It was no small task that befell head coach, Bill Callahan and his new-look Huskers. Take an option team and turn it into an offense that not only was more modern in it's approach, but it had to be efficient in it's use. Even with an offense that can be so easily molded around it's best players, things weren't going to be easy, but there was little doubt that some players would rise to the challenge, both veteran and the collegiate rookies.
Who did make the biggest impacts though? That's the question and the answers are some names you know and some you have only recently heard, but they have done enough regardless to be our Training Camp MVPs.
Terrence Nunn - For any true freshman coming in, the idea of going from whatever type of high school system they ran to the collegiate level is formidable, sometimes down right intimidating.
Not for Nunn as this Lonestar stud took to the "West Coast" offense like he had been in it since day one. That's actually not terribly far from the truth as this offense is no doubt new, but the concept seems relatively similar just by what the coaches are saying about his improvement. "For a young wide receiver, you can tell that he's a player that has played in a passing offense." Head coach, Bill Callahan said. "He understands "zone", "man", reads, he can make the conversions and he has the speed to adjust and the hands to make the plays."
Nunn's ability to adapt skyrocketed him up the depth chart, securing a spot at number one opposite Ross Pilkington, a position that Nunn has yet to give up. Making highlight reel catches almost habit, QB coach and Co-offensive coordinator, Jay Norvell said of Nunn that he was a "bad-ball receiver" and he went on to remark, "And you always want those".
Such a meteoric rise for someone so young will put pressure on a young man to compete, but for someone who simply lives for the competition, Terrence Nunn is right where he wants to be. Add to that the fact that Nunn actually enjoys engrossing himself into the nearly 4-inch think offensive playbook, you don't have a player on your hands for Nebraska, but a playmaker instead.
Josh Bullocks - What can you say about a returning All-American and a player that posted a school record 10 interceptions on the year? I once asked another in the media jokingly if anyone that good could ever again be "on the rise".
Honestly, it's going to be near impossible in the new mostly "man" coverage for Nebraska for Bullocks to repeat the feat, but you've certainly seen no drop-off in his performances during the last camp leading up to the season.
During that time, Bullocks has exhibited the usual set of criteria for a dominant person at his position. Fast in coverage, quick in reaction and an innate ability to read the plays. Also, while you certainly have to have great hands to grab double-digit picks in a regular season, some of the interceptions Josh grabbed during training camp were almost obscene.
There's going to be plenty of hype surrounding last year's scintillating Sophomore, wondering if he's even going to have a chance to come close to his prior exploits. He may not, but it won't be for the lack of trying.
Ross Pilkington - This guy never ceases to amaze me. A receiver that looks like a linebacker, speed not indicative of superstar wideouts, but if you want a definition of "solid", he's it.
Throughout the training camps, I was continually amazed at just how solid "Pilk" was with running his routes. Now, the coaches can certainly say better than I as to just how efficient Ross has been in that respect, but from what I have seen, this is a guy that cuts far better than you might think, has deceptively good change of direction for someone that is as stocky as he is and his hands are probably the best on the team.
Forget about Pilkington's age as maturity might play well in being a leader, but it is not going to make you catch balls any better.
What Ross's maturity seems to have done for him is make him that silent but respected leader that doesn't ask you to follow, he expects you to because he's assuming you are there for the same reason he is, to win.
There's no better symbolism for that "lunch-pail" attitude than this guy. He brings it with him every day and expects everyone else to as well.
You can expect big things from "Pilk" this year.
Joe Dailey - If being named the captain of the team as a Sophomore isn't proof enough about the intangibles this New Jersey native brings, you are going to have to redefine the word "leader".
And, Dailey has epitomized darn near every cliche' you can imagine when trying to aptly suggest what a successful player is. Off the field he studies, on the field, he learns. Off the field, he's humble and on the field, he's not overly vocal, but he exudes that kind of confidence fellow players need to see so that they can say without hesitation, "You lead, we'll follow.".
That's not what has impressed me the most though, because those are things that we had a sense of last year. No, what has impressed me isn't the things that haven't changed about Dailey, but those things that have and in my estimation, dramatically.
The QB you saw last year that was capable on the run, but restless in the pocket is all but a faded memory. Not your prototypical QB by any stretch of the imagination, Dailey still has improved dramatically every aspect of his game.
It's ironic that when you look at Joe's background in high school to the system he was coming into at the time, Dailey was actually considered the perfect transition for an offense trying to put more emphasis on the pass.
Then, the "West Coast" offense came in and Dailey initially seemed as out of his element with this as Jammal Lord was with last year's offense as they tried to diversify their attack.
The coaching has helped immensely, but Dailey's slow but steady progression has made what for all intents and purposes should be an almost painful transition into one somewhat less agonizing.
If that doesn't sound complimentary, you misunderstand the statement in that I would dare anyone to take a team entrenched in a power running-attack with emphasis on the option and turn it into something from the NFL. It's not going to be pretty no matter how good you are.
It's a process and one that Dailey has managed extremely well with an uncompromising work ethic, a dedication to leading while improving himself and all with the attitude that he's not doing any special. He's just doing his job.
He'll do that this year and while I don't envision Dailey to ever be that 60+ percent kind of passer, I don't think the staff will ever put him a position where he has to be in order for the team to win. Dailey has many gifts and we'll no doubt get to see all of them this year.
Barrett Ruud - The superlatives are almost worn out when you try to talk about the foundation this young man has set for what he's done in his career at Nebraska. No, Barrett won't be known as that player with the freakish speed, the impossibly fanatic intensity that borders on crazed or someone that has been called "stylish" in anyway.
He's a Ruud and from what we know of his father (Tom) to what Barrett himself has done at Nebraska and even what we've learned in a short time with Barrett's younger brother, Bo, to me, it means a few simple things. He'll work his butt off, he'll lead by example, yell if he has to and never gives up on a play. Plus, whether it's the bloodlines or the intelligence or both, a Ruud knows how to play the game.
And, I don't think it's ironic that such simplicity that results in the kind of results we have come to expect is so prominent with the Huskers.
I think it's appropriate that while everyone is talking about something new or something "modern", it's the "old school" attitude that makes one of Nebraska's best players what he is.
Expect that this year and not because he's older and more experienced, but simply because that's what he is. And that's why I haven't regaled you with what Barrett did over this training camp. It's what he does all the time.
Barrett Ruud is simply automatic.
Gary Pike - Who would have thunk it that a player who seemed to languish in anonymity might find himself a focus of attention? Such has been the career of Gary Pike as the guard turned center was always a name, but never one said in something other than passing.
With Richie Incognito battling a variety of injuries and ailments this year, Pike had his chance to break out of that shell and with his move to center, show just what he could do.
This is going to be somewhat of an unobjective analysis because again, I never saw Pike practice last year. I didn't see his demeanor day-to-day nor do I know of anything he did or didn't do.
Because of that, you have to assume that it wasn't that spectacular or he would have been in the position he is now much sooner, but history is history and what is important is what he's done thus far.
I've seen an intense player, an openly vocal player and someone that gives as good as he gets. That's usually all you can ask for, but at this level, there's always someone wanting more.
I think the big factor with Pike has been the addition of Dennis Wagner. I could be wrong, but there's something about what's happened to Pike this year from prior years and I don't think the move to center or even Richie's absence was the only keys in how this has all played out.
Perhaps it's a different Gary Pike, a new and improved Gary Pike or possibly just a Pike playing like he knows he has a chance. Whatever the reason, Pike went from anonymous to significant as he's going to be needed a lot this year.
There's depth issues all over the line so everyone is going to have to step up. And, this year I think Gary is one of those that will indeed do just that.
Cortney Grixby - Touted as one of the best at his position in the country coming out of high school, that's pretty significant. Especially when you consider he hadn't play that position all that much. No, the cornerback role for Cortney wasn't one he was born to, but this Fall has certainly not found him wanting in the least.
From a quick burst to the ball and an ability to stay with even the most physical of receivers, Grixby has exhibited most of the foundation you want for someone at his position. Forget about the athleticism, because he's got that in abundance and as for his diminutive frame, a 40-inch vertical makes up the difference.
The thing that really sticks out about Grixby's play is the confidence in which he takes to his position, one that again, he didn't have a ton of experience with coming out of high school. Maybe it's this ‘no fear' attitude or just a gift for the spot, but for a position that demands so much both mentally and physically, Grixby appears to be on his way.
It was enough that in the absence of Lornell McPherson at the starting corner spot due to a groin problem, Grixby saw considerable time with the first time playing the starting spot in the "nickel" formation. Grixby thanked them by impressing even more.
There's a challenge to be had for anyone that thinks they can crack the starting line-up of this secondary. Experience is abound side to side. While Cortney may not garner one of those positions this year, I have a feeling you are going to see him almost as much as you don't.
As head coach, Bill Callahan stated once, if a player is good enough to play, you play him.
They'll play Cortney Grixby.
Mike Erickson - A super nice guy. That's not necessarily the description you want of your starting offensive linemen. Mike is just that though, but I don't think he's let that influence totally how he plays. While Erickson doesn't exhibit that Incognito-like fanaticism, what the veteran brings to the table is that veteran mentality, plus an apparent relief that he's finally healthy once again.
During the Spring, Erickson was a hobbling-Husker, but grinding it out everyday he was able as you couldn't keep him off the field. During the Fall session, finally able to go full tilt, even the move to left tackle hasn't stopped Erickson from progressing just the same.
He gets out of the blocks well, has fairly close to the kind of body you want on the outside and if there's one major compliment I can give Mike is that I never heard a 100+ decibel yell with his name at the end.
There's no doubt a lot of heart in Erickson as I think you'll see this year. I do think, however, that you might see a smile on his face as well because this could be the first time in a long time he's totally healthy right now.
That's not something most of the offensive line could say all of last year. Because of that, you should see a markedly different one this time around.
Richie Incognito - Oh heck, I have a thing for offensive linemen. Those guys in the trenches gut it out at the most physically demanding position on the field. Even at Nebraska, they are still not the focal point of everyone's attention, but without them, there aren't any "stars" in the backfield.
What Richie has done this training camp really has nothing to do with how he plays, but the fact that he played at all. Battling a list of injuries and ailments I can't even recall, the guy still came in, still finished off tackles in that Incognito-fashion and then promptly threw up afterwards.
That's over exaggerating , but not much as it wasn't unusual to see Incognito go full out on a play and head to the sidelines nearly ready to collapse.
In those wonderful "gassers"? Same thing. When Richie could go, he went until his body just didn't want to let him go any further.
Bill Callahan probably described Incognito best when he said of Richie that talk was cheap and when the game starts, you have to prove it on the field. He saw Richie as the best example of that - of a guy that if he could go, you didn't have to question just how much he was willing to give.
Finally on the road back to getting past all of these nicks and ailments, Incognito is slowly regaining momentum, slowly getting more reps at the position and again to paraphrase coach Callahan, "I'm confident he'll be just fine."
Cory Ross - You want your best running back? He's it. You want your best return-man? He's it. You want one of the best receivers on the team? Yep, Cory Ross is probably it. The short but shifty all-purpose back has found a home in this new offense, one that fits his abilities to a tee.
Now, I know you are looking at the prototypical backs in the NFL offenses, saying that Ross doesn't seem to fit, but this DB/WR/RB out of high school finds his various abilities being tested and utilized to their maximum.
During the camp, there wasn't anything that Bill Callahan wasn't willing to do with his running backs. Wanting to get every single bit of versatility he could out of every weapon he had, Ross was an obvious focal point for many of Callahan's machinations. What can Cory do? Well, the question with the shorter answer is what can't he do.
Honestly, I'm not sure. Ross's elusiveness, burst, hands and tree-trunk legs are going to make him an often-used weapon for Nebraska this year. Frankly, I don't know what he's going to do this year, but I know I can't wait to see. It's going to be exciting to watch.
Adam Carriker - I have to admit it, if there's one guy I can't wait to see play this year, it's him. I grew up watching Nebraska, but oh how I had gotten used to that great rush end tradition at NU. The aggressiveness, the playmaking ability and that incredible motor that doesn't stop.
Wishfully thinking I wondered when the next Grant Wistrom would arrive or would there ever be another Mike Rucker gracing the field of Lincoln? Yeah, that's unrealistic at best and not even fair to put those kinds of comparisons on a Sophomore to be.
Oh hell, I don't care, because this guy is good. Size, speed, quickness off the ball and strength enough to be a formidable force against any tackle, Carriker has the template for immense success at NU. And yes, he's got that motor - that drive to the ball that does make you think about the great ends of recent Husker lore.
Plus, another aspect of him that I find so endearing is that during the Spring, Carriker comes off the field with a major chunk of flesh taken out of his arm. I asked just how in the hell did that happen, to which he looked down, looked back up at me, smiled and said "Oh, I don't know, it's football."
You have to love that and I have no doubt that this guy is in for a heck of a year. I'm not going to put any pressure on someone that is still so very young, but Adam does make one think about the past and even if he can do that just a little right now, he's got a bright future indeed.
The Coaches - No, this isn't a homer pick, though it would be a good one at that. And, there's no real analysis here as to what they have done, haven't done or anything subtle or pronounced.
Simply, it's almost an entirely new staff taking what was considered an entirely old offense and turning it into something created by Bill Walsh. Vastly different terminology, in some cases vastly different styles and different coverages and schemes to boot.
There's no way around it in that if these players were going to accomplish anything. If these players on either side were going to get better at all and if this team was going to have a hope and prayer of not just winning but actually being able to even think about a potential division or even conference title, these coaches were going to have to be special.
Now, I know that even what we have seen with less than two weeks to go before the season isn't even close to the perfected realization of what Callahan envisions at NU. Heck, it might not be all year. It is though a vastly different Nebraska.
Is that good? Will it work? Ask me that around December of this year. That's probably the only time we'll have a really good answer to that question.
What they have done up to this point, however, without really knowing, I'd say that they are off to a pretty darn good start.