Replacing a player like Jared Crick is no easy task, but seeing as he played only a handful of games last year it should be interesting to see how the d-tackle position pans out during the season.
Injured DT's take on new role
The injuries that plagued the defensive tackle position last season have transferred over into spring practices.
Chase Rome, Thad Randle, Todd Peat Jr. and Kevin Williams have all reported injuries that have prevented them from taking part in practice, but just because they can't practice doesn't mean they can't improve in other areas.
"They're taking mental reps and you hear them in the background," said Kaczenski. "What's great about it is that I haven't had to ask them to do it, nor has Coach J.P. (John Papuchis). They're doing it on their own."
From a physical standpoint, sitting on the sideline isn't going to help win a starting spot, but from a mental aspect it can be a huge difference maker. And don't forget about the leadership qualities these players have taken upon themselves, something Kaczenski attributes to Nebraska's culture.
"Everybody got here because somebody helped them," Kaczenski explained. "That's just part of the culture here, and that's great because they're paying attention and getting mental reps. I'm very happy with the way those guys have handled themselves."
With four potential starters out of the picture, some younger players are attempting to step up and take advantage of the opportunity. So how exactly are the younger DT's performing?
"I think they're coming along," explained Kaczenski. "It's easy when you get three or four reps at a time, now all of a sudden you get seven or eight plays in a row. That's what you're battling, that concentration; fighting through those things saying ‘can I concentrate? Can I achieve my part?'
"We always say: ‘Who am I? Where do I line? What's my job?' That's easy on play one; everybody's excited. Now is when it becomes a grind, getting double-teamed and all of those things. Can you concentrate? Can you fight through those things?"
Don't let the injuries fool you. Coach Kaczenski expects results, and he doesn't care who's lining up at the position.
"Obviously it would be great to have those guys out there," said Kaczenski. "You can never have too many DT's, but no matter who's out there—no matter what string it is, what year the guy is—I'm expecting the same results."
Coach Kaczenski is no stranger to the Big Ten. He joins the defensive staff after building an impressive resume on Kirk Ferentz's staff at Iowa. The play of Kaczenski's defensive lines played a key role in Iowa's success the past five seasons, which is why his insight will be a valuable commodity to the Husker defense.
"The league we play in, obviously it's a big, old, physical league and there are some athletic cats that we're going to be playing against week-in and week-out," said Kaczenski.
"It's probably more mental than anything. ‘Can I concentrate and execute my assignment when I'm tired? Can I focus on my target?' By the end of the season, we're probably not going to have the luxury of rotating eight-to-ten guys. Not too many people do in this league.
"Like I said before, we beat up on each other, so guys are going to have to learn to fight through those things."
Everybody has their own definition of what a leader is. Here is Coach K's definition:
"'What are you doing when nobody's looking? Are you watching tape on your own? Are you being a good citizen off the field? Are you going to class?
"All of those things, there's a correlation," explained Coach K. "It's hard to find too many great football players that are bad people. Things usually catch up to the bad people, and those are good guys and they're great leaders by the way they carry themselves."
- Josh Harvey -