Spring football is here!
This story originally published on BigRedReport.com


Posted Mar 4, 2011


It’s finally here, and it is hard to imagine fans not being excited about another session of Spring football. For one, it’s Nebraska, but with the recent changes to the staff, this Spring could actually be a learning experience for everyone involved.

In just four days the Huskers will hold their pre-Spring press conference where Bo Pelini, going into his fourth year as the Head Coach of the Huskers, will talk about this team and perhaps he'll touch on the changes that were made and what impact they might have.

It's up for debate as to just which change is the biggest, and we'll probably have to wait until the end of Nebraska's first year in the Big Ten to really have a good idea. But it's undoubtedly a major topic of interest just how this secondary will respond after first, losing some of its most productive stars in Prince Amukamara who should be a top half of the first round draft pick; Eric Hagg, who led the team in interceptions last year and Dejon Gomes, one of Nebraska's biggest playmakers over his two-year career with the Big Red.

Of course, that's just part of the story.

With the resignation of Marvin Sanders as the coach of this unit, Corey Raymond will go into his first year in what will be a pretty tough situation. It's not bad enough that he'll have to replace a guy whose resume' is to the point of ridiculous considering the All-Americans he's fielded and just what he's done in helping Nebraska go from being a subpar unit on the back end to being one of if not the best.

Sanders did that twice at Nebraska, the first time in 2003, when he took a pass defense which ranked in some areas, not even in the top half of the country, to leading entire division in interceptions and pass efficiency defense. And what the secondary had done during his watch the second time around in Lincoln, has been just as impressive.

Then there is the quarterback position, which probably ranks up there with the secondary simply as a byproduct of the attention and importance of being under center. Can Tim Beck, who will now be the Quarterbacks Coach as well as the Offensive Coordinator, taking both jobs prompting the departure of Shawn Watson, take a struggling offense to the next level?

What system will he run?

He said earlier this last month on Sports Nightly, the official radio show of the University of Nebraska, that they were starting from scratch. They were going to revamp the entire thing. That's all well and good, but considering the type of quarterback the Huskers have recruited over the last two years, it's doubtful that the mobility of the QB which was so very vital last year, is going to be scrapped for a completely different idea.

Rex Burkhead is the man, but he can't be the only man over the Spring.

The end result probably lies somewhere in the middle, as it's anticipated that the biggest change at the quarterback position in regard to what they do, will be more passing, but out of a moving pocket more than straight behind center out of the gun. It's also anticipated that the Zone Read won't be thrown on the shelf completely, but there will probably be more emphasis at getting the running back the ball from the gun rather than the quarterback making the read at the line of scrimmage and then deciding whether or not to keep the ball.

How does this impact Taylor Martinez?

He was a turnover machine last year, especially when it came to putting the ball on the ground. That will probably be the first thing the Huskers pay attention to as Nebraska may not have led the entire country in fumbles lost, they did lead all members of the FBS in balls put on the ground. They had eight they put on the ground against Idaho alone, but managed to lose only three.

Beck will also have the job to develop Jamal Turner, as he is already on campus, and is looking forward to taking advantage of arriving early. Beck isn't going to perform any miracles here,  as it would be unrealistic to expect that coming out of this Spring, Turner would have a clear shot to cement himself at number two or even try for the spot at the top of the chart. There is a lot of offense to learn, and I think the learning process here will be about understanding the system and learning how to incorporate his impressive athleticism into an offense that will probably need someone as aware in the passing game as they are in tucking the ball and trying to get extra yards.

Taking over at running back will be Ron Brown, the former Tight Ends Coach, and it's hard to figure just what kind of change, if any, we'll see here. Brown is a consummate teacher of being physical. But I don't see that being something he'll have to imprint on players who haven't already gotten it into their system. Brown's challenge is going to be pointed more to keeping his star running back Rex Burkhead, upright, while trying to find some depth behind him.

With Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah, the two running back commits for this class, not showing up for practices until the Fall session, he'll have to work with existing running backs, Austin Jones, Lester Ward, Zach Taylor and Collins Okafor to see if he can find a workable mix right now. Sometimes in the Spring, while you may not have the guys you want entirely at their positions, you still need numbers in order to give the defense the best looks they can get throughout the session.

That's why you see players moved from other positions such as Latravis Washington going to quarterback two years ago. It wasn't that they thought he might play. He might have had a chance, but the most important thing was being able to offer the defense enough looks, without ruining the arms of the players who you figured would get the most reps come the season.

On the offensive line there doesn't figure to be any major change in philosophy as Barney Cotton is back, and now has some help from former Husker center John Garrison, who will be helping on the interior as well as coaching the tight ends.

It's hard to figure just what changes will take place with the tight ends, but perhaps with this new offensive scheme, there won't be this feeling that they need a deep threat at that position. Their recruiting this last season certainly didn't reflect that idea as they were trying about as hard as anyone to get a legit deep threat at that position. But maybe since they struck out, that might change as of right now.

We'll see

Lavonte David should have a lot more company in the second level this year, and not in the form of safeties.

The offensive line is going to have a lot of competition, though, and there should be an entirely different look across the board as you will have two new starting guards to be sure, and there might be some movement at tackle, especially at right depending on how senior Marcel Jones gets through the session. True freshman Tyler Moore actually should have a shot to make at least the two deep based on him being here already. He certainly looks the part. But guard or tackle? That remains to be seen.

On defense it's going to be interesting, especially when you think about the fact that when you see the Huskers play in the Spring Game, which we have to remember is nothing more than a glorified practice, you will see a lot more of that traditional four down linemen, three linebackers and "only" four guys in the secondary.

Sean Fisher and Will Compton, both going into their junior years, have to be loving this move to the Big Ten more than anyone. It means they finally get a chance to have a consistent presence on the field. That job had changed to the point where you rarely saw three linebackers, sometimes saw two, but many times you saw one, that being Lavonte David, who stayed around after his record-setting year and will no doubt be a starter, probably at the weakside linebacker position.

Because of this change back to how things were, or at least, more than they have been over the last few years, don't be surprised to see Eric Martin, a junior now  who was moved to defensive end last year, go back to linebacker and compete for time in the middle. Coaches will give you all kinds of reasons as to why they move guys. Sometimes it's just to get a little more athleticism on the field. But Martin had seemingly just gotten into really learning the system at LB when he was moved. He'll still be a special teams terror. You can be sure on that. But I won't be one bit surprised if he moves back to the middle and competes with Compton and Alonzo Whaley, amongst others, for time.

This will be also be the debut of Ross Els, a Nebraska native who is now coming back to Lincoln, his hometown, to take over for Mike Ekeler who took a Co-DC position at Indiana. This might be just me, but I think from Bo's days of coaching LBs in the pros, his fingerprints have always been on that group. After all, I think it's safe to assume that everything Ekeler knew about coaching that position, he learned from Pelini as he and the fourth-year Head Coach have been together since Ekeler got into coaching as a G.A.

On the defensive line it's going to be interesting. I say that, because I think the starting spot along side Jared Crick isn't a given. Baker Steinkuhler, who will be going into his junior year, is definitely more athletic than Terrence Moore who will be a senior. But are there limitations to his game against the run? Thad Randle is another who proved he can be effective at times, and we can't forget about Chase Rome, who probably would have played last year if not for a shoulder injury that put him out before the season even began. He's a very versatile guy, and he's one of the defensive tackles who I think could move inside, play outside in certain situations and still be a playmaker. Keep an eye out for guys like Walker Ashburn on the end as Josh Williams, who will be a junior this year, is a favorite to take over at one of the end spots with the graduation of Pierre Allen, but it's not a given. Jason Ankrah was in for limited duty last year, and let's face it, maybe it's part of the scheme, but the production from this position has been sparse.

Again, that could be scheme. I'm not the coach. Only they know. But Cameron Meredith has shown himself to be by far, the best and most complete proven commodity at the end position right now. But you can't live on one. You need to have another. There are so many names which you could see brought up as legit competition at the end spots, it will be very interesting to see how all this works out.

Wide receiver is certainly not the least important position on the field. Heck, most of those big runs Nebraska had last year wouldn't have happened if wide receivers couldn't block. But can they catch? Yes, perhaps a bad way to put it, but go back to the Texas game and the three drops which were certain touchdowns, it's about the way some will look at it.

Cameron Meredith will be the only established playmaker at defensive end this Spring. The Huskers have to find at least one more.

They lost Niles Paul, and while he wasn't as consistent as some would have liked to see, there was no doubt he could make plays and gave the Huskers their best playmaking threat at the position. I don't know what we'll see as far as how many wideouts will be on the field at a time more often than not. But the competition is going to be ridiculous. Only Brandon Kinnie, who goes into his senior year, is the given at the position. It's wide open everywhere else, and that includes Jamal Turner. I'm still of the mind he needs to stay at quarterback, because that's where they need him. But the kid is an athlete, and Nebraska will need as many of those on offense they can get...with the ball in their hands.

Rich Fisher will be the new coach at wide receiver, and maybe this will be a breath of fresh air for this group. Maybe Antonio Bell will move back to receiver, after having switched to play in the secondary. Now, Fisher isn't going to abandon the blocking schemes completely. You have to be able to block at this level, no question about it. And you can't deny that Ted Gilmore had that part down. His guys could block. But that seemed to be the driving criteria on players getting on the field.

If you could block, you could play.

There didn't seem to be a real emphasis on getting playmakers out there as anything more than decoys, to, once again, set up blocking on the other side of the field. It's expected that the paradigm has shifted to a degree, and rather than see potentially standout players like Quincy Enunwa seemingly wasting a redshirt doing nothing but getting acclimated to blocking, you will see players being used, even if it's just from a situational standpoint, for their ability to make plays.

In special teams it will be another complete transformation. Alex Henery is gone.

Feel free to take this time to weep silently to yourself.

It's OK, I'm kind of doing it too.

And Adi Kunalic is gone, and with him more touchbacks per season over the last three years than 90 percent of the kickers who competed in this division at the same time.

Again, it's OK to sob a bit.

Brett Maher figures to be the man punting, but Jason Dann, who will be going into his redshirt freshman year with the Huskers, must not be as clear cut as I thought he might be at one point. The Huskers were desperate to find a kicker during the recruiting process. I think that's pretty obvious at this point. When Niklas Sade decommitted and stayed home to play at N.C. State, it took Nebraska about five minutes (give or take) to offer another one. Then when he didn't work out, they went after another one, finally landing Mauro Bondi out of Florida.

Well, Bondi isn't going to be at Nebraska until the Fall session, so what will we learn over this Spring?

Yes, probably how much we'll miss both Henery and Kunalic, but not because the guys on the team aren't capable.

It's not fun replacing legends, which Henery certainly is now that he's gone.

I don't envy them at all.

But it will be a good Spring, and uncharacteristically, perhaps even an informative one. No, you won't get any revelations from Bo, as he won't give you any if you want them. And in a lot of ways, it is going to be hard to see differences in how this team looks and does when there aren't any games on the horizon to use as true barometers. But it will be interesting. We will get to meet new people and hear about new things.

That's better than nothing.



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