Red Report: Why did Fisher opt to return to NU? To lead best secondary in nation, he says

Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin claps on the sideline in the first half against Illinois in November at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska secondary coach Travis Fisher has been a sought-after assistant coach the past two offseasons and had interest from other schools again over the winter, including a reported interview at Georgia.

He is back for a fourth season in Lincoln, though, and said Wednesday he’s glad to be there.

“I haven’t reached my goal. Just haven’t reached my goal,” Fisher said of returning. “I want to be the top secondary in the country at this school. I think I’ve got guys that can do it. I believe in the guys and the coaches and this staff and the direction we’re going as a staff and as a team. … I think that these guys are good football players and can be some of the top players in the country this year.”

Fidone learning: As one might expect, tight end Thomas Fidone is a hot topic in Nebraska’s spring camp.

After all, he’s the most high-profile player in the Huskers’ 2021 recruiting class.

“He got high praise coming out of high school, but he’s just a freshman,” Husker tight ends coach Sean Beckton said. “I’m coaching him just as hard as the older guys.”

Fidone, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, is learning the game moves much faster than in high school, Beckton said. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder has taken reps with the first, second, and third strings. He’s learning at tight end as well as the receiver positions.

Beckton noted true freshman James Carnie, a Norris graduate, is “very limited” in practice — probably two weeks from being able to take full reps. Carnie underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum after his senior season.

The coach said both Carnie and Fidone have done an excellent job of taking in all the coaching.

“We threw a whole playbook at these guys,” Beckton said. “These guys are picking it up. They’re not as fast as far as understanding what’s going on. They’re not moving as quick. But they’ll get there by the end of spring.”

Emerging leader: Junior tight end Austin Allen of Aurora has emerged as a leader, Beckton said.

Last year, the coach said, Allen took a back seat to fellow tight end Jack Stoll in that regard. Stoll, a senior last season, is now training for the NFL Draft. 

“You can tell that Austin has really taken over the group,” Beckton said of the tight ends. “You can talk to coach (Scott) Frost about it, but he’s really emerged as one of our captains on offense. I don’t know how that’s going to play out later on. But in these first two days (of practice) and all through winter conditioning, you could tell he was the guy who was organizing, leading the group.

“They didn’t have energy in a period today, but Austin got those guys going and we picked up the pace a little on offense. I see him emerging to be one of the leaders on the offensive side of the ball.”

High expectations: Beckton’s room also includes Travis Vokolek, a key contributor last season, as well as redshirt freshman Chris Hickman.

The coach has ample talent to work with.

“I told those guys yesterday (Tuesday) when we started practice, I expect those guys to be one of the top tight end groups in the country,” the coach said. “That’s the expectation I have. That’s the expectation those guys have. If they’re not living up to that standard, I’m going to let them know on a daily basis. They know if they’re not living up to it with effort and execution, coach Beckton is going to be on their tails. 

“It’s going to manifest throughout the rest of the offense and rest of the team. That’s our goal.”

‘Blaising’ into spring: One young player to watch this spring may be Blaise Gunnerson, a 6-6, 250-pound outside linebacker from Carroll, Iowa, who’s been hampered by injuries since arriving on campus last year. 

Gunnerson dealt with hip and ankle issues in 2019 during his senior season at Kuemper Catholic and has now had surgery on both hips to shave down overgrown bones in a move he has said should cure the issue permanently.

“I’m excited to hopefully get Blaise on the field for an extended period of time,” outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson said. “The spring season is invaluable. We missed out on the spring last year. We didn’t get to have it. This is a huge part of it. This is true competition every single day. To think of each one of these practices, it’s almost like you have a season. Fourteen practices — three of them have to be in helmets (only) — then you have the Red-White Spring Game.

“Kind of whittle that back. You’re going, OK, you’re talking about 11 or 12 real practices where you have a chance to compete. It’s almost like a season. So you can’t miss one of these. Blaise, he’s got to hit every single one of these (practices). He’s a guy who’s super-intelligent, very intense. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do running around in pads. It’ll be fun to watch.”

Stiff competition: If Greg Austin is sure about one thing at the outset of spring ball, it’s that he’s going to have a lot of different guys compete for playing time on the offensive line.

Nebraska has freshman Turner Corcoran at left tackle, redshirt freshman Ethan Piper at left guard, sophomore Cam Jurgens at center and redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart at right tackle back from 2020, but the offensive line coach said he’s working through several options both at tackle and at guard.

Outside at tackle, “There’s guys like Brant Banks, Jimmy Fritzche has come along well,” Austin said. “The surprise guy might be (walk-on Nouredin Nouili), the transfer from Colorado State … (Iowa walk-on transfer) Ezra Miller has been out there as well.”

Banks, Nouili and Miller are also getting reps at guard, along with veterans such as Matt Sichterman, Broc Bando and Trent Hixson. Hixson is also the No. 2 center behind Jurgens.

Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel