Season-opener to serve as a live evaluation for Husker defense

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LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska football team practiced for just over two hours on Tuesday inside the Hawks Championship Center in full pads and helmets.

Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander addressed the media after practice, elaborating on the defensive side of the depth chart and some of the starting spot battles.

“A lot of the evaluations have been made, but the final evaluation will be how they perform under the lights,” Chinander said. "Sometimes we keep the ‘ors’ on to keep people happy, sometimes it's to out scheme people. Most of these really are ‘ors’ that we should be able to figure out by the end of this week or early next week."

Chinander was also asked about the work ethic and growth of junior outside linebacker Tyrin Ferguson, who is projected to start on Saturday night against Akron.

“You always hear a lot about guys when you get here, but with him the slate was wiped clean and he's just put his nose to the grindstone and got to work," Chinander said. ”He's done a great job. He's a really good practice player and he tries to get the guys fired up. I love his attitude."

Graduate transfer safety Tre Neal has also been a great addition to the team this summer and Chinander talked about what he brings to the defense.

“Some guys, they want to be with the coaches and hear them," Chinander said. "When you have a player that really knows what's going on, he can sit in a room with other players without a lot of pressure and teach them what's going on. Then out on the field, he can help the other guys out and make the call, just because he knows what's going on in the system. He's done a great job and he fits our system. I think the other guys really respect him."

When asked about Saturday's opponent, Akron, Chinander talked about the long hours in the film room the staff has spent to prepare for opening night.

“You have a year's worth of film to look at,” Chinander said. "Whether they do the same things they've done or change it up, I don't know. They got a really good quarterback that's going to run around and throw it, a really good receiver who can take the top off [of the defense] and a running back who is pretty good too. When you're playing a spread team, for us, there's not a lot people can do that we haven't seen. I think we'll be able to adjust pretty well just from going against our offense everyday in practice."

Chinander then commented on the Blackshirts tradition.

“We do have a little bit of a plan with those," Chinander said. "We talked about it as a staff. There's two contributing factors right now, number one being the ‘ors’ and the ‘ands’ on the depth chart. Some of those battles aren't won yet and are still being fought. We didn't feel like handing out Blackshirts to one of those guys who is an ‘or’ or an ‘and’ would be fair until we get a live evaluation. The other thing is, the last time we took the field, and I say ‘we’ because I am a part of this, was not a very great performance for the Blackshirts. So, we don't feel like anyone deserves one yet until we see what they do at Memorial Stadium."

With just three days left until game day, Chinander mentioned that he will only feel completely ready right before opening kickoff.

"I think for me, the hay is really never in the barn," Chinander said. "The kids will say, ‘Coach are you ready?’ and I'll say, ‘No.’ About five minutes before kickoff, I'll be ready. That doesn't mean we'll be installing any more stuff. I want these guys to play fast. As a play caller, you never feel ready, you're always watching more tape. At night, you're watching more film, you're trying to make sure your call sheet is right. You want to know the call sheet without looking at it. Do I feel like the staff and team is ready? I would say yes. But I won't be ready until a few minutes before kickoff.

The Huskers will be back on the practice field on Wednesday morning. Nebraska kicks off its season on Saturday, Sept. 1 against Akron at Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m., with FOX providing national TV coverage.