Week One Recap, Week Two Preview

There's not much you are going to determine about the Huskers of 2008 from one week of practice during the Spring. But with just a week under our belts, there are some things which paint a little clearer picture about just what kind of team you'll see coming out of Spring and heading into the Fall.

Even with losing three starters with over 20 games at the top of the depth chart, the offense still returns players who have a combined total of over 120 starts for the Huskers last year.

For the defense, it's a little different story

There were four players last year who had over 20 starts, CB, Cortney Grixby – LB, Corey McKeon – LB, Bo Ruud and Safety Tierre Green all having more than 30 starts actually.

They are, of course, all gone.

Returning is around 80 games worth of starting experience, and of those 80, three players on the defensive line are responsible for over a third of it, junior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with 11 games last year, which was the same for senior defensive ends Barry Turner and Zach Potter. The other is senior cornerback Armando Murillo.

Junior safety Larry Asante comes back as
one of the most experienced members of
the secondary.


The starting experience for the defense is basically irrelevant, though, because that entire unit is learning a brand new way of doing things. And on offense, outside of newcomers, tight end Tyson Hetzer and quarterback Kody Spano, everyone has had at least some schooling on the offense they are running now.

That means it's going to a steep learning curve for the defense, which Bo Pelini has already said was the case. "They are obviously further ahead than we are with the known system they're running," Pelini said. "It's going to make us better in the long run, but we are going through a little growing pains. But that's to be expected."

While the defense is a work in progress, as they say, there have been glimpses of some of what you can undoubtedly expect from players on that side of the ball.

Junior linebacker, Phillip Dillard, one of our spotlight players over this spring, hasn't just shed weight, but he's brought back that attitude. It was one which may have gotten covered up to an extent, because of the weight and Pelini sees a change in that already. "We know he's a physical guy, but I think he's a lot more athletic now that he's down in weight," Pelini said.

While Dillard is a bit of a known factor, what isn't known is how some others are going to work out.  With the loss of sophomore cornerback Anthony Blue in the secondary, it's one less body to work out within a unit that needs as many bodies as it can get.

Aside from Murillo, you have no starting experience at corner, and at safety only Larry Asante has any starting experience, the junior college transfer with nine games under his belt during the 2007 campaign. Candidates for both positions are amongst the following, and that could change throughout the Spring:

Corner

Sophomore Anthony West
Sophomore Prince Amukamara
Sophomore Eric Hagg
Redshirt freshman Lance Thorrell
Senior Armando Murillo

Safety

Junior Major Culbert
Junior Larry Asante
Redshirt freshman Matthew May
Redshirt freshman Austin Cassidy
Redshirt freshman Shawn Sullivan
Senior Matt O'Hanlon

Junior Rickey Thenarse

Curenski Gilleylen is one of the many young
receivers already showing a lot during the
first week of Spring
The offense has a leg up on the defense, but there are still a lot of things being worked out as to just who is where. While receivers like seniors Nathan Swift and Todd Peterson certainly have many of the things they need to know already part of their mental rolodex, there are a number of players who are going to try and get some real time on the field this year.

Sophomore wide receiver Niles Paul saw barely even token reps last year, the Omaha North standout not truly finding a place in the system. Paul has bulked up considerably since arriving at the beginning of the 2007 season, and is looked at to not only be an effective type of slot-receiver, but with his track-speed, he could work split out wide and has even seen some reps in the return game.

The same can be said for redshirt freshman Curenski Gilleylen, who has shown everyone once again, that if you want speed, he's got it and then some. His name has came up a couple of times over this first week, but expect that to increase as the Spring progresses.

At running back senior Marlon Lucky seems to have picked up where he left off, but with a slightly bigger frame, making him a more viable option for being a consistent inside runner.

Of course, Nebraska has a couple of horses to fill those duties in sophomore Quentin Castille and senior Cody Glenn. Glenn's remarks about last year's situation have been well-chronicled up to this point, but I don't think we should let that take precedence over the kind of potential this young man has always had. Had he been utilized more in the passing game with Bill Callahan was the head coach, we might have seen for ourselves what an all-around game this Texas native has.

Those little tidbits you get from players over the course of practices already says that Glenn is not only healthy, but running extremely well and even outran junior safety Rickey Thenarse to the end zone on what some said was at least a 40-yard gallop.

Where the biggest change will be will obviously be on the defensive side and as Pelini said himself, it will be very stressful on the linebacking position. In his system, based on what he did at LSU and Oklahoma, along with his brief time at Nebraska, you could see an outside linebacker playing from the down position as much as they might be playing up.

In 2003 Demorrio Williams led the team in sacks with 11 to go along with his 100+ tackles on the season.

Bo Pelini has his work cut out for him this
Spring as he tries to catch his defense up to
the Huskewr offense


That's a little different from how things had been done over the last four years, because current Philadelphia Eagle Stewart Bradley was often used on the line, but it was more as a fifth lineman in run support.

For our spotlight players this Spring, we have outlined a bit of Dilard's progress as well as Holt to a degree. Holt, going into his junior year, is a physical specimen like maybe even he couldn't imagine when he arrived at the same height of 6-4, but instead of that lanky kid from St. Augustine who was lucky to be pushing two bills, he's now an imposing 220 pounds. The off-season conditioning of strength and conditioning coach James Dobson has made Holt and a host of other Huskers far more ready to play the game.

As we go into week two, you can expect the defense to close at least some ground on the offense, though, it's realistic that they won't catch up until perhaps the Fall. And with the first day of full pads already behind us, this is a week where you can expect the physical intensity to really start hitting a fever pitch.

Will sophomore center Mike Smith be able to help add some depth to that position after moving from left tackle, which was preceded by a move from defensive end a year ago?

Can junior Nick Covey establish himself as the number two at middle linebacker?

With junior Major Culbert now back at safety, can he push for some serious time himself?

Who is the number two QB?

There was a lot said about players starting from scratch, but you don't take a kid who has been in the program for four years learning the offense which is basically intact, and put him on a level playing field with someone just coming in. Senior Joe Ganz definitely has the advantage right now, Bo Pelini has referred to him as "the guy" and has said of Ganz that he's one of the obvious leaders on the entire team.

Looking for more leaders over the coming weeks, along with establishing depth, is going to be key, even if you don't know much about the team as a whole, once the Spring concludes.

But much of this first week has been pointed toward effort as much as it has been figuring out where guys should be. And Pelini has stated that while a couple of guys seem to be obvious leaders, he needs more to step up.

Pelini has a reputation for getting that out of kids, even putting little cards in their locker with things written on them to get their head around what it takes to be one of the key presences on the team. Expect that to continue as well.

Keep checking back to Big Red Report as we will keep you up-to-date on the latest with the team as they try to find themselves over this Spring session.

Spring Photos – shot by, Paul Gornell


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