Barry sets sights on big plays from middle of Husker defense
Mohamed Barry hasn’t said a bad word about Nebraska’s previous coaching staff.
On the contrary, he’s always expressed gratitude to Mike Riley’s staff for recruiting him to Lincoln and in a news conference with reporters earlier this month he reiterated his affinity for former inside linebackers coach Trent Bray.
And yet, Barry sounded like a guy who took a look at his new playbook and started sitting in on meetings under his new coaching staff and felt unshackled. At the very least, he’s champing at the bit to play with what he sees as more freedom within Erik Chinander’s defensive system.
“Last year playing linebacker we did have the downhill mentality but not, I guess, a ‘make the play mentality,’” the junior said. “As inside linebackers (in Chinander’s defense), we’re making the plays. We’re going to the ball. Our gaps are in relation to the ball, which will allow us to not waste ourselves and allow us to bonus to the ball.”
“I’m not going to the ‘C’ gap when the ball is all the way to the opposite ‘D’ gap. It will allow me to make that play, allow other inside linebackers to make that play.”
Barry now works under the guidance of Barrett Ruud, a first-time Division I position coach and also NU’s all-time leading tackler. Ruud is tasked with replacing the Huskers’ leading tackler from a year ago in senior Chris Weber, but also has two regulars from 2017 returning in Barry and senior Dedrick Young.
Among the main goals in Barry’s eyes: More big plays.
“That’s the mentality. It’s not only doing your job, it’s getting those explosive plays and making the plays that change the game,” he said.
In order to do so, Barry said the keys in the weight room for he and the other inside linebackers were lateral movement and explosiveness.
“We did a lot (more) jumping this offseason than ever before,” Barry said. “I think that and how explosive we are, our transition from linear-type movement to lateral movement and being able to be explosive in and out of those two. And a tough mentality. Not only did we train our bodies, we trained our minds … developed a collective, tough mentality.”
Weber (96 tackles) was second on the team in tackles for loss with nine — NU had 57 total as a team, among the lowest marks in the country — while Young registered four and Barry one. The trio combined for two sacks and an interception.
At Central Florida, usual inside starters Pat Jasinski and Chequan Burkett and reserve Gabriel Luyanda combined for 23 TFLs, 3½ sacks and two interceptions.
“Every team is going to be different, every season is going to be different,” Chinander said. “We have good players, we just have to find a way to function at their highest level.”
That group at inside linebacker in 2018 for the Huskers begins with Barry, Young and Butler Community College transfer Will Honas. There are several other mostly young and unproven players pushing for time, like Avery Roberts and Andrew Ward, that will get long looks in spring ball.
“Going through winter conditioning, it’s not real football, I got that,” Chinander said of beginning evaluations. “But seeing those drills and seeing how kids move, we’ve seen what position suits them better. Are they a better shuffle, shuffle fall guy? Are they a better back-pedal and sprint forward guy. ... The good news is we practice how we play, so we get a ton of reps, so we’re going to get everybody a ton of reps and really find out where they belong.”
Barry started two games late in the season as Weber was dealing with an injury. The staff has been careful not to anoint Honas a starter, but the 247Sports composite ranking tabbed him as the best junior college inside linebacker in the country and it’s clear NU coaches also hold him in high regard.
“If we didn’t think he had a lot of raw skills, we wouldn’t have went so hard after him, so I’m excited about him,” Chinander said before the first practice.
Barry knows there’s only so many snaps to go around — he was essentially the third man in the three-man rotation as a sophomore — and sounds like a player bent on solidifying his own role.
“What I hope to get out of this spring is developed my game and to be extremely aggressive,” he said. … “I want a lot of tackles and a lot of explosive plays. I want to be a player that changes the game for my team and helps us get to Indianapolis and that Big Ten Championship.”