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Spring Game Preview: Nebraska’s Veteran Secondary

In his first season as the head of Nebraska’s secondary, Evan Cooper’s unit ranked 15th nationally in the statistic of passing efficiency defense. Now the program has the chance to improve on those numbers. This comes on the heels of  Quinton Newsome’s departure from the program, the position group has to address his departure with another talent complimentary player. Which players on the roster have the best chance to lead in the Husker’s Spring game? Let’s break it down.

Blye Hill

In just nine games as the starting cornerback for the St. Francis Red Flash, Blye Hill made waves under secondary coach Martin Foray. In the open field, he totaled up 21 tackles. But he was able to show off most of his skills in coverage. In his highlights against various opponents, Hill uses his athleticism to snag a pair of interceptions while batting down six passes. There is no doubt that this led Cooper and the rest of the staff to consider him at NU.  But does this mean that he will play in the Spring game? The FCS to Big Ten is a major step up in competition. For that reason, he probably deserves to sit on the bench alongside fellow recruits Evan Taylor and Mario Buford. On the other hand, head coach Matt Rhule could decide to activate him early. Last season, it ended up paying off for Northern Iowa transfer Omar Brown.  It isn’t hard to imagine that a similar strategy could be in the works for the Philadelphia native.

Malcolm Hartzog

As one of the lone holdovers of the Travis Fisher era, Malcolm Hartzog experienced early adversity in Lincoln. But this hasn’t stopped him from being one of the Husker’s leading playmakers.  His stock exploded early in his freshman season when he led the Big Red secondary with three interceptions and 22 tackles. In Matt Rhule’s first year with the program,  he proved himself once again.  In 2023, Hartzog was able to make 40 tackles and generate six pass breakups.  Can the 170-pound junior show off his knowledge in the Spring game? Or are his breakout years in Lincoln behind him? He certainly has the potential to be a leading veteran.  However, the Spring game might be a chance to showcase some of the freshman talent.

Tommi Hill

Last season, Tommie Hill the transfer from Arizona State solidified himself as one of the best cornerbacks in Nebraska’s secondary. Throughout the matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers, he intercepted sophomore Hudson Card twice. Again in the regular season thriller against Iowa, he took the game into his own hands. Late in the fourth quarter, a Deacon Hill pick would stall the  Hawkeyes offense in Memorial Stadium.   These two late-game interceptions cemented him as one of the leaders in Nebraska’s secondary. However, with just practice highlights, we don’t know if he can recreate the game-changing plays that we saw last season. With USC and UCLA on the 2024 schedule, many unknowns will challenge his status. Luckily, he has the opportunity to silence his critics in next week’s Spring game.

Marques Buford Jr

Junior safety Marques Buford missed eight games in 2023 with a season-ending knee injury. His return generated buzz in the Huskers’ locker room. With four games left, Buford was a big contributor with 18 tackles in the open field. Furthermore, he also proved himself in third-down situations with three tackles for loss and one sack. That doesn’t mean that the junior can’t improve in his final season in Lincoln. Another year of solid production would make him a candidate for the NFL Draft. There’s certainly a possibility that he could seize the position based on his performance next weekend.  Side note, his younger brother, Mario Buford is a freshman on the Huskers roster.

Photo Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports


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