The only expectations I had as I pondered up to the press box was trying to keep my expectations as low as possible. I don't want to take anything away from the team, but if you start analyzing anything with a preconceived notion of how it will or should go, you inevitably find that view skewed a bit or you might even be disappointed.
So, open-mind I went, wondering like you just what would happen and who would thrive and who might dive down the depth chart.
The offensive line was a curiosity from the outset. If you were thinking that such and such player would be starting at such and such position and that you would see at least some consistency in that aspect as the number 1 defense faced the number 2 offense or the 1 offense faced the 1 defense, the line-ups, especially on the O-line seemed quite varied.
The first big surprise to me was Brandon Koch. A player not often heard of through practices, off-season or even coming out of Spring, he was sharing the duty at guard in place of Jake Andersen almost or maybe even more-so than Jake himself. And, it became apparent why. Brandon proved a physical force out there, quick off the ball, using good leverage to be physical and forceful at the line, he was able to move people on a fairly consistent basis.
Another player I was particularly interested in was Josh Sewell as this would be my first real solid look at him, top to bottom, front to back. He's impressive to say the least. He's everything I described about Koch, but I believe him to be just a bit more physical and from the not-so-far past when Dominic Raiola was at the position did it seem a player came off that snap with just a bit of an attitude. No, Josh doesn't share Dominic's colorful repertoire of phrases and taunts, but he's very physical, has good if not totally comparable feet and seems to be able to get off his initial block very well.
Another aspect of the line I found interesting was watching the side-by-side performance of Jemayel Phillips and Darren DeLone. Jemayel being so new to the position and DeLone being so new to the campus, I didn't expect much in regards to efficiency and in all reality, results. It was a mixed bag really, a little good, a little not-so-good, but for guys with so little time at either the position or in the system itself, it wasn't terrible.
Hey, they gave the QB time though and that's something right there. To be honest, that's what I was looking for. When push came to shove, was the QB going to have people down his throat over and over again, repeating the frustration of last year.
Early on, it appeared the offensive line had it going, David Horne ripping off some great early runs amassing almost 40 on his first 4 carries. On top of that, the quarterbacks were ripping it up, both Lord and Stuntz looking good in passing and running. That tapered off as the signal-callers threw a few consecutive incompletions, accuracy being the biggest negative here, but there was an obvious improvement from all principles involved in not just delivering the ball and making the most out of the play, but the line-blocking as well.
At times, the offensive line wad downright bullish.
The questions behind Jammal Lord improving his accuracy as well as his judgement received a positive more on the latter than the former. Still struggling some with his accuracy, Lord did appear though to have a much higher comfort level back in the pocket than last season.
The one pass that reminded me most of Lord last year and I mean this in the most positive way was a pass to a wide-open Ross Pilkington, where Lord had more than ample time, but Pilkington still had to slow down to let the ball catch up with him. It is being a bit nit-picky, but hey, that's how it goes in the world where football is supposed to be perfect.
I have to be honest in my own personal opinion in that I thought Mike Stuntz was throwing easily the best ball of the scrimmage. A good delivery, an apparently very comfortable motion, Mike appeared at home out there, even when he had to run. He's not going to juke anyone out of their ankles like either Lord or Dailey is capable, but Mike is more an intelligent runner than he is instinctive. He made good choices and made the most out of what his ability let him do, though some rather gaudy tackles behind the line of scrimmage did two things. Illustrated that he isn't Jammal in his ability to run and two, proved that though the offensive line is improved, there's still some work to do.
And as for Joe Dailey, if nobody would have told me he was a true freshman and I didn't have any idea, you wouldn't have convinced me by his play. He didn't post great numbers, but that wasn't what told the story for me. What I saw on that field was a kid that played well beyond the maturity someone his age is supposed to have. All those stupid phrases like, ‘cool as a cucumber' or ‘he's got ice in his veins', they applied and then some. I saw a young man that played like anything but and his future doesn't look just bright, it looks darn scary.
The frustration in assessing these young field-generals was obviously the fact they had to wear the dreaded green jersey, because if not for that, I think that Dailey would have certainly had a touchdown and Lord, quite possibly another one as well.
All in all, with the expectations I had, I thought that the quarterbacks and the line did a fairly good job and should be happy at least at this point with their progress. Still, so much needs to improve before the OSU game, that coming in just around 2 weeks.
And, how about that running game? As I said, Horne looked solid early, but Josh Davis really stole the show and not with the two touchdowns. Those were very short-yardage scores that didn't illustrate why I was impressed with him on this day.
It's how this young man runs, but this is nothing new to those familiar with his style. Often it was that style that got him in some trouble, especially with handling the football, but Saturday, he was as tenacious as ever, as physical as ever, elusive, even breaking off an eye-popping spin move that worked brilliantly and Josh was his typically fast self. He exhibited what a strong all-around back he is, utilizing just about every asset he had. Horne was good and smooth and Ross was very good in getting up-field and at times, making some people miss badly, but after it was all said and done, in my estimation, Davis one this around at least.
Trying to concentrate on so many things on offense, I caught just a few things on defense. One, being what I consider the most important part of why this defense started to work it's magic. The yards came quickly and in bunches as the number one offense faced the number two defense. You expect that, right? Those yards came much harder even against that same ‘back-up' unit later as the defense tightened down as the game drew on. The biggest thing though was when someone got tackled, it wasn't usually by one, but more than that. One, two, three hats to a man, side-to-side pursuit extremely good. In fact, that might remind you more of a typical "blackshirt" defense in that it's not one man, but an entire defense heading to whoever is unfortunate enough to have the ball.
That's what most want to see.
Another is the name you have now heard with much fanfare and for good reason. Defensive tackle, Brandon Teamer is a man-child. Nobody his size should be that athletic, that versatile and at his age, that seemingly seasoned. I realize that his instincts more than his experience paved the way for much of his success this last Saturday, which is why his potential is so darn scary. And considering the fact that he will be foregoing his redshirt, you can expect to see the Omaha Central standout early and often. Nobody pulls a redshirt to play back-up all the time after all.
I do have an admission however. It's my time to come clean. When I first looked at Andy Birkel, to me, I saw a solid possession receiver. A kid that could use his ability to run great routes to get open as a weapon. I didn't foresee him having the kind of break-away-"fly pattern"-type speed once those pads were on, at this level of play. Yeah, he could put guys in the dust at the Shrine Game, but I wasn't convinced that he could be as effective at this level of play.
I was wrong and I admit it.
This kid doesn't just run good routes, he has great "football speed" and not just at the Shrine Game level. I think that both his intelligence and those wheels are going to serve Nebraska nicely, especially if he puts on the kind of size where he can be physical as well. And, we all know that Andy has a nose for going up and getting the football, this based on a catch he mad during the Shrine Game amidst double-coverage. At least that particular play I can use as a reference for now. A nose for the ball is a nose for the ball. No matter what level you are at, you can see it and Andy has it.
Also, another admission, somewhat more slight in it's proportions and that is about Sandro DeAngelis. After watching him kick throughout various warm-ups and practices last season, I saw a kicker that couldn't get much air under the ball, had an apparently weak leg and wasn't consistent to any great extent. I have to acknowledge that, that wasn't the kicker I saw in warm-ups before this scrimmage. Much more loft, kicking the ball in practice from 40+ yards away and watching it sail through the up-rights into the stands. This wasn't the DeAneglis I remember. I think this was the DeAngelis everyone expected when he arrived. However or whenever, his timing couldn't be better as him and Dyches could prove a formidable one-two punch.
Not being able to see a few players was a bit disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing what Trevor Johnson and LeKevin Smith would do and to an extent, could do, because while I was familiar with Trevor after he replaced Chris Kelsay for such an extended period of time, I have often found myself wanting badly to see LeKevin Smith play for an elongated period of time, my mind still remembering everything that has been said about this young man's potential, when he is completely healthy. Alas, he's not often in that physical state, but this time around is said to be minor, so that desire still exists. Johnson should also be back soon, possibly within the week.
There were a variety of other good individual performances, opportunists abound, such as Jeff McBride who had a batted ball and a tackle for loss, Titus Adams who played extremely hard throughout in the near100 degree heat and the linebacking core as a whole, who I thought was very good side-to-side most of the contest.
The negatives? There are always negatives, but most of those that you can find for this scrimmage were due to some very obvious circumstances. Everyone is still new to both systems, offense and defense. The heat had to have been a factor, but at least from the effort, you wouldn't have been able to tell that much. Guys that were simply young and made young and inexperienced-type of mistakes and of course, some just screwed up.
I would take from this scrimmage a very positive feeling if I were a fan. Don't expect perfection and you won't be disappointed and yes, you have actually tell Husker fans not to expect perfection.
The offensive line, especially on the right side still seems to be pretty much up in the air. Guys were being shuffled all over the place from Sewell on right and I don't know that anyone can have a real finger on just who is going to be where. It would seem that the staff is determined to get DeLone out there no matter what, so where Waldrop ends up could still be a question-mark, especially if Koch proves good to his vast improvement of late.
The defense was fast, pursued well and yes, over-pursued at times. Such is the strength and weakness of an aggressive defense and I think that's what they are going to be. Typical of the personality you've come to expect from one, Bo Pelini. Replacing DeJuan Groce though, that's still very much up for grabs as I didn't see anyone just stand up and take the position for themselves, at least during this particular scrimmage. The defense is going to be after people and with a passion. Of that I think you can be guaranteed.
And on special teams, I think the nightmares can cease a little as DeAngelis has improved far more than I would have been willing to admit he could based on what I saw last year. He's turned it around and now, I think he's going to force Dyches to get better now, rather than the other way around. As for a return guy that will replace Groce, Ross had a stellar run that didn't go the distance, but exhibited his ‘jitterbug' elusiveness quite well. Alas, it was called back.
Oh yeah, penalties. Those mental mistakes, and turnovers. No turnovers. Great news, eh? Yes, that's great news indeed, though there was one snap that was quite errant and a couple of fumbles that were fortunate enough not to be lost. We'll throw those in as learning experiences and move on.
And, that's what we will do as the team has already done, putting the bad and good of the scrimmage into perspective and heading out into the heat, a wave of 100 degree temps that could last through Wednesday. If two-a-days weren't bad enough, their attrition will be sorely tested by the weather as well.
Ahh, the life in Nebraska, the freakish weather and the expectations off a freakish season to boot. For now though, there's nothing freakish about the early returns on the team as a whole. They are learning, seem to be grasping and while coaches are very good at making any progress look minimal, what NU didn't do was regress or take a step back.
"It's a process" is something defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini is used to saying. It is and in my opinion, the grades coming back are definitely on the up. If you were hoping to get something, anything positive out of this scrimmage, I think you can breath a little easier, because there was enough of it to spread around.
Now, we look to the next one and the expectations, well, they just got a lot higher.
That's a good thing.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619
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