10 Questions About Spring

Now that the presser has come and gone, we can think perhaps a little more clearly about what we might see, what we won't see and what could be the most interesting over the Spring session. So, we asked ourselves 10 questions, most of which stem from comments made during the presser. Here's how we think some of this stuff will play out.

1.       What does "simpler" mean to you when you hear about how the offense is changing?

 

Bryan Munson: Simpler to me means less reads.  Less things to look for.  More black or white.  I think you also eliminate some things particularly when it comes to types of routes.  I can't imagine the different number of routes that were possible in the previous offense, but it had to be a lot.  I think that there will be less different types of routes and with that will come more reps of players running the same routes on multiple plays…or simplification through subtraction.  You have gotta like the repetition part that you get here as a result.  I think that something similar will happen when it comes to the zone read and any type of option attack that Nebraska adds to their repertoire.  Hopefully simplify also means less zone blocking up front and more straight up blocking.  Nebraska needs to get more physical and they want to attack.  That tone needs to be set up front.  I would also like to see a Nebraska offense have answers for situations that they didn't plan on like an odd-man front (see Texas and Washington in the Holiday Bowl) and ways to get off the jam when a slant route is called (see the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma).  We'll see if simpler equals results.

 

Kevin Seely: I'm hoping it means less penalties and fumbles first and foremost. But I imagine you'll see and hear less verbiage coming from the QB pre-snap. I'd also look for a "check with me" style offense from here on out. This is where the QB and the other skill position players look to the sideline just before the snap, then the coach's signal in the correct play after seeing the defensive alignment. It gives the players less to think about and more time to concentrate on their task at hand.

Steve Ryan: I remember a story about the Husker offense not long after Bill Callahan took over. It was basically about how Bill was quite proud of the fact that it took longer to say the play being ran than it did to run it. It seemed as if that was narrowed a bit when Shawn Watson took over. But that seems to have been narrowed even further with Tim Beck now the O.C. If you look at Beck's background, there isn't an NFL team to be found. I think that has something to do with his ease at being able to implement something that won't have the verbiage issues from before. And while Watson also didn't have an NFL background, he was very much influenced by NFL offensive philosophies. Beck's seemed to be firmly ingrained at the collegiate level, which I think gives this offense automatically a simpler tone and structure. That should help college kids be able to get this thing down much quicker than before.
 

2.       Former Husker Brendan Stai is joining the staff as an intern. What do you think that does for the offensive line, even though interns are very limited in what they can do?

 

Bryan Munson: Instant credibility to the offensive line is what Stai brings to the table.  Stai was an All-American at Nebraska, started in the NFL and played in a Super Bowl.  The part that I am a little confused with is his title of intern.  What does the path look like here for Stai when it comes to gaining traction and really becoming a full-time coach?  Nebraska just hired John Garrison.  One could argue between Stai and Garrison who is better qualified for the full-time job.  Stai will have an effect.  I had the pleasure of watching him work last summer during camp and he relates well and still looks like he could put on the pads and play at a high level. 

 

Kevin Seely: I personally don't see how it could be a negative. The guy played both college and pro football and should have picked up a wealth of knowledge over those experiences. Maybe if this move works out, they'll move him to OL coach when Barney eventually decides to step down.

 

Steve Ryan: it's interesting. I know from watching Stai when he was with the Huskers and then with the Steelers that he approached the game with a very physical mind-set. That sounds kind of stupid when you are talking about the offensive line. Redundant at the very least. Aren't they all physical? I think some may approach the game with a little more technical prowess than others, sometimes forgetting about the fact that in the trenches you still have to hit someone on the mouth. It's not that I don't think the offensive line did that last year. We have to remember that they looked absolutely dominant until the Texas game, where a talented defensive line group shut the Husker offensive line down. But maybe there is something else we are missing. Can Stai bring that, especially from a film room where most of his influence will be felt due to the restrictions on interns? I guess it can't be a bad thing. I'm just not sure that it is going to be this elixir for a group which has some issues with consistency as of late.

 

3.       Alfonzo Dennard talked about how it's all about technique now as it wasn't so much under former Secondary Coach, Marvin Sanders. Considering the success of the secondary under Sanders, do you have any concerns about this secondary taking a step back, and if so, will it be simply due to the loss of some great players or might it be coaching?

 

Bryan Munson: Change often means an immediate regression to some extent.  You are changing up what has been practiced and what had become natural for the players is something that they won't be doing anymore.  Some type of step back is expected because of this.  The anticipated lapse to me though will be mostly because of the departure of what I consider the best collection of defensive backs I have seen on the field at one time at Nebraska.  Consider losing Prince Amukamara, Dejon Gomes and Eric Hagg in one season and that is a lot of talent, a lot of experience and anywhere from 50% to 75% of your starting defensive backfield taking into consideration the defense that is being run.  Scheme and what is being coached now plays a part, but the departure of that many starters is larger.

 

Kevin Seely: I would say my concerns are moderate at this point. With Bo at the helm I really don't ever see a falloff in coaching technique at any of the positions on defense. As great a coach as Marvin was, this is Bo's defense and the strategy and techniques being taught are his. The real question in my mind is can coach Raymond articulate those ideas to the players as well as his predecessor? From what little I've heard about the new DB coach, that shouldn't be a problem at all.

 

Steve Ryan: This actually does worry me. So much of the success of this team, especially on defense, seems to have stemmed from Bo allowing players to play. He didn't bog them down with so many of the details, especially early on. He wanted to see effort, and then he worked in the rest of the fundamentals and scheme. I doubt many people's memories are so short they forget that this secondary has been one of the best in the country the last three years. Throwing on Nebraska was almost stupid at certain points. And when Texas did beat Nebraska with Garrett Gilbert under center, he did it improbably, running much more than passing. And in the rematch against Jake Locker, he was great against the run, but he was still 5-of-16 passing. In my opinion this secondary didn't need fixed. And maybe they weren't the best as far as technique some pro scouts demand, they had pretty close to perfect technique for what former Secondary Coach Marvin Sanders needed for them to play at a level that we haven't seen since the last time Sanders was at Nebraska in 2003. This one worries me, because all I hear is about how technique is going to be stressed. It's all about technique. I worry that they will be more worried about where their hands are, where their feet are and everything else, instead of doing what they did so well the last few years and that was just making plays.

 

4.       The conversation from coaches and players seems to point to the fact that the hybrid position Eric Hagg played for the Huskers, was there simply due to the fact that Hagg could do it. With Hagg now gone, do you see this defense going back to the traditional 4-3?

 

Bryan Munson: Personnel dictates and players like Hagg don't come along all the time.  Potentially you could see Daimion Stafford grow into that type of player.  I think if there is another name to possibly consider that is currently on the roster it might be Bronson Marsh.  Marsh is an excellent athlete.  He's physical, has a good frame and I think that like Hagg that Marsh could fit into that "tweener" type of player between safety and linebacker.

 

Kevin Seely: Moving to a more run-oriented conference means we'll see less of that hybrid position, not because Hagg has graduated. On obvious passing downs we will still see the "big nickel" or "peso" defense show up in Big Ten play, but I think the days of it being the base defense of the Blackshirts is over.

 

Steve Ryan: I do. I think this means the defense is going to look a lot more familiar, despite the fact that for a few years now we have seen more and more nickel and dime than perhaps ever before. I think going back to the good old 4-3, i.e. three linebackers and no hybrid linebacker/safety. It' s not that they won't be able to go to that, but I just don't think they will see nearly as many situations in the Big Ten which demand that, versus their time in the Big 12.

 

5.       Cameron Meredith will miss the entire Spring due to injury. Kenny Anderson, another defensive end, is also out. Are there any defensive ends we aren't talking about who you think will come out of this Spring as a surprise?

 

Bryan Munson: The two names that were mentioned by Carl Pelini in the press conference, Josh Williams and Jason Ankrah, as well as Eric Martin all have excellent opportunities to make a statement this spring at defensive end.  All three were touted recruits and are talented players.  Some time this spring to really get on the field, pin their ears back and play a little more will help the defensive line this fall.

 

Kevin Seely: Ankrah and Williams need to make the most of this opportunity this spring. I haven't been overly impressed with either, but they are both still pretty young in the system. Then there are other redshirt players like Donovan Vestal, Tobi Okuyemi and Walker Ashburn who have a year under their belts. But I really think all that could be moot. I'd put my money of Joe Carter starting opposite Meredith next year.

 

Steve Ryan: Walker Ashburn tops my list of players who I think will take full advantage of this opportunity they might not have gotten otherwise. Ashburn would have gotten a lot of reps to be sure, as that is what the Spring is about. But now he has a chance to compete with Josh Williams, basically an incumbent starter with the loss of Pierre Allen, and Jason Ankrah, a sophomore just working himself into the system. Ashburn is a little different, physically. But he has a high motor, and he's someone who I think comes out of this with a nice head of steam.

 

6.       Jake Cotton moves to the offensive line, and he'll be playing tackle. Good move?

 

Bryan Munson: Very good move.  While it was clear talking to Jake Cotton in high school that his heart was set on defense the biggest difference between high school football and college football along the interior of the defensive line is leverage.  Height is a huge factor when it comes to leverage and simply put there are few players like Jared Crick that not only have learned how to keep leverage being that tall, but excel.  I would go as far as to say that Baker Steinkuhler is still trying to master pad level and leverage.  Just as a little side note, I looked through seven or eight NFL rosters and only found one defensive tackle that was 6-foot-5.  Most are in the 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 range.

 

Kevin Seely: Yeah, I agree with the move. From looking at his body type he seems more apt to grow into an OT down the road. It was my understanding the coaches tried him out in some OL drills, liked what they saw and made the move.

 

Steve Ryan: Excellent move, and if you remember, it is one we speculated would happen even before Cotton arrived. He's just so long, has long arms and he's very athletic. This move makes perfect sense, and it's not easy to tell if there is more depth at tackle than there appears. There are some bodies, and some guys who we have really high expectations of, such as Tyler Moore who could play inside or outside. But Cotton is a perfect fit at this position as far as I am concerned. I think that makes his future that much brighter.

 

7.       Eric Martin stays at defensive end. Maybe that's due to the rash of injuries. Maybe they see him there. Do you think he belongs at DE or should he move back to middle linebacker?

 

Bryan Munson: Middle linebacker is a complicated position.  It's a thinking spot.  Martin needs to be at a position where you just tell him to go hit someone.  The defensive end spot has responsibilities, but it's also been a position that has needed a spark of a real threat coming off of the edge.  Martin could be that guy for Coach John Papuchis and Coach Bo Pelini.  It's a position that I believe he could have a bigger impact at in the long term.

 

Kevin Seely: He doesn't have the lateral quickness needed to cover in Bo's system, I think that's the main reason for the move from LB. Eric plays best when he's moving straight ahead and initiating contact, not moving side-to-side trying to keep relationship with a WR, TE or RB. Use him on passing downs as a disrupter coming off the edge, when he has on only job … get to the quarterback.

 

Steve Ryan: I still think he moves back to linebacker eventually. Nebraska just lost two defensive  ends, one a starter. It makes sense that when you go down two guys for Spring, you don't want to start taking other guys away. I think Martin will be there to give the offensive line a decent look, as he is athletic and pretty explosive for someone his size. But I do think that come Fall, if there aren't any other major injury issues at defensive end, he'll make the move back to middle linebacker.

 

8.       Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Kenny Bell both got high praise from Brandon Kinnie, especially for their speed. Out of the two, who do you think can have the biggest impact early?

 

Bryan Munson: Jean-Baptiste has the size that Bell probably wishes that he had.  Jean-Baptiste is listed at 220-pounds and Bell is listed at 180-pounds.  I think that there is still going to be a length of time for Bell to add just a little more size to that long frame and also to really adjust to the speed of the game.  Jean-Baptiste has at least played at a higher level having played at Fort Scott (Kans.) Junior College and was part of a team that finished second in the nation before he transferred to Nebraska.  Bell will get on the field and will flash his speed, but Jean-Baptiste will have more of a role in the weekly game plan simply because of how he's built.

 

Kevin Seely: With the loss of Paul, getting speed on the field will be a must. And early reports say Kenny Bell has the speed to make a difference as a freshman. But the WR position has been a huge disappointment over the last two years, so any progress by the younger players should be viewed as a very positive sign. If I'm making a guess between the two, Bell would be my pick.

 

Steve Ryan: I love Bell for his speed, but I like Jean-Baptiste, because he has size as well. With Bell, I just don't think you will ever see him as a guy who is going to be anywhere near 200 lbs. I don't think he has the frame for it, and I don't think that would keep him doing what he does best. He's a slot guy, a bonafide deep threat who knows how to go up and get the ball at its highest point. He's a playmaker, basically. And not all playmakers are every down players. It's not a failing, as I think Bell could be one of Nebraska's biggest potential playmakers this year, perhaps on special teams as well. But on a down-to-down basis, I think Jean-Baptiste will be seen a lot more, though, I am not willing to say who, by the end of it all, will have the most production. That is, to me, a toss up right now.

 

9.       Jeremiah Sirles is also out for the entire Spring due to injury. Jermarcus Hardrick is the man at left tackle now. Do you see it staying that way, and will Hardrick be the guy coming out of Spring and heading into the Fall?

 

Bryan Munson: This was the idea going into the fall and while I would like to see Hardrick step up and really throw his name into the mix for not just more minutes, but starting time I just don't think that it's realistic.  There weren't many players on the offensive side of the ball last year that I was more impressed with than Sirles.  As just a redshirt freshman Sirles played fairly consistently and is going to only get better with time.  If there is a reason Hardrick does become more of a favorite to play this year it might not be because of time that Sirles missed in the spring, but could be more of a change in the offense suiting the skills and road-grading style that Hardrick is capable of.

 

Kevin Seely: Personally, I would put Hardrick at LT and move Sirles to RT once he returns healthy. I haven't been impressed with Marcel's toughness or ability playing on the right side and he is too injury prone. I'd prefer to see both Jeremiah and Yoshi on the field at the same time, and make Marcel the swing tackle.

 

Steve Ryan: Hardrick's deal has been about being physically able to do it from a strength standpoint, and understanding the system. Well, as we have heard quite often now, the system has gotten simpler. That gives him a leg up, so to speak. Also, while Hardrick may not have been Mr. brute strength last year, he was still able to play and be very effective, because one, he's very athletic and quick getting up into his stance. And two, he's got the build where he's just hard to get around, and his long arms make it even harder. Plus, there's that motor of his, a little Ricky Henry like, which is always a good thing. I say he's the guy, but with Sirles out, I do look for other players like Jesse Coffey, Mike Moudy, Tyler Moore and maybe even Brandon Thomspon, who was moved inside last year, as potential contributors on the outside.

 

10.   There are a lot of issues this team will have to address over the Spring. Some say turnovers need to be fixed first. Others say that the offensive line is in shambles. What area do you hope they address the most over this session? 

Bryan Munson: Out of this spring an identity must emerge of what this offense will look like.  There is no way that a finished product will be on the field.  It won't even be close and I think that people need to be realistic about that.  If you look at the immediate success that Bo Pelini had on the defensive side of the ball you have to consider the buying in of the players as a big part of that.  The offensive players must buy in to what is going to happen because they see the bigger picture and aren't necessarily going to get there this spring and potentially even this fall.

 

Kevin Seely: The offensive line is the most pressing issue in my opinion. The passing game was awful, the QB's looked shaky in the pocket and the safety play got worse as the year went on, but the offensive line seemed to be the most inconsistent from week to week. And at a program like Nebraska, whose storied tradition was built by having dominant offensive lines, that has to be rectified

 

Steve Ryan: Turnovers first. And we won't know if they have that "handled" until the actual season. Well, unless they have a rash of them in the Spring Game, which you can only hope that's not the case. The offensive line isn't in shambles from where I am sitting. I think it should be good this year, and they have more and more depth at almost every position. Going back to a point I made earlier, I think the secondary is my biggest concern. They have players, there's no doubt about that. They have some potential playmakers from a host of guys including Harvey Jackson, Corey Cooper, P.J. Smith and the list does indeed go on. And I don't know that coming out of this Spring we are going to know a thing, because while Nebraska may be mixing things up a bit, they aren't going to go Mike Leach in the passing game. But the Spring isn't about game planning. It's about fundamentals, and I for one am going to wait and see what this secondary does. And I for one am just glad for the team that they aren't in the Big 12 this year. A new secondary coach in that league could be a dangerous deal.

 

 

 


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