LINCOLN — A key piece of Nebraska’s 2016 pass defense will return for his senior season, as cornerback Chris Jones announced Tuesday on Twitter he would coming back to play for the Huskers.
“Coming back next year and (giving) this team all I got,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “We have a lot of unfinished business.”
Jones posted a picture of himself looking at an Iowa jersey for former Husker punter Sam Foltz, who died this summer in a car crash.
After starting seven games in 2015, Jones had a breakout year in 2016, finishing with three interceptions and nine pass breakups. Jones returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown against Indiana. Presuming junior Joshua Kalu also returns — Kalu rarely gives interviews to the media — NU would have one of the Big Ten’s best and most experienced secondary tandems.
In late September, defensive coordinator Mark Banker had high praise for both.
“I think Chris Jones should shut everybody out that he plays against,” Banker said. “I think Kalu should. I think both of those guys are quality corners, that if they just absolutely get everything out of their fiber, they should be able to cover anybody.”
They often did in 2016, as NU’s pass defense experienced a renaissance. Nebraska gave up 209.6 yards passing this season after giving up 290.6 last season. The Huskers’ 16 interceptions is tied for 10th nationally. Coach Mike Riley cited the improvement of the pass defense as a major factor in Nebraska winning nine games this season.
Defensive backs coach Brian Stewart said in September that Jones had a strong focus in 2016. In the offseason, Stewart and the corners adopted a “Lockdown U” mantra that Jones particularly liked.
“I think the main thing that I see from him is just a different focus,” Stewart said. “I think once he knew he was going to be the starter and once he knew he was going to be on the island at times — knowing our defense — that it was important to him to do things right, footwork-wise, alignment-wise, stance-wise. And he’s been doing those things.”
In several interviews during the season, Stewart and Banker said they hoped the 6-foot, 185-pound Jones would return.
Presuming Kalu comes back, NU could have four returning starters. Junior Kieron Williams started at safety this season, and sophomore Aaron Williams, a Banker favorite, started at nickel and sometimes safety.
Only safety Nathan Gerry has exhausted his eligibility. With Gerry’s departure — he figures to be drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft — NU could move Aaron Williams to safety and pair him with Kieron Williams, leaving the nickel spot open for either Kalu or another defensive back. Nebraska’s No. 3 corner this season appeared to be Lamar Jackson, who played behind Kalu, but he might give Nebraska the lanky, long-striding boundary corner it wants. Kalu could then move to nickel, where he has played often in the past.
Other returnees include: cornerback Boaz Joseph; safety Antonio Reed; cornerback Eric Lee; safety Avery Anderson; safety JoJo Domann; and three players who redshirted this season in DiCaprio Bootle, Marquel Dismuke and Tony Butler. Seward native and walk-on Reid Karel is also in the mix at safety.