Husker Notes: Akinmoladun Ready to Rush
So, Freedom Akinmoladun, has it seemed like eons ago since you played tight end for Nebraska?
“What’s a tight end?” Akinmoladun deadpanned.
Oh, once upon a time, in another era, Akinmoladun helped make a name for himself catching footballs and shooting basketballs. A multisport standout at Grandview High School in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, the 6-foot-4 Akinmoladun signed with Nebraska as a tight end, and he practiced the position as a redshirt freshman in 2014.
Today, Akinmoladun has 280 pounds on his tall frame, and he’s established himself as a defensive end.
Not only that, he’s a key figure as Nebraska, under new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, switches to a 3-4 look after playing a 4-3 scheme for more than two decades.
“I’m very comfortable in the position where I’m at right now,” Akinmoladun said after Tuesday’s practice. “I know the scheme, I know what Coach Diaco wants me to do and I know what the D-line wants me to do.”
“Terrorize the quarterback,” he said, eliciting some laughs. “And stop the run.”
Akinmoladun started all 13 games at defensive end as a sophomore last season and registered 32 tackles. Five were for loss, including four sacks, which ranked second on the team. His 10 quarterback hurries led the team.
“Coming in and playing defensive end, yeah, I was kind of lost in the beginning,” Akinmoladun said, “but I had great players like Maliek Collins to help me out.”
Akinmoladun is now passing on what he’s learned to younger players while also continuing to grow himself under defensive line coach John Parrella, in his second season, and Diaco, in his first.
“In the beginning, when he first came,” Akinmoladun said, “most of us weren’t prepared for his intensity level.”
Now, they embrace it. Or, at least, they’d better.
“You have to have the energy and match the intensity they have on the field,” Akinmoladun said. “You will see it, if you don’t. Coach will call you out, ‘Hey, pick it up, you need to get going.’ You have to be on the same energy level.”
Of course, this isn’t the first we’ve heard of Diaco’s high intensity, high energy, nor will it be the last.
“He’s just a great guy and great coach,” Akinmoladun said, “and really has that burning fire that’s within him that’s one of a kind.”
Praise for the O-line
Akinmoladun isn’t about to give away any secrets on the intricacies of the 3-4 defense, other than to acknowledge he’ll have some new techniques for rushing quarterbacks.
That hasn’t always been an easy task this fall camp, though, when the No. 1 defense faces the No. 1 offense.
“This offensive line is really good,” Akinmoladun said. “They’ve really made me better this year. From Nick Gates to (Jerald) Foster to (David) Knevel, they’re really improving. I can’t thank them enough, because if they didn’t give me a good look or didn’t practice well, I know I wouldn’t be getting any better.”
And yes, Akinmoladun is a better football player.
“The older I get, the wiser I get,” he said. “I’m not seeing things from my point of view. I can see things from others’ point of view, and I can see the hard work that everybody is playing with.”
Senior cornerback Chris Jones, projected to be sidelined 4-6 months after July knee surgery, has been extremely focused and diligent in his rehabilitation. You can see him at practice, walking briskly, without a limp, without a brace.
That’s hardly a surprise for those close to Jones.
“Chris can have every problem in his life and you’ll never notice,” Nebraska cornerbacks coach Donte Williams said. “That’s just what kind of demeanor he has. I mean, it’s even the life of a corner. Chris’ mindset is always positive. That’s just how he is.”
That doesn’t mean Jones is necessarily ahead of schedule in his recovery. Williams has no idea.
“All I know is Chris looks good to me always,” he said. “Even if Chris had one leg in a cast, Chris still looks good to me.”
In the meantime, Jones is still leading the cornerbacks in practice, in essence serving as another secondary coach, along with Williams and safeties coach Scott Booker, both in their first seasons with the Huskers.
Players won’t hesitate to go to Jones for help.
“I think the game has truly slowed down for him. He’s able to pick things up faster and pass the knowledge along,” Williams said.
“Chris is one of those guys, you get him once, you’re not going to get him a second time. He’s able to pick things up fast. Sometimes when you get injured and you sit back and observe, the game slows down for you. You get a chance to really, truly see what coaches go through and what they say.”
This and that
Williams said Lamar Jackson, Eric Lee Jr. and Dicaprio Bootle are Nebraska’s three starting cornerbacks, and that sophomore Jeremiah Stovall is among a group of others making a push. “He’s a competitive little guy,” Williams said. “He stood out to me, and he continues to stand out.”… Linebackers coach Trent Bray said his group’s growth and understanding of the quarterback and where they need to be in coverage has helped them get hands up to deflect footballs more often. … Freshman LB Avery Roberts, after faced with a big learning curve in the spring, will likely need to play a larger role at some point this season. “We’ve got to develop him, and he’s got to learn from Chris (Weber) and the things that Chris has done right,” Bray said.
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.