You could debate amongst your friends which job you feel is more important for one Barney Cotton. Whether it's bringing in his new offense with a slightly different feel or putting the offensive line back on track, each is vital to any success NU hopes to have this up-coming season. For Cotton, it's been a matter of reviewing game film from last year, but more than anything, it's about reviewing his players now, evaluating, seeing just who fits in where for the future. "We've watched a lot of film." Cotton stated. "What we've really been doing is watching a lot of winter conditioning. Watching them work out, watching them run, kind of get an idea of putting a face to the film."
The familiarity Cotton is trying to achieve is obviously much more than being able to remember people's names. It's a matter of finding what each does and doesn't do well and expanding on that.
The question begs though that based on what he saw last year, was there anything he could see that was immediately apparen, this line was lacking and based on that, what were the steps that he saw were necessary in righting this capsized ship. "The biggest thing, we'll simplify things some." Cotton stated. "We'll probably have a few less blocking schemes."
"I really think the biggest thing is finding 5,6,8 or 10 guys that are ready to go to battle that are really playing hard and well together. That'll be the whole key up front."
When you look at the number of guys Cotton wants to have ready to go, it's a definite belief in developing depth. That's something that has become a rather foreign concept at NU during recent years, but to the credit of the staff here before Cotton, most of it was due to injuries to such players as M.J. Flaum, Tim Green and Chris Loos. As Cotton stated, the development of this depth is absolutely key to not just a physical edge for NU, but a mental one as well. "The more you can get ready to go the better, just because you practice better, the team moral is higher and the more guys you get involved, you get more guys with ownership in what you are doing, I think the better we are going to be."
With the hope of depth, there also comes the curiosity with where all this depth is going to go. Richie Incognito's move to Center, names like Phillips, DeLone, Povendo, Green and even Schuler coming up as candidates for the tackle position, all just the tip of the iceberg in trying to figure out who fits where. "I want to see what they can do." Cotton said. "I want to see who can pass-set the best at tackle. That's the biggest thing."
"That is what you base tackles off of, in how they can kick-step back, so we have to see who can play with their right hand down, who can play with their left hand down, who can kick step and do lots of different things, so we will be evaluating that from the word go."
In truth, you or I could sit here and speculate about who's going to fit where. We can adjust our depth chart by measurements, speed and what not, slotting guys in where we think they should be. All that becomes a rather moot point when the fan and the so-called expert has no clear-cut idea of what this offense is going to truly look like next season. So, if you think it's going to be a brain-buster for you, imagine what it is like right now for Barney Cotton. "If I were at New Mexico State right now, I would be able to go home at 5 or 6 and come back the next day, but unless I have a function or something, I am going to be here until 9 or 10, working on the playbook, just trying to keep my head above water."
An apt choice or words you might think as you could compare the information Cotton is trying to create and that amount his players have to then try to comprehend, it is indeed a deluge of sorts, each player having to grasp it as fast as they can, as efficiently as they can.
Such is the hope that each player will be able to at least grasp the fundamentals of it before Fall ball, but for players like Jemayel Phillips, where the expectations are so very high, the emphasis on instilling the system in his mind become that much more significant. "He's inexperienced and we just have to see how fast a learner he is and how fast he can pick up different techniques, but he's a big, strong, athletic young lineman."
"Hopefully, he'll be a big part of what we do."
Again, such are the expectations, but let's face it. This is Nebraska, this is the offensive line we are talking about and whether it's the decade of 2000 or the 1960's and 70's, the NU O-line bears the burden of being the beginning and end of success at the University of Nebraska. As a former All-American offensive lineman for Nebraska and someone who knows a little bit about success, Bob Newton said what this unit can do will ultimately determine how the team does in the end. "I think that no matter what year you are talking about, it starts in the trenches." Newton said. "And, our success came because we knew what we were doing and had some guys that could play, but what we had was a unity, where we all knew what each was going to do."
"You really have to have that when you have so many guys on that line trying to all do the same thing and that's get the ball down-field."
The unity, the desire, the heart and the system, each came into question at some point last season. When things got as bad as they did though, invariably, everything usually does. Nothing is right, everything becomes scrutinized ad nauseam and nobody is safe from ridicule.
What Cotton brings is a fresh face, a different perspective and possibly a youthful presence that this line hasn't seen in some time. Not to say that youth has it's advantages, but in some cases, it actually does, especially when you are relating to so many, so much younger than you.
It's really a package deal though and Cotton is bringing his from New Mexico State to Nebraska. It's a step up in competition, a step forward in his career, but hopefully for all the fans and of course, the players, it's a step back into time, to those moments not so long ago when the word "Pipeline" was almost a statement in and of itself, rather than a punch-line.
It starts and ends with Nebraska's offensive line. Always has, always will. You know that. Heck, everyone knows that. Defense may win championships, but it's that "Pipeline" that gets them there.
And to Barney Cotton, it's his job to get them back.
Make sure to keep an eye out in the next couple of days as I had a chance to sit down and talk to the one and only, Bob Newton, where we discussed the teams "back in the day", the difference between them and teams nowadays, his life at NU and in the pros and some of the things that he believes affected his career so much. We'll even cover a little story about his days playing with the legendary, Dick Butkus, all in my story with Bob Newton, "What if..........What could be".
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619