It's the most wonderful time of the year for most. It's been a time filled with some anticipation to play Washington again by Nebraska, but it's also been a time that you are uncertain what the future holds. Gone is Mike Ekeler from the coaching staff. There seems to be some additional changes coming on the coaching staff as well.
Plus, there have been two decommitments to the 2011 class in the past week that really reshape what the Huskers are trying to do for their team. So, what positions are the Nebraska staff still targeting? Plus, I don't think that even if Taylor Martinez does come back next year that he will clearly be named the starter at the end of the spring.
Yes, there is a lot of "This and That" going on….again:
One leaving, could be more?
We talked about this last time folks when it came to the Nebraska coaching staff and that was that too much turnover could be a lot to recover from. First of all, the two most talked about assistant coaches on the Nebraska staff who were supposedly leaving Lincoln before Saturday were Shawn Watson and John Papuchis.
For Watson it has been documented that he has had interest in the Vanderbilt job. Of course now there is the interest in the Miami of Ohio gig as well. If there seems to be one thing for certain it would be that Watson isn't coming back. There is at least that type of smoke coming from the North Stadium.
So let's talk about that a little bit. There could be some questions about the direction for the Nebraska offense with Watson's probable leaving and there shouldn't be. First off, I wouldn't look for a lot to change between how things were this year (take the Nebraska offense up to Kansas State or into Missouri) and how it will be going forward.
There have been long standing rumors about where Bo Pelini wants the evolution of the Nebraska offense to go and that is to more of the spread option with the zone read underneath and a mobile quarterback that makes opposing defensive coordinators weep. Well, Nebraska had that this year until Martinez got hurt and until some games, like Texas, stumped the Nebraska offensive staff and they never got going.
So if that's the direction of the offense who should Nebraska fans expect will get the Nebraska offensive coordinator position? Well, let's look at how things are on the defensive side of the football. Carl Pelini, Bo's brother, is the defensive coordinator and on the offensive side of the ball there is a person that goes back beyond football with Bo.
How about Tim Beck? Beck, the current running backs coach, has been an offensive coordinator (Missouri State, 1996-98) was the passing game coordinator at Kansas in 2007 and was also a high school head coach on three different occasions spanning 9 years in Arizona and in Texas. If Beck could make Nebraska's offense anything like Kansas in 2007 it would be a very good thing (12-1 record, averaged 44.3 points/game and almost 500 yards of total offense).
Then you have to talk about John Papuchis who has been in the media because his name has been tied to the new head coach at Florida, Will Muschamp. I still don't know what to think of this one. Yes, the two have put in their time at the same place. But does that mean that JP will follow Muschamp?
It's not automatic and I am not going to say that it's not happening or won't happen. If there's one thing that's come of all this, Papuchis stands to make a lot more money since he's had his name thrown around a little bit by the public (regardless of where he goes).
People regard JP as being "the recruiter" on the Nebraska staff. I would argue that somewhat. I think that he's gotten some recruits like Rex Burkhead, but he's also been involved in a fair amount of what appear to be misses too. I won't name names here because the jury is still out on some, but you have your opinions on some of his guys too.
Let's talk about JP as a coach though. Ultimately I have felt like the defensive ends, other than Cameron Meredith, have been a little disappointing. Think about guys like Barry Turner last year that could have been a real force along side Ndamukong Suh or Pierre Allen this year who finished behind Meredith and Prince Amukamura in tackles this year.
And let's not forget special teams. If it weren't for guys like Adi Kunalic and Alex Henery there wouldn't have been much to write home about when it comes to the overall performance of special teams. It's actually been a sore spot for Nebraska if you think about it a little bit. Maybe there's a hire that could do some good for Nebraska in this area?
And that question dovetails into the departure of Mike Ekeler from Nebraska to Indiana. The frontrunner to replace Ekeler has to be Doug Colman who is now the linebacker coach at Tulane. More than though, what makes Colman a good candidate to me, might be what he brings to Nebraska when it comes to his knowledge of special teams. Anyone remember Colman running down the field on special teams? You had to find #46.
There are definitely the coaches that aren't going anywhere like both Pelini's, Cotton, Brown and Sanders. I would say that the Gilmore trailer is probably hitched to Watson to some extent. That could mean a move back to WRs for Ron Brown, maybe not. I regard Brown as the best offensive coach that Nebraska has most notably because of his work with Kyler Reed this past year. I would call Sanders, not considering either Pelini, as the best defensive coach.
Still, this staff as it has been has been successful. Too much turnover leaves holes in processes and it also brings up a different way of coaching than the predecessor. Nebraska will have to try and limit the number of coaches leaving to try and built some consistency and continuity among the assistant coaching ranks much like Tom Osborne enjoyed to really get things back to the "way they were".
Recruiting far from over
Recent losses in the recruiting class for Nebraska with guys like Tevin Mitchel changing his commitment to Arkansas and Darien Bryant just because of some cold feet mean that the Nebraska staff must keep things moving with prospects. By the looks of it Nebraska could be still considering a linebacker, defensive tackle, tight end, safety, cornerback and I am going to throw running back as a possibility into the mix.
Now, hear me out on the running back. I think that Nebraska might try and go after a running back after the bowl game because think about what is going on at the running back position. Does anyone feel really good about anything beyond Rex Burkhead for next year? Dontrayevous Robinson, for a player whose improvement was bragged about in every pre-season interview, looked to have some very heavy legs. Austin Jones is interesting. Beyond that though, there's not a lot.
That brings up Braylon Heard and Aaron Green. Only one of these guys, Green, is even a guarantee to make it to Lincoln next year. Heard is now pending his last ACT test on December 4th and if he misses this one he will have to go the junior college route. Don't ask me why he hasn't enrolled at junior college already to try and better his class scores that have been bringing him down.
Then there's Green and he's special. Is he durable though? If you go back and re-read some of his interviews you will see that his ankles are really bothering him. Green's numbers have dropped since his sophomore year in high school and you hope for the kid's sake that there is still something in the tank for him, but at what price? He's a talent though. Here's to hoping…
One might also wonder what happens with Bubba Starling if Watson were to leave? It's not like there weren't a hundred questions already about Starling making it to campus anyway considering his Major League Baseball career possibilities. Yes, it's not set in stone that he will go, but there's going to be a bucket of money for him this year or three years from now.
Nebraska is improving as a staff when it comes to recruiting…another reason that the changes in the staff that have happened and appear will happen will hurt Nebraska…but, they also still have a long way to go when it comes to getting everything out of the coaches, recruiting their positions and areas and finally retaining their commitments through signing day.
Anything but secure
If there is another popular topic out there that Huskers fans have opinions on it's about Taylor Martinez staying or going. I don't have any answer for you on this one. I can't even offer any insight. I would say that if Nebraska wanted to keep Martinez that they would start putting together a plan to keep Martinez in Lincoln this summer as busy as they can.
That being said, even if Martinez returns there is going to be nothing solid about him being the starter in the spring. True, Watson probably won't be here and that may lend itself into a new coordinator saying that things are "wide open" between the quarterback. But I have another reason.
Enter Brion Carnes and Jamal Turner into the picture. It's doubtful that either Carnes or Turner has the straight line speed that Martinez possesses, but who does? I would challenge Martinez though to have the type of change of direction and vision like both these players have.
I would also challenge Martinez to be a better overall passer than either too.
That being said, just as much as any other position on the field this spring, this summer and into fall camp, the quarterback position is once again headed for a battle. For the first time though in 2-3 or maybe even more years, personally, I am in favor of this battle playing out on the field.
I think that both Carnes and Turner bring a lot to the table with their game. More than that, there could possibly be a lot less off the field distractions when it comes to the two of them.
I haven't thought that the past quarterback "races" have been races at all. I didn't see their point. I didn't agree that Nebraska had more to accomplish by not crowning a player in the spring as the starter and letting the other players come and get him.
And I haven't even mentioned Cody Green yet folks.
Nebraska has a lot more to gain this spring more than any of the other quarterback races when it comes to just an open competition between the four suitors. It's time to let this race really be a race, laissez faire style, and let the best man win.