A Spring This and That

It's impossible to draw any real conclusions after three days of practice, and in the Spring. But there are certain scenarios that can perhaps speculate on without feeling we are just throwing darts. Let's look at a couple of those.

Subtraction by Subtraction

When you lose Roy Helu Jr., one of the most productive backs in Husker history in terms of yards. And then you lose Dontrayevous Robinson, a back who, if he had stuck around, might have been the big back the Huskers might sorely need this year, that is going to present a problem.

That takes you down two players, one of which was a consistent starter and another that had started during their brief Husker career.

Braylon Heard never made it last year, and until he shows up to Lincoln, it's kind of hard to pencil him in the mix. I am sure the Husker coaches would have liked if this was Heard's redshirt freshman season instead of him still not being on campus over a year after he graduated high school.

Then there is Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah, who won't be able to be coached until Fall camp begins.

That leaves you with a backfield that is Calista Flockhart thin.

Oh, and Rex Burkhead missed yesterday's practice with a tight hamstring. And if you know anything about hamstrings, they could be nothing, but test them and they could go from that to being a season-ender, potentially.

My guess is that you might not see him the rest of the Spring, and I wouldn't blame the coaches a bit for sitting him, even if he's 100 percent before the Spring Game arrives.

Collins Okafor will never have a better opportunity than this Spring to prove he can get on the field for more than mop up duty.

Do you want a Rex Burkhead going into the Fall session invigorated and healthy, or do you want a Burkhead going into the Fall coming off another rehab?

He's been a starter, a go-to guy and he knows this offense, albeit a tweaked version of what we saw last year. From my way of thinking, if a green jersey means he shouldn't get hit, I'd throw something even brighter on, perhaps a neon yellow that tells everyone that you don't hit him, touch him, even graze him.

They need that guy upright and in the Fall. Now doesn't matter.

But look at the backfield now. It was already a sparse group going into the Spring, because Lester Ward who was there, is now at tight end. Yusef Wade, a redshirt freshman who moved there, is probably out the Spring with an injury that put him on crutches.

What does that leave you with?

Collins Okafor, the only remaining scholarship guy in the backfield, outside of fullback, C.J. Zimmerer.

You have fullbacks taking reps at running back, and a mish mosh of coaches trying to find enough reps.

I can hear you saying that they are getting a ton of reps, more than they have ever gotten. It's a great opportunity for backs which might not have gotten the opportunity otherwise.

That's true, but there is also something that needs to be said about what the defense is going to see.

You see, it's more than just running backs getting a lot of snaps. The defense has to get quality snaps from the offense. If they aren't tested as much as they can be during what is normally the most physical time of the year in regard to practices, they probably aren't getting as much out of this time of the year as you would probably want to see.

Not to take away anything from players like Ty Kildow who moved over from wide receiver or Zach Taylor, a freshman running back from Lincoln Southeast. But they aren't Roy. They aren't Rex. I don't think anyone is going to argue too much with me about that. And again, I don't think that the coaches really have the luxury of just throwing Rex out there, hoping he doesn't get hurt. He's already dealing with an injury that is a fickle one, at best. One slight exaggerated move and a tweak can become a tear, and then what do you have?

Ron Brown talked yesterday at length about Collins Okafor. Out of high school here was a guy that just when you look at measurables, he had them and then some. He was over six-foot. He was over 210 lbs., and he had legit track speed. On paper he should have been a huge presence already in that backfield. But for whatever reason he hasn't been.

Brown said that right now, this is his time. He talked about efficiency and just translating his impressive physical attributes to a more efficient style of football that could take advantage of his still impressive speed with his now increased size as Okafor goes at around 225 lbs. He could be that big back, but he could also be another solid contributor in the backfield, because he's so much more than just a short yardage guy.

Maybe Rex comes back in the almost two weeks off for Spring break, and he's absolutely, positively good to go. If that's the case, I still expect that they will try and keep him that way. Brown said yesterday that they know what they have in Rex, so his reps, even if he's healthy, might be significantly limited. It's everyone else they have to figure out.

Well, I have no doubt they will have a lot of knowledge about these guys that if everyone had came back and everyone was healthy, they wouldn't have found out. But one thing we can already say even before the second part of this Spring session ensues.

They are thin, which means that what we know of this backfield probably isn't even remotely close to what we will find out about the entire backfield when the Fall session begins.

New Faces, New Ways

I've been trying to get a feel for the players' feel for their new coaches. I am, of course, speaking about those who have new position coaches as the quarterbacks now have Tim Beck, the receivers have Rich Fisher, the linebackers have Ross Els and the secondary has Corey Raymond.

With Fisher, it seems as he's just working himself into the system, meaning he's putting in his philosophies, but seemingly with this apparent mind-set that he's in a learning stage as much as his players, as he's trying to get to know his players, both as athletes and as people. Senior wideout Brandon Kinnie said it's a bit more laid back than it was with Gilmore, which is to be expected.

There are some coaches who can or do come in and just start firing way - do this, do that, this is how it's done, this is how it's going to go. Fisher seems to be going at this with a fairly even approach as he is teaching and learning at the same time.

Junior linebacker Will Compton is gushing about Els. And remember, this is a young man who was about as close to former LB Coach Mike Ekeler, as anyone. He considered him then and even now as a father figure, as Will said he has talked to "Eck" almost on a weekly basis since he took the job as Co-DC at the University of Indiana.

But you can tell he's excited about Els. But I also think he's excited for the idea that the team will finally be getting back to playing the kind of football he was hoping to play when he arrived. Three linebackers on the field, sometimes even four, and just knowing that he won't be wondering if he's going to play week-to-week as most every other linebacker outside of Lavonte David wondered last year and even the year before. He knows they are going to play, and while he said he'll certainly miss Eckeler's enthusiasm as you aren't likely to ever see someone with the kind of energy that he had, he's been relishing Els' way of doing things, his own passion for the game and how much he's been learning in what is still the infant stages of this round of practices.

New WR Coach Rich Fisher seems to be taking a serious approach, but with a casual demeanor as he is is trying to understand his player while putting his own stamp on this unit.

Coach Raymond seems to be very much about a businesslike approach. He's preached technique since he arrived, and while it's really hard to gauge anything about his personality right now as we, the media, haven't talked to any of the new assistants as of yet - he very much appears to be a guy who has one eye on the players, the other in the playbook, and he's getting them ready for the future.

I have said this before, but replacing Marvin Sanders is an unenviable task to say the least. What Sanders over the last three years and dating back to 2003 when he was the secondary coach under then D.C. Bo Pelini - well, you look at his resume'. It speaks for itself. And he had this style about him that players gravitated toward. Both a coach and a friend, joking with his guys while still being able to remind them very quickly (if needed), there's still a job to be done.

That's going to be a tough one. I'm sure Raymond has the ability. I have grown to have enough faith in Bo's passion for and excellence at coaching defense to theorize that as long as he and his brother are in charge of that defense, it's always going to be good. Sometimes great, but always good, which I think you could say the same for the quality of the coaches they decide to bring in.

As for Beck, he perhaps has the toughest job of all. And I don't mean as the O.C. I actually think that won't be that big of a deal for him. He knows what he wants to do. Bo knows what he wants to do. I think it's the quarterback aspect that might be a bit of a road.

He's been a head coach at the prep level a few times over. He's coached wide receivers and running backs in college, while also assuming a role of passing game coordinator. But the quarterback hasn't found itself on his resume' until now.

And to me, it's the hardest position to teach...by far.

Ron Brown talked about how he was feeling his way through the process, and he's "just" coaching the running backs. There's the hole, see it, take it, go to the end zone.

That's over simplified to say the least, of course. But I doubt anyone is going to argue that the quarterback's knowledge of the offense has to be the most of any other player on the team. The quarterback also has to be able to read defenses. The quarterback also has to be able to improvise at the line, during the course of a play and all the while, be responsible with the ball.

Many of those issues which I just listed, were actual issues last year. Taylor Martinez was a freshman, so he was going to make his share of freshman mistakes. He was prone to turning the ball over, had a bad habit of just throwing the ball to nobody in particular when he didn't seem to have any options left and, of course, he wasn't healthy.

Experience was going to be a great lesson for him, so just from that you'd expect him to be better. But now he's a freshman again, so to speak, because after one year of doing one thing, he's now going to be doing another. No, it's not dramatically different and Beck knows in his own mind what he thinks Martinez is pretty darn good at right now and where he needs the most work.

From where I am sitting, former O.C. and QB Coach Shawn Watson - he was a quarterback coach. But he was a coach for a specific type of quarterback. Under center, maybe a little out of the gun, stand your ground, read the field and evaluate the situation. Ala the West Coast style which he often trumpeted as one of the most versatile offenses around, there was still a sold framework about things Watsons liked his quarterbacks to do.

Running all over hell wasn't one of them.

Designing a passing game outside of the pocket wasn't exactly hitting the spirit of the west coast offense either. But Taylor Martinez' high school coach from Centennial High, where Martinez helped his team to an undefeated season and a state title, said that Watson fixed a couple hitches in Martinez' still awkward looking throwing motion. He said Watson made him a better QB.

I guess someone who coached him would know, right?

Can Beck do that?

Coaches certainly get too much blame for things, but I also think that we shouldn't just assume that just because it says "coach" on your shirt, it means that you instantly know how to coach every single position on the field. I think that's a pretty blind and dangerous assumption.

We often hear about how football is just throwing, catching, running, blocking, tackling - the simplest of games with the most basic of goals.

Of course, it's not quite that simple.

It was my opinion only recently that we could see something similar to what Kansas did with Todd Reesing. But it should be apparent, at least right now, that Nebraska doesn't have Todd Reesing or anyone that appears to be quite the thrower that Reesing, a one-time Heisman candidate, was.

That means if you don't have it, you have to make it, and that means changing the quarterbacks you have now into something they perhaps haven't been their entire career.

Maybe that will happen down the line, but I don't think now is the time to do that, nor do I think Beck would even think of doing that.

In this particular case, I think that for once when a coach says that they do indeed cater a system specifically to what they have on the roster, it's going to be absolutely true. A lot of coaches say they do that, but I think we have seen plenty of examples where coaches are still trying to run their stuff, and trying to adjust their quarterbacks to the point they can do it, too.

I think Beck has his system in mind, but it's pretty obvious the type of quarterback they have recruited the last couple of years. And that is exactly what he has to do.

These are quarterbacks who came out of high school with the reputation that they could throw, but then there was the very obvious reality that all of them could flat out run.

They won't change that. I am not even sure that they could even if they wanted to.

That's not a bad thing. Like Bo said almost from the point he got to Nebraska, he knows what he wants to do. And while I don't necessarily think the quarterbacks will be the prettiest thing to watch in regard to their throwing prowess, I do think they will be able to run this offense. And that is really all that matters in the end.

As most Nebraska fans should know all too well when it comes to the passing game, it doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to be good.


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