Hurting Huskers hobbling into new era

Is there a doctor in the house? No, not for me, but for the Nebraska football team. Between player's being lost, temporarily removed and just plain moved, the new-look Huskers resemble something more of a patchwork team, few units being able to say they are healthy front to back. Depending on how you look at it, it could be ironic or depressing that the biggest battle ahead of the coaches isn't implementing a system, but having the players to work the thing at all.


Lannie Hopkins.........gone. Ryan Schuler..........gone. Jermaine Leslie............gone. Chris Loos.........coming back because of a medical hardship received. Greg Austin is questionable and the list of "probables" is disturbingly long.

This team is hurt.

It's hardly a headline as the Huskers have their fair share of health considerations, but it seems that when there's a time that a new coaching staff needs to have everyone present, if only to try and put this system somewhat into place, players are finding themselves moved or removed because of the continuing myriad ailments of the team.

No more do you see that present than with the offensive line. A unit that is as much duct tape, spit and 9-wire as it is bodies ready to go. Jake Andersen, Mike Erickson, the aforementioned Austin and Leslie, these are just a few of those that leaves people asking when they look at the current depth chart, "huh?".

It would seem that the offensive line has been under some sort of curse the past few years. Linemen expected to eventually start that end up rarely or never seeing the field. Tim Green, M.J. Flaum, JeMayel Phillips, Jermaine Leslie and Chris Loos, all considered potential starters for Nebraska when they were recruited, none of them ever seeing significant time of actual play, if any time at all.

And, nobody needs to tell you how much losing any player means, especially players assumed to be future if not immediate starters.

That's just for starters though as list goes on as to players that participated last year and some that were expected to, not any of them for certain to see the field for this year's Spring practices.

Andy Birkel who chucked his redshirt last year is listed as "probable" because of mono. Brandon Teamer who shined in his brief periods on the field, also a probable with an ailing left toe. That's the good news.

The bad?

JUCO transfer, Donald DeFrand, a speedster looked to, to add much-needed depth and speed to the Nebraska secondary has been all but invisible and at this time isn't even listed amongst the four-deep at either cornerback position.

Another JUCO transfer, Wali Muhammad, coming off a 22 sack season at Coffeyville was stricken with a back ailment and still has yet to play a down for the Huskers.

Heck, even some of the guys being moved to other positions are question marks in regards to health, Seppo Evwaraye with some projected permanent loss of motion in his shoulder from his own injury-plagued career. Jared Helming and Brandon Greeson are still playing catch up to this day because of set-backs due to injuries.

Face it, this team is beat up.

And while the most acceptable of injuries happen during a game, ironically enough, most of the injuries listed above occurred during practices instead of the real thing. Shoulders, ankles, knees and the dreaded athletic pubitis, the team doctors are probably seeing this team more than the coaches at their respective positions.

So, the unenviable task of getting the physically beleaguered team ready falls to not just the coaches, but Dave Kennedy and his staff, who have to find a way to get those in shape that are healthy enough to go, try and do the best conditioning job with those who can't fully and of course, try and avoid the traditional off-season injury bugs this team has been plagued seemingly consistently with since 1998.

You remember that year? 9 starters miss a total of 35 games, prompting a rather dismal beginning to Frank Solich's ultimately short career. In truth, there has been a year here and there that for the majority remained injury-free, but the overlying trend has been one of not doing the best with what you have, but what you have left.

And, just to make things interesting, let's throw in a new offense.

If you want pretty, well-timed and finely tuned football, I suggest you don't watch Nebraska, possibly until late, late-late in the season. Because, right now and for awhile to come, it's going to be all uphill for this group of Huskers and the staff.

It's enough year to year for a staff to reload. It's usually enough of a demand if you have to retool, even if it's not to a major degree. What Nebraska has to do though is instead of retool, it's relearn. Instead of reload, it's rebuild and even before they can rebuild, for many, it's a long road of rehab before they can make a decent showing in practices much less an actual game.

The road less traveled is often said to be the hardest, but at the same time, the most rewarding road of all. If that's the case, Nebraska is in for a silver lining at some point, because their road of injury-woes is long and well-traveled indeed.

It could mean bigger and better things down this continuing trek, but before the coaches can make this Nebraska team a team that's even a shadow of it's fairly recent former self, they are first going to have enough players to even begin.

Yes, proper recruiting makes a difference in building the proper team. Right now though, a couple of extra doctors wouldn't hurt.

It's your 2004 Nebraska Huskers. Hampered, hobbling and re-Habbing their way into a new era. Not exactly the way you want to start, but it's a start and of course, how you start isn't what matters, it's how you finish.

Now, as to who will finish, your guess is as good as mine, but let's just say I have only one goal for the year. It's hoping that the Nebraska trainers don't see the players more than the coaches do. That's a start I can live with. The coaches should be able to take care of the rest.

Steve Ryan can be reached at or 402-730-5619

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