At the outset of Nebraska preseason camp, outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt gave freshman Garrett Nelson high marks, saying the Scottsbluff native had a chance to see early playing time.
Through 14 practices and now six days away from game week, nothing has changed Dewitt’s mind.
“He’s going to play right away,” Dewitt said flatly on Monday.
As in special teams work or on defense?
“Talking about both,” Dewitt assured.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder sets a hard edge, according to his coach, and has adjusted nicely from being a Class B defensive end to a stand-up linebacker in college.
“It’s actually a lot easier than you might think, it really is,” Dewitt said of the transition. “You try to recruit for athletic ability, so even though he played most of his life with his hand in the dirt, he’s got some natural ability — probably more than I would have initially thought — that he’s got to be able to play our coverage stuff.”
Nelson enrolled early, so he got to participate in winter conditioning, spring ball and all of NU’s summer work. Dewitt, though, was not around spring ball much as he battled a form of throat cancer, so seeing Nelson’s progress over the past several months has been something of a revelation.
“The really cool part for me is how well he learns,” Dewitt said. “Once you’ve got some visible tools and you can learn the mental aspect of it, that makes it so much better for everybody. So I’ve been pretty impressed with him.
“Now, what we’ve got to do is for any freshman, you’re in that grinding part of the season where you’ve got to grind through camp and mentally push through. Some of that showed up a little bit today for Garrett, I think, but he’s a mentally tough kid so he’s going to be able to push through it. We’re going to have to try to force him to go through it a little bit faster.”