What it IS and ISN'T: Spring Football

Spring football is a lot of things. But it's also not some things that fans might wish it was. It's just one of those times during the course of preparation for a new seasons, where you try to get certain things accomplished. We'll explain what you should and what you shouldn't expect as spring practice draws near.

It would be nice to figure out just what kind of team you have in spring, so that over the course of the Summer, the seven-on-seven drills and all that conditioning, is done by everyone with a clear idea of what's to come. But throw a mostly new coaching staff into the works, some obvious additions in regard to a couple players and redshirts who could play their first year this season, there's a whole lot of building going on.

That brings us to the first thing Spring ISN'T:

Spring football isn't a time where you are going to find out who all the starters are

With Bo Pelini still obviously needing to evaluate what he has in terms of personnel, this is more a feeling out process to find out what you have versus finding out how good each individual is. Pelini's taskmaster-style, while fair, will still test these players, both old and new. There will be a number of good things to come out of the Spring, but maybe the best thing for the coaching staff will be figuring out who wants to play and who REALLY wants to play. In the Fall you don't have time to figure out who wants a job. You should have at least some fair idea going in. Over Spring practice, some players might not be able to show adeptness to the point where it's obvious they are the guy, but if they show all the intensity toward achieving that, that's going to go a long ways into earning a spot, whether it's first-string, second-string or wherever.

What Spring football IS, is a time where you can evaluate athleticism

Again, you can't afford to go into the Fall, wondering where you are fast, strong, quick or whatever. That is done right now, because over the off-season the coaches aren't allowed to watch the players in their drills and during conditioning.

There are a number of players including Eric Hagg, currently slated to play safety – Prince Amukamara, currently listed on the defensive side of the ball and Larry Asante, last year a safety, but perhaps physically more suited to play the WILL linebacker position. All those things you can figure out now as to where a player should be. You might not figure out where on the depth chart that puts them, but if you know at least what position everyone should be playing, that's going to be a great head start for the player to be prepared for that come fall and for you to be able to figure out what situations they fit in best regarding that position.

What Spring football isn't, is a time where the quarterback battle will be won or lost. I know we hit on the depth chart issue already, but there's always more focus on this position than any other. Joe Ganz is the incumbent and has more experience in this system and in actual games, than any other QB on the team. That could make him the obvious choice, but that choice will by no means be concrete, even after the Spring is done.

Why?

First, and it's a horrible reason, only for the fact that nobody likes to hear it: It's about competition. As much for their mentality over the off-season, each quarterback with a realistic chance to play this year, needs to go into the seven-on-seven drills and conditioning thinking that it's their job to lose. That's important, because like it or not, players will practice differently if they think they have a shot at the top spot versus knowing that it belongs to someone else instead. If both Zach Lee and Patrick Witt thought they were practicing for second place at best, you take the risk at not getting everything out of them that you could. So, no matter how any one player does over this Spring, or how seemingly obvious the eventual choice might be, this competition which is said to be even going into this session, should be that way coming out, no matter what happens in-between.

Another thing Spring football IS, is to figure out strengths. Knowing what you have athletically is one thing, but you can also figure out where you are particularly strong, whether it's due to athleticism, depth or sheer talent. On paper the offense has most of the advantages, but Pelini didn't come to Nebraska the first time with an exactly stellar defense to work with, based on the previous year's performance, statistically.

That actually could work to Pelini's advantage over the Spring, though, because on paper the offense should crush the defense during practice, which means there's not much you have to say to the defense to get them motivated for this group of practices.

Not only do they as a unit want to prove that the "Blackshirts" haven't sunk into oblivion, they want to prove that each of them, both as individuals and as a unit, can rise and live up to not just the Nebraska reputation, but Pelini's as well, because when it comes to defense over an entire season, this guy doesn't lay eggs. These players don't want to be the first.

What Spring also IS, and perhaps this is one of THE most important things, is a chance for the coaches and players to gel.

Up to this point, it's been tea and crumpets, the honeymoon of Pelini and Osborne's arrival if you will, everyone rejoicing at just the idea that the old ideals are back, and with that comes an understanding of how to get back to being the Nebraska of old.

That's all well and good, but once the cleats hit the field and the pads start knocking, that sentimental stuff goes out the window. All this passion players have talked about, has to be shown. And all the respect these players have said they have for the new head coach, that has to be exhibited as well. But there are a whole lot more coaches out there than Pelini, and it's going to be vital over this Spring, that a chemistry between the position coaches and these players develop to the point where you aren't starting over in the Fall. You are just picking up where you left off.

What Spring ISN'T, is a time where stars will shine.

Let me explain that a bit: Yes, there will be great reports coming out about individual players, who do certain things at certain times, which seem to warrant extra attention. Whether it's an interception, stellar throw, physical run or whatever, we here in the media will bring to you all the significant moments we can, because that may have been the moment where some player stepped out into their own.

You aren't going to get that from the coaches, however.

Typical to the theme during this year's signing day press conference, Bo Pelini and company will keep the accolades about as vanilla as they can get. It wouldn't do a lot of good talking about how no one person is above the team during that press conference and then start lauding individuals over the Spring. So, while we the spectator will no doubt throw emphasis on certain players at certain times, the coaches will no doubt downplay anything and everything you hear.

After all, you can't build team unity when you are focusing on the individuals.

What Spring IS, is a time where the young bucks come out. It's back to the belief that nobody's job is safe, but this is a situation which would happen every single year had the same staff had been here or this was a staff which had been around for 20 years.

There are a host of kids who didn't play last year, played sparingly or perhaps was injured, as was the case for running back Kenny Wilson. The Spring is always their audition, and for those who spent most if not all of their time on the scout team last year, this will be their first chance to run their own defense or offense, rather than spending week after week running someone else's.

It's a great time for them, but it's only made better by the situation, because they all think that this is truly a blank slate, and names you perhaps might have even forgot about, can finally emerge into a somewhat prominent role. Heck, they may make the front of the sports page here and there.

Finally, what Spring isn't, and this is the worst thing for fans, because before the season begins, fans already want to have a good idea of how it's going to end.

You simply will NOT have a clue just how good this team will be.

Yes, the changes in coaching staff is a major factor as to why that is, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But what I think is the biggest reason that you won't know that much about how good they are, I think the coaches will be more curious during this time, just to find out WHO they are instead.

This isn't a time where you are cramming the entire offense in, the entire defense in, and running plays you plan on running when Virginia Tech comes to town. This is a time where you find out how hard they can go a particular direction and not worry so much about which direction that is. This is a time where you are looking more at the intangibles and maybe, just maybe, you can find who the leaders are on the team.

The annual Red/White game might end up being the ugliest thing you have seen in years in terms of playbook-versatility. It could very well end up being sprint option right, 48 ISO up the middle and wheel routes on every third and five.

It doesn't matter, and unlike the previous regime, which seemed to feel it necessary to put on a show for the Spring, I have a feeling that there's going to be a little more emphasis on showing fans what they REALLY want to see.

What's that?

The old Nebraska, of course.

Yes, I know. Here I have gone to a somewhat decent extreme at showing you how logical you should be about things, not concentrating so much on idealistic principles based on beliefs ingrained from a head coach who is now the A.D. But Dr. Tom didn't have all those wins on his resume for nothing.

Effort was big, everyone practicing was huge and a team all on the same page in regard to how much they were all willing to give, was more important than a team that knew every play, instinctively.

Even if the final score of the Spring game is 7-3, if you see the kind of effort you saw against Texas this last season as the Huskers almost pulled the upset on the Horns, I can't imagine fans are going to grumble.

If Joe Ganz does indeed get the start for the game, but doesn't throw for a team-record for this game in yards, points and completion percentage, I don't think anyone will mind.

In a game like this and this year especially, the offense has seemingly every advantage in the world. So, if the defense, which ranked amongst the worst in the entire country last year, can give them pause now and again, that might just bring a few smiles.

Blowing up someone behind the line of scrimmage or hitting someone so hard the entire crowd grimaces – that wouldn't bother anyone either.

Spring isn't about points. It isn't about who. It isn't about schematics or even about finding out whether or not the up-coming season is going to be a good one in terms of wins or something we all would just as soon forget, even before it's begun.

It's about attitude. It's about chemistry. It's about want-to, as coaches so often like to say. And it's most importantly about identity, because this Nebraska lost its way last year and now it's trying to find its way back, with Bo Pelini holding the rope.

If they can find out at least who they are and what they are about once this Spring is finished, all the other things that it was or wasn't, isn't really going to matter. They will have a nice foundation for the future.


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