Spring about teamwork, but team-fun too

As Nebraska winds down in spring, you can feel something that perhaps is surfacing for the first time, at least at this level. Last year it was players saying one thing, but a fan base and even media thinking that it was what they were supposed to say. Now people believe it and almost on cue the players aren't saying much at all. Maybe it's the calm before the storm.

If you ask senior quarterback Zac Taylor what he thinks about this team, he'll give you all the right answers, tell you everything is great and that he believes in his team.

Just what a leader should say

If you ask the very vocal and sometimes brash junior linebacker Corey McKeon what he thinks about this team, he'll give it to you straight, but he'll remind you and everyone else that regardless of what you believe, you still have to get it done.

Just what a leader should say

That's something I don't necessarily remember over the last couple of years. Sure, there were guys that seemed like leaders and there were guys whose actions spoke volumes, making them automatic leaders. But there wasn't a few or even one or two who seemed to be that guy that took the team by the horns.

Now it seems like they are coming out of the woodwork.

"I think there are a lot of guys on this team that want to make sure we build on what we did last year," McKeon said. "It's ok to do better, but we want to do better than that. Beating Colorado and Michigan is great and finishing off the season the way we did is fine, but that's not all we want to do."

"We've got high expectations of ourselves."

Taylor would say the same thing if you asked him, the quarterback of the offense believing the very same thing that McKeon, the quarterback of the defense believes. But as we have come to learn about the Oklahoma native, he likes to put the pressure mostly on himself. "I know we have a good team, but I have to do my job and try and do better than I did last year," he said. "We were all learning, but we are a season past that and now I think everyone believes that we can take that next step."

"I have to do that and make sure that I learn from last year and not make the same mistakes."

As the spring has wore on, you've seen the improvement in the execution, literally across the board. Whether it's Taylor and his consistency or the defense and its intensity, this team has went at each other with the same kind of fervor they went at opponents all of last year.

McKeon would say, though, that even with the season months away, there's one thing that this team has to make sure it doesn't duplicate this season. "We just made the game too difficult at times by screwing up the little things," he said. "You can't spot teams three touchdowns all year and expect to win all those games."

"We never gave up and that's a credit to everyone on this team, but it's time for us to get up on people early, so we can slam the door on them before they know what hit them."

Taylor's excited, because he has almost every receiver back that he had last year, everyone more experienced, running better routes, making more catches and there are plays all over the field being made.

McKeon's excited, because he saw what a corps of linebackers did last year, sorely undermanned from injuries that plagued the group all season. Everyone is healthy now (knock on wood) and if that stays that way for all of the 2006 season, this group could be as deadly as they are deep. "The upside to injuries is that you develop depth and guys like Lance Brandenburgh really have stepped up and you know when he comes into a game, we aren't dropping off a bit," McKeon said. "That's not just going to make us better, but deeper, so guys will be fresh all game."

"And if we are all fresh all game, you still have to execute, but I know I wouldn't want to face us."

Cody Glenn might share that sentiment when it comes to facing this particular group of linebackers. Well, he would, but the sophomore running back has had as many comments about facing him as there have been about facing McKeon and company.

Even McKeon himself

"This is what it's like to face Cody Glenn," Mckeon said as he held up his forearm, revealing five very noticeable marks from the cleats of Glenn as McKeon attempted to tackle him in one of the many live scrimmages. "That's a big boy and if he gets going, this is what happens when you try to stop him."

Glenn laughs when he hears that, but it's more out of comfort than arrogance. He's finally glad to be running with a little more confidence, because he knows what he's doing.

Last year, both he and fellow sophomore Marlon Lucky struggled mightily to be effective, because it was their lack of knowledge of this offense which kept them off the field. Now that he's a year into it, he's ready to show just what he can do. "It's hard to run when all you are doing is thinking about everything you have to do," Glenn said. "You don't really just run. You think while you are running and you can't run like that."

"You have to just run and do what you know how to do."

And now Glenn would tell you that he's still got a lot to learn, but he's finally feeling like he's on pace instead of a step behind. "If you know where the holes are at, you can find them a lot easier and if you know exactly what you are supposed to do, it's just easier to do."

"I've learned a lot since last year and I still have a ways to go, but it's nice to be able to just get out there and do what I have been doing for years."

You don't ever want to use the word comfortable in sports. It means you are happy with where you are at. If you are coming off of a national title, maybe that's ok, but even then, any coach or player worth his salt will tell you that's not good enough.

But it's not a bad word when you look at the trials and tribulations of the last couple of years, when this team was anything but. They didn't know the offense, they didn't know the defense and nobody was on the same page. Now everyone is not just on the same page, but instead of learning, it's the players that are becoming as much the teachers as the coaches themselves.

And any coach will tell you that when you have players teaching players, well, as a coach, that just makes your job a whole lot easier to manage. "We can't be with these kids every hour of every day teaching them this stuff, because the rules only allow you so much time," defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "But when you have players who have been through this before helping other players to get this stuff learned a little faster, that just helps us get better much quicker."

Quicker is probably a matter of opinion as to just what that means. For a coach, they look at the long term goals and see getting better as more of a marathon than a sprint. For players, quicker to them usually means something is comprehended in a week versus a month or a month versus a year.

That hasn't always equaled success as the first year of the Bill Callahan era at Nebraska will attest, but from that point to now, you have to think that the process, though painful in how realistically hard it was at times, was worth it in the end. This spring doesn't promise anything in the way of results and it certainly won't guarantee them a win at USC or at home against Texas.

But it's amazing just how good it feels for players knowing that with each passing year, they are increasing their chances of doing just that.

"There's nobody that can't beat you, but at the same time, you have to believe there's nobody you can't beat," McKeon said. "Nobody thought we could go to Colorado and beat them and look what happened. And NOBODY thought we even had a prayer against Michigan and look what happened."

"We believe in what we can do, but the more time you have with each other, the more you know what you can do. We've got a good team here and this spring we have only gotten better."

"You still have to get it done on the field, but you can't make anyone understand how good it feels when everyone is on the same page. That's when it's fun and when you are having fun, that's when you are winning games."

"And we are having a lot of fun right now."

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