britt holds down the other corner spot. He's having an excellent spring, Fisher said.
"You know, Cam is tough," Fisher said. "He doesn't miss practices. He gets banged up, he jumps right back in. He's a leader on the field. He's always trying to be a ballhawk when he's out there. The main thing with Cam is trying to get him to understand football. He played the quarterback position in high school. Now it's about training him as a DB — when to do certain things, when not to do certain things.
"Right now, Cam is still grooming. He has a long ways to go, but he has a bright future."
Nebraska outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson noted Taylor-Britt can throw the ball a long way.
Said Fisher: "He can sling it all over the park. But I'm more focused on Cam being a cornerback."
More on Manning: Regarding receiver Omar Manning, he gives the secondary problems every single play, Fisher said. But that will get his secondary ready to play in big games, the coach said.
The 6-4, 225-pound Manning came to campus last summer as a touted junior college prospect but saw action in only one game because of various health issues.
"I really think Omar has done a very good job picking up some pace the last few days, just watching him on the back end, from my side," said Fisher, who praised the entire receiver group.
"You watched them Saturday (in a practice open to the public and media)," Fisher said. "Omar made a bunch of plays Saturday, but that receiver group made plays as well. I think there are a lot of guys on the offensive side of the ball who are picking up some steam, and then my guys get a chance to have that kind of competition.
"With guys like Omar, every single play is a problem."
Get some picks: Fisher likes his secondary's talent, obviously. But it has to get more takeaways, he said.
"I definitely want to see more takeaways," he said. "I think we were a pretty good tackling team last year. I think this year we have to be a better tackling team in the back end. But definitely takeaways is huge for us. We have some guys who can play the football when it's in the air."
Taylor-Britt and safety Myles Farmer had two interceptions apiece in last year's eight-game season — both of Farmer's came against Northwestern — and Dicaprio Bootle also had a pick in his final year in the program. That was it for Fisher's crew.
"It's a huge point of emphasis this spring being able to play the deeper passes and being able to take chances on the football and come down with it," Fisher said.
"Best spring" for Thomas: It’s been a good spring for Deontre Thomas. He’s healthy again after missing most of 2020 with injuries. He’s back to competing for time at one of the deepest spots on the roster in the defensive line.
And while the 28-game veteran, now in his fifth season with the program, is certainly happy about both of those things, he’s even happier with where the Huskers are as a whole.
“I want to bring up the whole team,” Thomas said. “This has been the best spring I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here. You can just tell. You can not only tell, but you can feel that everybody is bought in and just competing with each other.”
Ongoing evaluation: Dawson, who leads the special teams, said starting roles on various units won't be finalized until August, and competition for roles really never ends.
"What we're doing right now with the whole roster is laying the groundwork, getting those building blocks down with techniques and fundamentals," the coach said.
"When we do get to the fall, when that depth chart does move, we can plug guys in who know what we're talking about and know the system."
Dawson was asked if there's a possibility that Taylor-Britt could return both punts and kickoffs. He was the team's leading punt returner in 2020, returning six for 79 yards — averaging more than 13 yards per chance. He didn't return kickoffs.
"I heard Cam tell everybody he was playing all the positions," Dawson said with a smile. "The thing about Cam is, he's a great athlete, high-energy all the time. He's always working. He's the first guy out to practice … he'll work on catching punts or work on catching kickoffs. He's a competitor. He shows up every day. When the game's on the line, he's the one who wants the ball.
"Some guys, you see them melt a little into the background. He's the one jumping out into the forefront. Those are the type of guys you want to go to battle with. You give yourself a chance to win with guys like him."
— Steven M. Sipple