At last, March Madness has arrived!
But for those Nebraskans out there, don't take that as a reference to that basketball tournament that starts in a few weeks. Around here, buzzer beaters and Cinderella stories take a back seat to the thing Nebraskans prize the most: Husker football.
Although spring practices don't officially begin until Saturday, that doesn't mean the gossip and rumors have to wait until then. On Tuesday afternoon, the Nebraska athletic department held its spring football press conference where coaches and players were available to answer a wide variety of questions from the media.
Here are a few of Tuesday's offensive-related talking points:
Details, Details, Details…
Head coach Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck both answered questions about Nebraska's offense, and the two coaches appeared to have agreed on one main theme: taking this offense to the next level by focusing on the details.
"Details and refining what we are doing," said Pelini. "Developing greater knowledge. My whole theme of this offseason has been accountability and raising our level of accountability to a level it hasn't been to yet.
"I'm looking at taking it to another level. That pertains to a lot of areas when you talk about football. You're talking about accountability which leads to mental toughness which leads to attention to detail which leads to ultimately becoming a better football team. That is what I am looking for through the spring, top to bottom and front to back."
When Coach Beck was asked about what made this spring different than last year, he pointed to a new-found familiarity that was absent when he installed the new offense last year.
"Compared to last year, it was such a whirlwind trying to get the staff on the same page and teaching the kids a new system," he said. "You always felt like you were chasing your tale. Having the same staff in place with the same system, like Bo talked about, it allows you to refine some of the detail you need to offensively."
When you address the topic of Nebraska's offense, it's almost certain that Husker fans are going to bring up the inconsistencies of quarterback Taylor Martinez. Despite putting himself in place to break a number of Nebraska's records, fans still seem to question his ability to lead the offense.
Coach Pelini came to his quarterback's defense and hinted that Martinez will benefit from having an entire season's worth of experience running Beck's offense.
"Last year, he was put in a new offense and lot of new things for him to learn," he said. "You put a quarterback in the type of system that we run, and a lot of things go through our quarterback and he had a lot on his plate, just learning what to do. Now is about refining ‘the what' and learning ‘the how' and learning details. To his defense, and to his credit to a certain extent, he didn't have the opportunity to work on it last year. This will be the first time in his career he has spent a second year in the same system. That's going to be a big advantage to him so he can start concentrating on getting better at the little things and refining the techniques and fundamentals that ultimately will allow him to grow at quarterback.
"I think he has made that adjustment to an extent. I think he has been different this offseason than he was last. He continues to grow and I like his evolution up to this point but he has to continue to grow. It is all part of the process. He has a lot of football ahead of him and has talent behind him."
That "talent" includes backup quarterback Brion Carnes, a player that didn't see much playing time in 2011. However, it appears as if things are starting to click for the young quarterback.
"I'm excited about Brion Carnes," Pelini said. "I think this competition will ramp up this spring and I think Brion has made a lot of strides this off-season and through the winter. He will be fun to watch as the spring goes on and I think the position, as a whole, has to keep refining and getting better and working on strengths."
Mike "the Utility Man" Marrow
Many fans should be delighted to hear that fullback Mike Marrow, a junior transfer from the University of Alabama, has the coaching staff excited before the first practice. Coming into the spring, many have wondered how the Huskers are going to limit Rex Burkhead's touches. Last year, Burkehead took a beating—an aspect that kept Nebraska's star running back out of many late-season practices.
Marrow, however, could be the answer to this dilemma next fall, and it appears as if fullback isn't the only position the coaching staff has in mind for him.
"Mike is a guy who can do a lot of different things for us," Pelini said. "He'll primarily line up at the fullback spot for us, but he's a big back who can run. He can be a good short-yardage, between-the-tackles type of runner. He's big, he's physical, he's tough. I think there's a lot of different things we can do with him."
Marrow has some catching up to do with the playbook seeing as he missed last season due to NCAA rules, but, according to Pelini, he is physically ready to see substantial playing time.
"First thing's first, we need to get him honed up and learning the offense. He's in really good shape. He's really used the last year and a half well to get himself prepared to play. As long as he stays on the same track that he's on right now, I feel like he's a guy that can really help us out."
Marrow could also be the guy who takes a lot of the pressure off of freshmen running backs Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green. The talented, speedy duo will be looked upon to take on a bigger role this year, which will also take some weight off of Burkhead's shoulders.
"Those guys are two talented young men, two guys that can do a lot of things," said Pelini. "Once again, as true freshman, they were thrown into a role. A lot of it was to learn what to do and playing off of instincts. Now, they have a chance to refine what they know their second year in the system and to continue to grow.
"It's our job to put the ball in their hands more often than we did a year ago. They're not freshman anymore. They stopped being freshman a long time ago, and I think they can be a force for our football team. They're both tremendously talented players."
Mike Caputo wrapped up his successful Husker career at the Capitol One Bowl, but how do you replace a second-team All Big-Ten center? Is there anyone who can fill the spot? According to Pelini, he has a few players in mind.
"Well I think it is going to be a really good competition, he said. "You've got Cole Pensick, Justin Jackson, Mark Pelini and Ryne Reeves. We have four guys that we feel like are good football players. There is a lot of potential there for competition and I think competition makes you better. Now it is up to us to get them all reps and get them taught and give them a chance to put their best foot forward."
- Josh Harvey -