October 8, 2009

Sanders: Hagg one of best DBs in the country

Over the course of the past three years, it's become fairly apparent that junior defensive back Eric Hagg doesn't like to brag about himself.

In some ways, that's a shame, because he has plenty of reason to do so.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder from Peoria, Ariz., has established himself as Nebraska's most versatile defensive player, as his rare combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism has allowed him to play cornerback, linebacker, safety, nickel back and linebacker at one point or another in his career.

And that doesn't even take into account the fact that he was initially recruited by the Huskers as a wide receiver.

When you ask him about talents, however, Hagg is a master at diverting his answer towards his teammates, coaches and even his opponents. As far as getting a decent quote about himself, the guy is worthless.

Fortunately, Hagg has plenty of others around him more than willing to sing his praises.

Earlier this week, Nebraska defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders was asked about Hagg's progress the past few seasons and about how his role will significantly increase with the start of the Big 12 Conference schedule this week.

Sanders' response turned into one of the strongest endorsements a coach could give a player.

"In my opinion he is one of the best defensive backs anywhere," Sanders said. "I truly believe that. I think his talent can match-up with anybody. Not only that, but he's agile and athletic enough that I can play him at corner, physical enough to play that nickel linebacker spot and rangy enough that I can play him at safety.

"I know there are some really good guys out there like Taylor Mays, but I wouldn't trade (Hagg) for any of them. There's great players, but I think he's special because he can do so much."

Hagg's role through Nebraska's first four games has been pretty limited, primarily because of the offenses the Huskers have faced. However, Hagg will become a fixture on the field for NU's defense starting tonight against Missouri and throughout the rest of the season.

Because of the influx of spread out passing attacks across the conference, head coach Bo Pelini said the Huskers would work almost entirely out of their nickel and dime defenses, which feature one and two extra defensive backs, respectively.

The versatility Hagg brings to the table allows NU to use those pass defenses while also not giving up too much against the run, as he's proven to be an effective tackler and unafraid of playing up in the box.

Sanders said Hagg has made a significant jump in his overall play this offseason because of an increased confidence in his abilities. As could be expected, a kid as humble as Hagg might have some reservations of just how good he could be.

That's why Sanders and the rest of Nebraska's coaching staff had had to give Hagg a few extra pushes of encouragement to get him to realize his potential.

"I think he's gotten better because confidence helps," Sanders said. "He really understands his ability, and that's where it comes from. I've tried to tell him all along that if I had half of his ability I'd still be playing or collecting a good, healthy retirement right now."

Hagg might not talk a big game, but he undoubtedly plays one. Now likely to see the most playing time of his career the rest of the year, his actions on the field should be enough to do all the talking for him anyway.

"Playing is fun, so I definitely look forward to playing," Hagg said. "And like, playing the whole game will be kind of fun too. It will be really fun."

Humility at it's finest.

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