Changes the theme again as NU hits Spring

Depending on who you ask, you could find a lot of reasons as to why everyone wants the Nebraska football program to once again take over the scene. Whether it's the bitter taste, still left over from last year's 5-6 season or just that football is what it is here in Big Red Country, it would seem that people are ready to start again. Head coach, Bill Callahan did that, to an extent as he kicked off Spring practices with today's pre-spring press conference.

Before last year, most fans had seen just about enough changes at Nebraska to suit them for a lifetime. After the end of last season, change was once again what most wanted.


While the staff remained intact, the off-season has been a busy one for head coach Bill Callahan and company as change has been somewhat of a theme.


"I think this year's process of the team's development will be much different and more unique than it was a year ago." Callahan said.


The differences stem from what were really some of the main issues having to do with the first losing record since before even Bob Devaney took the helm at NU.


It didn't take Callahan long to address one of the biggest sore spots for the Huskers last year. "A MAJOR focus will be on special teams this spring," Callahan said. "That's one of the areas I am highly concerned about."


The concern is valid, Nebraska ranking worse than 100th in the country out of 117 teams in both punt return average and average yards allowed on kickoff returns. As Callahan himself illustrated, though, those rankings don't touch the enormity of the issue. "If you take the four major areas of special teams; punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff cover, if you just go by the conference stats and you were to award a point-value from the highest to the lowest, we finished collectively, 11th in special teams in those areas," Callahan said.


"I was really dissatisfied with how we came out in that particular area."


The discontent didn't stop there, as Callahan stated bluntly what he considered to be the overall description was of a secondary that, like those aforementioned areas of special teams, did not finish even in the top 105.  "We were horrendous," Callahan said. "To be 110th in the nation is not very satisfying as a head coach."


That satisfaction was such, that Callahan engineered over the off-season some fairly dramatic changes that will become evident once Spring practice begins.


The first was assigning linebacker coach, Bill Busch to the safeties, Busch relinquishing his LB duties entirely to defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, Kevin Cosgrove. Busch was also taken off the offensive side of special teams in kickoff return. Busch will combine with now cornerback coach, Phil Elmassian to coach the secondary this year.


One other aspect that would change to the secondary would be the style of play versus what was utilized for the majority of the season last year.


Two years ago, Nebraska was mostly a "zone" coverage team under then defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini and the Huskers led the country in interceptions and pass efficiency defense. Last year's conversion to mostly "man" coverage yielded obviously dissimilar results.


Well, the head coach said now it's back to zone for the blackshirts, but that's just the tip of the iceberg in some of the other changes they plan to make. "College football is given a set of rules where you can take full advantage of contact, of banging, bumping and pressing receivers, not in a five-yard area, but the entirety of a field," he said. "So, what I want to do is decrease that space in the passing-game."


"So, you will see a more physical attitude along the line of scrimmage and defending receivers coming off the line of scrimmage."


"That's a major change for us."


That physical style won't be isolated to the secondary, as if you would like to pick a myriad of themes to this year's spring practice, the head coach included this was his chief designs in injecting a new style into his team. "We really want to increase the physical nature of competition across the board," Callahan said. "I want to make sure that we are all involved in making our team more physical and more competitive "


"It will be a demanding spring for our players. It will be very demanding and I strongly feel, how well we play and prepare this spring will have a direct effect on what we do and what we accomplish during the fall."


Part of those demands will be in doing something that the team didn't do a lot of last year, in either spring or fall;




Hit, tackle and wrap up was replaced with tag-off, don't tackle and finish on your feet. While Callahan didn't concede last year's lack of physicality as the reason for the sub-par year, he's acknowledging now perhaps a slightly different direction for his focus. "Looking at our team play, I feel that if you are going to get good at fundamentals and techniques, you've got to do them live," Callahan said. "You can't assume anything."


"I'm not saying that I assumed anything last year. My goal (last year) was to implement systems, to practice smart and to stay healthy. To that end, we achieved our objectives."


"This year, it's much different."


Callahan cited the differences this year in having to replace so many faces, players like Nebraska's all-time tackle leader, Barrett Ruud graduating from the team. Along with him, Nebraska lost their two best secondary players in Fabian Washington and Josh Bullocks along with starting offensive linemen Mike Erickson and Jake Andersen.


Those losses in addition to a somewhat adjusted philosophy of physicality is something that will be addressed starting this spring, Callahan saying that in the plans are already some very specific drills, one with a decidedly ironic name. "Each day, you'll see a live "Oklahoma" drill, named after my favorite team," Callahan said. "I want to make sure that we have a drill that is physical in nature, where we can line up and master the one-on-one fundamentals of drive-blocking and block-protection."


Normally, if there is such a thing, the slight jab at Oklahoma would be enough to send the gallery in attendance reeling with laughter and possibly even inquiring about the inspiration behind the not so subtle quip. Well, the former was certainly true, but with a steely straight face, Callahan proceeded as if that comment meant more to us than him.




Back to the changes, the special teams needs help, the physical style of play is sorely lacking, but that wasn't even the hottest topic of the adjustments made already early in the year.


The depth chart.


With a quick glance, followed by a stare, the changes that appeared seemed in some areas, dramatic indeed. Callahan was quick to point out, even before he addressed any of those changes that at this point of the year, you can take them with a grain of salt. "This is strictly tentative at this juncture," Callahan said of the depth chart's solidity at this point of the year. "Nothing is set in stone."


"We are going to take our time, evaluate this team very thoroughly (and) competition is wide-open at every spot."


While the slots may be wide-open, there were a few that considering the time of year and with some of the players, how long they have been on campus, their rise seems almost meteoric.


Behind Joe Dailey is Butler College transfer Zac Taylor. Taylor stepped on campus just this January, but has already apparently made enough of an impact, that he's listed as an early number two.


Steve Octavien and Bo Ruud are considered co-starters at the WILL position, Octavien a junior college transfer from William Rainey Harper, Steve arriving also in January.


Due to the depth issues on the defensive interior, with the loss of Brandon Teamer from the team due to personal reasons and Matt O'Shea still rehabbing from an injury, two other junior college transfers in Barry Cryer and Ola Dagundoro are now listed as second string behind Titus Adams and Le Kevin Smith, respectively.


And, the final junior college transfer, Dontrell Moore is listed as a co-number two with Adam Ickes behind last year's starter at the position, Stewart Bradley.


Other changes that regard position moves are as follows:


  • Running back Tierre Green moved to the left cornerback position and is listed at number two behind true sophomore – Cortney Grixby.



  • Thomas Lawson, a recruited walk-on fullback was changed to a running back, along with Marque McCray, who moves to the backfield from his position as a wideout and on special teams.



  • Jared Helming moved from the offensive line to the defensive side


  • Safety, Blake Tiedtke moved from safety to the right cornerback spot


Regarding the changes, some of this as Callahan stated was simply to put people in places where they might succeed, but at least for the defense, there was a far more macro view in mind. "One of the significant changes in positioning our defensive personnel was to change the positions and roles of our current players," he said. "We want to match up better and play to the strengths of our team."


Amongst some of the changes was the addition of a letter you'll see following the two rush end positions, that being the "B" and the "E". The simplest definition for those of you not playbook aficionados is that the "B" end (Adam Carriker) lines up wherever the tight end on the offense of the opposition lines up. And the "E" end (Jay Moore) lines up where the tight end isn't.


As for the rest of the defense, Callahan said that the linebacker assignments would stay the same and depending on how personnel issues work out in the secondary, especially in regards to players coming in (there are at least three coming in slated to play in the secondary), they will adjust their philosophy if need be.



As to the offense, change will continue to be the theme and to reiterate a Callahan statement, because on offense, it certainly applies "every position is wide-open".

Husker fans will probably have to adjust yet again, but it won't be as much as last year and certainly not as much as they have had to grow accustomed to over the last few years.


Following last year's debacle, however, this is an instance where fans are probably relieved that not another sweeping change is being made, but at least some are in the works.


And, those "works" go into full effect on Wednesday when Nebraska starts the first of 15 allowed practices leading up to the spring game on April 16th.




  • A couple of players not making it for at least part of spring practices will be tight end, Matt Herian, who is still rehabbing from a broken leg and wrist suffered during the season last year. And, offensive tackle – Lydon Murtha, who's still recovering from a hamstring injury.


  • Callahan stated that one of the ways they addressed the defensive woes was to bring in experts from around the country, from all levels of the game to offer advice as to what was the going trend on defenses. This was as Callahan stated, at least one of the reasons for going to primary "zone" packages. To that end, Callahan stated said there would be a "major" reduction in terms of pressures featured in the spring and most likely, the fall.


  • Practices will go every other day, starting Wednesday, leading up to the Spring game and Callahan stated that upon the arrival of the game, one of his biggest hopes was that a stadium now capable of holding it's full allotment of fans would do just that. "Last year we had 61,000 fans, and I want to make a strong point about how successful that was in our recruiting." He said. "It was a major factor and difference in bringing prospects and signees to Nebraska. Again, if we can sell that out on that particular day, that would be a huge response for our prospects coming here on campus. As of now, we have quite a few (prospects) coming in for the Spring Game."

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