Lincoln, Neb. -
Gloomy weather loomed over Lincoln all Saturday, but nearly and hour before kickoff, things took a turn for the worse. Rain, hail, lightning, and severe weather watches forced Nebraska to cancel the game for the first time since 1949, skipping their final practice in the process.
While the Huskers weren't able to put on a show for fans in attendance and the Big Ten Network, the coaching staff felt 14 practices allowed for progress.
With their attention now turned to summer conditioning and workouts, here are four things Big Red Report's J.C. Reid learned throughout spring:
1. T-Magic should make a jump in junior year
At the beginning of spring practices, the coaching staff hinted this could be a big spring for junior quarterback Taylor Martinez. The thought was he could now focus on improving the "little things," as opposed to learning a brand new offense as he did all of last spring.
"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," said Pelini. "Refining the techniques and fundamentals ultimately will allow him to grow at quarterback."
But apparently it wasn't the "little things" that Martinez had in mind. Instead, he surprised many by attending training sessions with respected quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun during spring break.
A week later Martinez returned with better footwork, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck commented on his quarterback's improvements. "He looks like a different guy in the passing game," Beck said. "He's had good confidence, poise, presence in the pocket and footwork."
Is this just the normal offseason rhetoric? Or is this a sign that T-Magic is taking the next step into becoming one of the nation's most electric dual-threat quarterbacks? The cancellation of the spring game makes it hard to evaluate (or over analyze), but if he does indeed add a solid throwing game to his arsenal - especially against top-notch defenses - it could be the exact thing the Nebraska offense needs to take it to the next level.
Here's some food for thought: Is it possible Calhoun's mini-camp could somehow make Martinez's throwing worse? The obvious answer is no, so it isn't too much of a stretch to say his passing should, at the very least, slightly improve next fall. He's finally had a year to perfect Beck's offense - which is tailored to Martinez's skill-set - and he is allegedly improving in the one area he needs to improve the most. Plus, he will be a junior in the fall, which is often viewed as the year where players make their biggest on-field improvements.
If Martinez truly does turn the corner next fall, the Oct. 27th Dennard Robinson versus Taylor Martinez showdown at Memorial Stadium could be one for the ages, and quite possibly the game that decides the Legends Division.
2. Size in the secondary?
After the Capital One Bowl Game loss, former secondary coach Corey Raymond made the observation South Carolina's defensive backs were the difference in the game, citing their physical presence as a major difference between the two teams.
Last year, future NFL corner Alfonzo Dennard (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) stifled defenses with his quickness and athletic ability, but his size unquestionably became a factor when he was overmatched by South Carolina's Alshon Jeffrey. While Dennard's contribution to the secondary was second-to-none, his absence will certainly provide a different opportunity for the 2012 defensive backs.
Next fall, NU's secondary has four players contending for playing time who stand 6-foot-2 or taller.
Senior Antonio Bell (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and junior Andrew Green (6-foot, 195 pounds) appear to be the leading candidates, but a lot can change before next fall. Junior college transfer Mohammed Seisay (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and junior Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) will be more than hungry to steal those jobs.
Senior safety P.J. Smith (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and sophomore Harvey Jackson (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) will also be making strong cases to see significant playing time in the secondary. "He (P.J.) has had a good spring up to this point," said Pelini. "I think he has a lot better understanding. He's playing good football right now."
3. Running back position could be the deepest in recent memory
Senior Rex Burkhead (1357 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011) isn't a preseason Heisman candidate by many media outlets. That's fine. To be honest, it's more than fine. If there is one player you want holding a grudge next fall, it's the guy nicknamed Superman since high school.
To be honest, Burkhead shouldn't be a Heisman candidate - but for reasons other than his running ability. I simply don't believe he will post Heisman-worthy numbers, mainly because of the three-headed monster that will be Nebraska's backfield.
Burkhead will obviously be the focal point of the offense and will receive the majority of the carries, but Pelini stated earlier in spring that sophomore running backs Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green will help lighten the load in attempt to keep Burkhead healthier all season.
"It's our job to put the ball in their hands more often than we did a year ago," said Pelini. "They're both tremendously talented players."
And what happens when you add Alabama-transfer Mike Marrow to the mix? A player who was described as "an explosion waiting to happen."
"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."
Will he be used more as a blocker? Will he carry the ball on short-yardage plays? Could he make his way into the fan-favorite "diamond" formation?
All possibilities are on the table at this point, but one thing is for certain: Teams will not be overlooking Burkhead, Abdullah, Green, or Marrow.
4. Opportunities elsewhere?
Bo's not going anywhere. Not for a while at least. So far he's allegedly turned down opportunities to formally interview at Miami and Penn State—both of which are football powerhouses in their own respect. In addition his name has been thrown out for countless other jobs like Arkansas this spring. But this wasn't the first time he called the job speculation "ridiculous."
"I don't even know how that stuff happens," he stated. "I'm here and I'm happy to be here."
Finally, he gave Husker Nation what they've waited to hear for some time when he described Nebraska as a "destination" job. The fact of the matter is Pelini is not going to make a lateral switch. Unless a LSU, Ohio St. or as the Lincoln Journal Star's Steve Sipple reports a Notre Dame comes knocking - or the NFL for that matter — fans shouldn't lose sleep over the message board chatter.
Interesting post spring position battle updates:
The son of a former Husker, Pensick separated himself from the pack after being the center in waiting the last two seasons. Coaches bring up Jackson's leadership qualities, but he hasn't logged enough minutes at the position to beat out Pensick.
Projection in the fall: Pensick
CB.) Antonio Bell (Sr.) lead over Mohammed Seisay (Jr.)
While Seisay actually spent most of the time reporters were able to see behind the other corner in Nebraska practices, it's our prediction he will be battling Bell for the starting spot in the fall. The junior college product was smart to enroll early at NU and the growing pains of learning a new defense should wear off by the fall.
Projection in the fall: Seisay
OT.) Jeremiah Sirles (Jr.) lead over Andrew Rodriguez (Jr.)
Sirles started every game in 2010, earning freshman All-American honors. He was the Huskers third tackle last year, playing in every contest behind two seniors. On paper, he seems like the clear cut leader. But the coaching staff has raved about Rodriguez since being slid over from guard, saying he "doesn't even realize" what he's capable of.
Projection in the fall: To close to call
*** Big Red Report's Josh Harvey contributed to this report