LINCOLN — There was a reason the Nebraska coaching staff wasn’t immediately sure what it would do with Marcus Newby, and it was because defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and assistant coach Trent Bray thought Newby could do a lot of things.
They decided that Newby’s versatility would be a good fit for one of the outside linebacker spots in the 3-4 scheme.
“Marcus can do a lot of different things for the team,” Diaco said. “He becomes a tool that can do a lot of things, and his skill set allows him to play athletically out on the perimeter a bit. And he doesn’t really have any limitations from jobs for us.”
Diaco called the senior “a critical guy there for us” — and that was all the convincing Newby needed.
Newby has lived through some highs and lows since becoming a Husker. His experience at outside linebacker was limited. Diaco will be his third defensive coordinator in four years.
But if the staff believed this could be his niche and it was the best way to help, Newby was OK with something new.
“We got together as a defense, the first time, and they told me what they think I’d be good at playing in this defense,” he said. “And we went from there.”
At outside linebacker at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Newby, from North Potomac, Maryland, can be coming down in the run game or dropping back in pass coverage. At other times he could be rushing the passer.
Thus the need for a multi-skilled defender on the outside, even though Bray thought Newby would work at either of the inside linebacker positions as well.
“We talked about him in a couple different spots,” Bray said. “Inside, because of his physicality and size, and then we also wanted a guy to the field and the outside that could move like him. We talked about a number of different spots with him until we landed on that outside ’backer spot.”
Once given the assignment, Bray said Newby has run with it through the first part of spring practice.
“I think he’s done a good job, and he’s picking it up pretty well,” he said. “Faster than I probably thought he would have.”
For Newby, Luke Gifford and Quayshon Alexander — and Alex Davis, Sedrick King and Ben Stille on the opposite side — it’s a day-to-day journey. Take what you did right or wrong from one practice and either fix it or do it better the next. Study the playbook and watch a lot of film in between.
It might be tough learning another new system for Newby — after two years with John Papuchis and two with Mark Banker — but that’s where maturity and experience come in handy.
“It’s always going to be tough for anybody,” Newby said. “But Coach Diaco is making it as simple as possible for us. We’re just learning on the fly, coming out here and showing it on the field.”
Newby made 10 starts over the previous two years. His sophomore season in 2015 included 34 tackles (five for losses) and four pass breakups despite missing three games due to injury.
He is being asked to do something different in 2017, but Newby can see why Diaco wanted him where he is now.
“It’s more of just my body type and my abilities, what I can do on the field, and how I can fit the run and pass,” Newby said. “I like it a lot. It fits my body and my ability to make plays.”