Pelini talks maturity for third year defense

As the third year of the Les Miles Era gets underway it also marks the third year of Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini's tenure. With two impressive seasons already under his belt, Pelini enters the 2007 campaign with a squad that could arguably turn out to be the nation's best when all is said and done.

At Sunday's Media Day, Pelini noted the differences from year one to year three.

"We are way ahead of where we were at this point during my first two years," Pelini said. "We feel good about our front line guys. We are in the process of developing depth in some areas. We have made a lot of progress. When I say that we have a mature group, I mean that I feel good about our guys and their mindset. They know that it is not about where we are heading but the process of getting there. They understand what it takes to be successful and what it takes to be great. We have high expectations."

Considered to be the Tigers stronger half, the defense is littered with tremendous senior leadership and character, according to Pelini. That has transferred into a unit that scheme wise knows what it is doing and allows for Pelini to add more wrinkles to it. But the experience doesn't automatically equate to success.

"Every year is a different year," Pelini said. "Just because we had success the past two years doesn't mean anything for this year's group. Our guys understand that. Our guys also understand there is not a day where, as a football player, you don't get a little better or a little worse. Our focus is on continuing to get better. No matter what level you are performing at, there is always that next level you haven't achieved yet. Unless you realize that as a football player or a group, then eventually you will take a step back. We are not looking to take a step back. We are always looking to take that next step forward and improving as a group."

Pelini pointed out that by no means are the Tigers a finished product, but working toward that product is a lot easier considering that most of the defensive staff has been with the program for three years. The staff is on the same page and players have been "hearing the same things and they hear it over and over."

With fall camp progressing, Pelini is happy with what he is seeing from Kirston Pittman at the defensive end spot, as well as the play of Rahim Alem and Tremaine Johnson.

"That is what happens when guys like Ryan Willis and Chase Pittman graduate, the other guys find themselves thrust in a new role," Pelini said. "When they know they are going to be counted on from a down-to-down basis, some guys respond to it and some guys don't. Fortunately, up to this point, our guys have responded."

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Pelini also likes what he has seen out of Al Woods.

"In the last three practices of the spring I saw the light starting to come on," Pelini said. "I see his confidence growing by the day. He has a tremendous amount of talent and a great attitude. But let's face it; he is not trying to break in the lineup for just anybody. We feel good about our guys and I think Al will be a big part of the mix there."

On August 30, 2007, Pelini will once again have the opportunity to show the nation he has the ability to put his players in the right position to make the big play. Team speed isn't the issue in making that happen though, effort is.

"In order to play with tremendous effort, you have to know what you are doing," Pelini said. "There has to be no indecision. What our guys would run in the 40 compared to other groups, I have no idea. I don't know if we would time as fast as other groups, but I know one thing – our guys play faster. They play hard, decisive and with an attitude. I think those are the keys to a great defense. It is not as much what you do, but how you do it and how you get there. I believe that is what separates us from everybody else and I believe the players feel the same way."

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