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Steven M. Sipple: Domann, NU's 2nd-best player? Dawson surely would embrace that scenario

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Penn State vs. Nebraska, 11.14

Nebraska outside linebacker JoJo Domann hits Penn State quarterback Will Levis last season at Memorial Stadium.

Steven M. Sipple, Parker Gabriel and Chris Basnett give some highlights from a Wednesday on the road covering Nebraska's Big Red Blitz tour, break down the latest in Nebraska football recruiting -- including recent commitments from QB Richard Torres and RB Ashton Hayes -- and talk through what's coming up this weekend and beyond for football and basketball.   

Things I know, and things I think I know: 

Nebraska junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt is generally regarded as the team's best player overall. 

You'll get no argument here. 

Second best? I'm not here to debate it. But one could make a strong case for sixth-year senior JoJo Domann. I'll say this: Because of his multi-faceted role in Nebraska's defense, it would be extremely helpful to the operation if Domann solidifies himself as the Huskers' second-best player. Or, heck, best. You never want to place limitations on anyone.

“We ask him to do as much or more than anybody on the defense," Nebraska outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson said last week in Norfolk during the Big Red Blitz promotional tour. 

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Domann led the team last season with 58 tackles in eight games, including 6½ for losses. He also broke up five passes and forced two fumbles. So, yeah, it was big news in the winter when Domann was one of five 2020 Nebraska seniors to announce their return for 2021. 

“For JoJo to be able to play near the line at his size and be physical, and then also be able to walk out and play in coverage and guard a slot receiver, it takes a pretty special athlete," Dawson said. "If he can keep doing that type of stuff, we’re going to be in pretty good position.” 

Although Nebraska finished only 3-5 last season, it should feel good about the talent it returns on defense. The Blackshirts possess explosion, as evidenced by their average of 6.6 tackles for loss in 2020, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten. On the other hand, the Huskers' 1.6 sacks per game ranked ninth. 

Domann had zero sacks last year, which is why Dawson this offseason has asked the Colorado native to detail his rushes and work on shedding blocks.

“He’s hit some unblocked plays in his career, which has been great," Dawson said. "He can add a little bit more as he continues to refine and learn how to be a great edge pass rusher. I think you’ll see his sack total climb as long as he can do that.”

Also, understand that Domann often is put in positions where he can be subject to allowing big plays, just by the nature of his role. It might be in covering a wheel route out of the backfield, or a quick-hitting slant over the middle in man-to-man coverage.

Which brings us to another reason why Domann is so valuable to the program. He's grooming some talented young disciples, most notably redshirt freshman Javin Wright (Chandler, Arizona) and freshman Isaac Gifford (Lincoln). 

"JoJo and the Disciples" has a nice ring to it. 

“Those guys are safety bodies that can come down to the line of scrimmage," Dawson said of the 6-3, 205-pound Wright and 6-1, 205-pound Gifford. "JoJo was a safety way back when. But he’s been in the program for a while, and he’s put the muscle mass on to be able to be on the second level compared to the third level as a safety.

“So, those are younger guys, Isaac and Javin, who are following the same footsteps.”

Meanwhile, keep an eye on walk-ons Simon Otte (6-1, 205) and John Bullock (6-1, 215).

“I think we have a pretty good group of guys who can handle that — you’ve heard me say this 100 times — Swiss Army-knife type of position where you’re sometimes playing all the way back almost like a safety, or you’re playing second level almost like an inside linebacker and then you’re becoming a true outside linebacker or kind of playing like a defensive end," Dawson said.

Sounds like a good role for your best player.

Or your second-best one.

* Listening to Dawson, it's clear Nebraska's difficult Aug. 28 opener against Illinois is made even more challenging by the Illini's new coaching staff.

In short, it creates some preparation headaches.

“You have to be prepared for a bunch of different situations," Dawson said. "You have a brand new staff. You have a head coach (Bret Bielema) who has his philosophies. You have an offensive coordinator (Tony Petersen, most recently of Appalachian State) who has his own philosophies. So, you kind of backtrack. Where have these guys been? What sort of personnel do they prefer? What are they going to come out doing?

“That project is a big project. But our young (staff) guys have done a great job of breaking down a bunch of film. We’re looking at a lot of different things.”

Petersen's background suggests Illinois will make sure it can run the ball. 

I don't even have to tell you that about Bielema.

“I could see that happening," Dawson said. "But everybody’s getting in the shotgun now and running up-tempo and has the ability to do that. Now, we see that from our team a bunch in practice. That helps. Then, obviously, we have a run-heavy league, especially on our side (West Division). We have to be ready to go, understanding that this going to be a bigger-bodied, run-oriented offense.”

* If you see a three-star high school quarterback, don't assume he'll settle into the pack in college. 

The Sporting News recently ranked the nation's top 25 collegiate quarterbacks. Five of the top 10 were three-star players in high school (as ranked in the 247Sports Composite): Dillon Gabriel of UCF (fifth in rankings), Kedon Slovis of USC (sixth), Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati (seventh), D'Eriq King of Miami (eighth) and Brock Purdy of Iowa State (10th). 

* A big high-five to Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. The all-time Nebraska great surprised former high-ranking Husker executive Marc Boehm by making him his guest for Sunday's playoff game in Phoenix. 

"A Father’s Day to remember with my son Broderick," Boehm wrote on Twitter. 

Lue is all class, always has been. Same goes for Boehm. 

* Talk about a mega-recruiting story for Nebraska football fans to follow. Hello, Dylan Raiola. I'm told the son of all-time Husker center great Dominic Raiola put on a show passing the ball during NU's Friday Night Lights camp in Memorial Stadium. 

This much is certain: Dominic Raiola is intensely loyal to his alma mater and very supportive of Scott Frost.

Keep an eye on this one.

Contact the writer at ssipple@journalstar.com or 402-473-7440. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip. 

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