Pelini said it himself. Guys running around, getting after it, flying all over the field. That's what he wants to see. He nor Cotton are going to even come close to tipping their hands in regards to schemes for the future. I wouldn't even expect all that much to be exposed come Fall scrimmages.
This is the time for the players to take those performance index tests and put them to the turf for some good old fashioned, padded poundings, seeing who at least has what it takes to take the position.
As we start covering Spring ball full-force this week, people are going to try and analyze everything they see and hear, if only to get an idea of what NU will plan on this season. Forget about it. It won't happen. Don't worry about schemes, don't worry about sets, motions and how much they use the "Maryland I" vs. the "I" formation. This time right now is all about "want to".
If there has been one lesson that has certainly seemed to have been ingrained into everyone's psyche is that the NU team of last year had some players, had some speed and had talent, but across the board, nobody really wanted it bad enough.
At least on defense, you can forget about that being a repeat as Bo Pelini has "want to" stamped, etched and embedded permanently on him and it takes all of about three seconds to realize it. He's man of few words, but what he says and more importantly, how he says it in those few words, well, you get the idea of where he is coming from.
To be honest, I don't expect any one position on the field to shake out one little bit this Spring. I don't think anyone does. I do think that it does indeed come down to evaluating heart. Yes, they are going to work on a few fundamentals here and there as you would expect, but all the while, someone is taking the pulse of their heart just as much as they are trying to see what they know as well.
As I prepared for this Spring coming up, I did my little evaluations, just trying to grasp, if just a little, all the possible changes that could take place. You know what? It's pointless. It really is. We base our decisions on last year, measurables, stats, performance index scores and just about anything else that you can measure with a stick, clock or statistical trend. That's not what this up-coming Spring is about though.
It's about heart.
Everything we think is important about what makes a good team was just as important last year, yet the common denominator with what most were saying about the losses and even some of the wins, the team quit, the team didn't have it or they just weren't fired up to play.
You can't measure that in any way, except by seeing it on the field. You can't put it in a book, but you can definitely feel it on the field. It's what brings all those impressive measurables, stats, scores and whatever, together to make that one player complete. It can even turn what might be considered sub-par performances into solid contributions or even opportunistic excellence.
For my money, this Spring will be about a lot of things, but it's not going to find anyone as a starter that wasn't, it won't lose anyone the starting spot that was, but with a long Summer to go, these practices leading up to this tune-up game, it's going to be what sits in the minds of the coaches until Fall arrives and what impression lasts the most?
Two sacks? Sure. 14 tackles. Yeah, why not. 132 yards rushing? Ok, that works. But, how about a guy that literally floored you with his effort. We've all seen Spring game wonders that turn into regular season flounders, so stats mean something, but when Fall gets here, I bet you someone will remember first "how" a person played versus how much or the numbers put up in that time.
Heart. It's as good a slogan as any before the real season begins. It's what they were speculated not to have last year, what everyone thinks the coaches will bring out of them this year and what people should hope to see this up-coming game.
So, as you listen to the practice reports, watch the posts about everything leading up to the Red/White game and finally, see the Spring game itself, don't concentrate on sacks, rather the effort it took to get there. Don't look at the yards rushing, rather the kind of running a player had to do to get those yards. Don't look at any of the stats, just look at the one thing that will trump all those stats in the end.
"Does he want it? Yeah? Ok, that's what I wanted to see."
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619