Looking Back. Looking Ahead

With two weeks down and just under two more weeks to go before the annual Red/White game, there are a host of questions which many want to know if the answers have materialized as of yet. In this look back and forward, we go down some of those most important as Bo Pelini continues development of his new team.

Going into this Spring, the questions seemed kind of obvious as to just what people wanted to know about this team and what they hoped to know once the Spring session was finished. Here are some that we'll look at right now:

How will Nebraska replace their entire starting line-up at linebacker?

It's not good for any defense no matter how talented, when you lose essentially every starter from the year before. Junior Phillip Dillard was the only person

Glenn happy to be a linebacker

going into this Spring who had any decent amount of playing time during the 2007 season.

Over the first two weeks we have seen a lot of trial and error, but even now there isn't a lot we know about this group.

Sophomore Latravis Washington continues to work at the weakside linebacker spot, and now finds himself with a surprising teammate at that position, senior running back Cody Glenn moving to the defensive side of the ball.

Glenn's movement was inspired by Glenn himself, who cited his wealth of knowledge of the offense as reason enough to give defense a try. If it didn't work out, he could move back and not worry about feeling as if he lost a lot of valuable time.

In the couple practices Glenn has had, he's already shown much of what made him so successful on the offensive side, that being great feet, a tough-minded attitude and as aggressive as he was with the ball on offense, he's shown everyone he's just as aggressive as pursuing the ball as well.

One observation from my brief time in being able to watch him is that if this young man isn't excited about playing linebacker, you could have fooled me. From the few reps we the media got to see, Glenn is as aggressive as any other within that linebacking corps, and when you consider Phillip Dillard is part of that, that is saying something.

He's not only quick to the ball, but without really any serious knowledge of just what he's supposed to be doing, Glenn seems to have a knack for being around the ball.

Imagine what he'll be able to do once he actually knows where to be and when.

I always looked at Glenn as a serious contender for the top spot at running back. For a number of reasons, many chronicled ad nauseam by this point, that never came to pass. But after just a snipit of what he can do on the other side, I think that unless the entire backfield goes down - knock on wood - Glenn is on the defensive side to stay. I think this young man has definitely found a home and don't be surprised just how much playing time he gets. He could even be starting before his senior year is done.

At middle of Dillard, of course, along with junior Nick Covey, who has managed to stay healthy for the entirety of Spring. That has always been his challenge, as he seems to have had the athleticism, but he just couldn't keep it on the field. He looks the part of a middle more than he ever has, and thus far he seems to be doing fairly well. Much like the rest of the defense, he is learning as he goes and let's not forget that outside of a little bit of time at the end of last year, Covey is someone who has barely sniffed the field in an actual game.

He'll have the physical part figured out as practices have already been very physical, and against a seasoned and well-conditioned offense. Covey could end up being solid depth for a unit which is still not cemented as far as starter.

Lawrence still needs a little more size

At the strongside linebacker spot or "BUCK" as it's called in the Pelini-system, you have sophomore Blake Lawrence, who has more experience than anyone outside of Dillard. But that's not saying much, because it amounts to be about two games. Add to that the issue that while Lawrence has indeed put on some weight since he arrived, he still looks like he has a lot of weight to go. His frame will probably always look a little lean, but to take over for Bo Ruud, I think he's going to have to get bigger still.

Redshirt freshman Austin Stafford was looked at as someone who could make a lot of noise over this Spring and potentially at this position. Outside of the first practice, though, Stafford has been a no-show, the head coach saying that he is out for "personal" reasons. Stafford is expected back, but with everyone learning from scratch and needing as many actual live snaps as possible, Stafford needs to get back and soon. Physically, he's got the tools, looks the part and has the kind of upside you like.

Now he just needs to get on the field.

There are a host of other players you don't want to lose track of, but I think Tyler Wortman could be the x-factor of the group. Like many walk-ons, especially those coming in the last few years, Wortman isn't heralded, but with the time he's had, he's shown himself to be a very intense and physical type of player. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Wortman compete for one of those starting spots. And with the uncertainty at the BUCK position, that could be just where he ends up on game day.

Another question which seemed pervasive on the message boards across Husker land was who could take over in the secondary as they, like the linebackers, lost a host of experience. Now, they do have senior Armando Murillo coming back at corner, along with senior safety Larry Asante, Murillo starting over 10 games while Asante was just one shy of that mark.

Let me be the first or second...maybe third or so person to tell you that this group doesn't have a ton of experience side-to-side, but they do have potential to burn.

The sad part is, of course, sophomore Anthony Blue couldn't participate in this Spring, because of a knee injury. But competition at the cornerback spots has shown us that while Blue's absence is unfortunate, it's given others a chance to shine, whereas they might not have otherwise.

Sophomore Anthony West, now that he seems to have found a home (finally) at corner, has shown himself to be at least as good of an athlete as we thought he could be, all eyes popping from his prep-tape which showed him to be blazingly fast and scat-back nimble. That momentum continues over the Spring as West has in my mind, cemented himself at the very least a number two spot. And if Blue, an amazing array of pure natural talent and athleticism, can't come back, it would be hard not to see West number one.

Thenarse going in the right direction

But then there is one of our spotlight players for the Spring, that being sophomore Prince Amukamara. Like West, many saw his prep-highlights and drooled over the chance he might have with the ball instead of trying to take the ball from the other team. After what I have seen over the course of this session, you'll want to keep Amukamara right where he is.

Take the athleticism we already know about and the better than average height for someone playing the cornerback spot. Then throw in a linebacker mentality. I saw Amukamara take on tight ends with four inches and 40 pounds on the Arizona-native, and all he did was hit them and ask them if they wanted some more. Everyone knew that Prince was an outgoing personality off the field, but it seems that he's not any less extraverted on it as well.

Secondary coach Marvin Sanders will have to teach him the finite things about the position, but this kid is confident, athletic, strong and someone you could look at as a cover guy and someone who could be valuable in run support. I don't know if that means he's a starter in nickel situations or what, but I don't think there is any way you can keep this kid off the field.

Asante, another one of our spotlight players, has proven himself to be a quarterback on the defense. I know that some believe that spot to be the job of the middle linebacker, but you don't have to watch practice to know where Larry is on the field - you just have to listen.

If someone isn't lined up right, Larry's on it. If the offense does something funky, Larry's voice is usually the first one you hear. Whether he's the guy who is supposed to make the call or not, he's doing it and the coaches aren't saying a thing. I don't know if that means he's one of the first ones to take the mantle of leadership or if he was given that role. Asante has the athleticism, size and strength to be an effective safety. I thought he might have been better suited to linebacker, though, stemming from what he did at the position his last year in junior college. But he's proven to me, at least, he's right where he belongs and he seems to be taking the reins of leadership maybe, for that entire side of the ball.

Rickey Thenarse is the question, but it isn't about ability and goodness gracious, we know it isn't about how aggressive he is on the field. As sophomore wide receiver Niles Paul if he feels Thenarse isn't aggressive enough, as the Omaha North standout is probably still trying to find his helmet. Ask senior wideout Nathan Swift, who probably saw his life flash before his eyes in the end zone as Thenarse came about an inch from smearing him all over the north goal post.

It has never been about how he plays, but where he's going, which is the biggest concern. But that seems to be working itself out. While Rickey still has his moments where he isn't quite where he's supposed to be, he's still getting there with as much ferocity as anyone on the team. That sounds like a Bo Pelini-philosphy to me. He said that it's about effort first and once they establish you are going as hard as you can, then they will get you straightened out as to just where you are supposed to be heading. Thenarse has everything, and once he gets the direction and throws in a little consistency, I can tell you that whatever Paul experience or Swift almost experienced, you are going to see more than a few players from other teams get the real thing.

That's scary

With the loss of Ndamukong Suh before Spring, like the Blue situation did for the secondary, players are now getting reps on the inside, which they might not have seen had Suh been good to go.

What I think we have learned from that is that this group, while potentially good, has a little ways to go.

Part of it is just about size.

Senior Kevin Dixon may be listed at 285, but he's about as lean as 285 pounds is going to get. You can also say that for new teammate on the interior, redshirt freshman Jared Crick. The Cozad native made the move to the inside, but this is one of the few football players who is actually going to have to gain some weight versus lose it, which seems to be the theme for so many players who shed pounds before Spring practice began.

Coach Papuchis and company doing a lot
of experimenting on the defensive line
Senior Shukree Barfield is one of your only true wide-bodies down there, which isn't to say he's not athletic, because he is. But I don't know about you, even if the guy is an athletic freak, a defensive linemen needs to take up some space as well as he is capable of filling it quickly up field off the snap.


They have been rotating that interior enough with Crick, Dixon and Barfield, along with senior Ty Steinkuhler, who figures to be the starter at the three-technique in the Fall, but it's kind of hard to tell right now.

I know many remember all too well how many offensive linemen spent one week at guard, another at tackle then back to guard, then tackle, etc. You'd think the same thing was going on with the defensive interior right now. It's just an experimentation, though, the coaches trying to figure out what will work best.

Considering what happened last year, figure that experimentation to go all the way into the Fall.

At defensive end, who would have thunk it, but there seems to be two concrete starters right now. Seniors Barry Turner, who went and lost quite a few pounds of his own, is now back to looking more like the Turner we saw his first year with the big red, and Zach Potter has all but cemented himself as the man over at the other spot. Depth is going to be an interesting situation, because you have to think that Bo Pelini is going to try and get as close as he can get, at least physically, to the kind of defensive ends he's had at LSU, Oklahoma and yes, at Nebraska.


Senior Clayton Sievers will be solid. While he doesn't have track-quickness out of the blocks, he's a consistent performer with a great motor. Junior David Harvey follows still in the mold of the bigger defensive ends from last year, though, he's cer4tainly not pushing anything like Jay Moore or Adam Carriker kind of weight. The interesting prospects over this Spring could be redshirt freshman William Yancy and sophomore Pierre Allen Jr.

Junior is the physically more imposing one, but Yancy could be that Barry Turner when Turner was in his freshman year. It would stand to reason that this group will shuffle around a lot and look very different depending on the down and distance situations. You'll see Turner and Potter for two downs, and if it's third and long, bring in another group. Turner's quickness off the line makes him perhaps the most versatile, especially now that he's dropped that extra weight. As it is, though, this group has in my mind, a cemented starting line up, but the depth is completely up in the air right now.

The offense?

Yeah, I guess there is the offense,  and there are some questions which we are going to see if there are answers to for right now. One of them is just how good can this group be?

Of course, that answer only comes at the end of the season, and the later that end comes, the better the season they obviously had. But we'll cover the offense a lot more this up-coming week.

If you want a simple summary of the defense, it's nothing that is going to make you glow, because right now a lot of kids have a lot to learn and in a very short amount of time. But have no fear in that the template may still have to be laid down, but this cupboard is by no means bare.

Say what you want about the old regime and how everything seemed to go awry - they could still recruit like the dickens. Now it's up to the current staff to take the wealth of talent they have, point it in the right direction, and for a defense which seemed to lose its identity last year, give it a new one to wear. Heck, the new one may even end up looking like the old one, say, about five years ago.

That wouldn't be so bad.


NOTES:


  • Aside from Anthony Blue and Ndamukong Suh, missing practice as well have been the following:
  • Sophomore defensive back Ryan Ford missed approximately four days, but is now back in pads with the team.
  • Junior safety Tyson Hetzer is out with a knee injury and is doubtful for the rest of the Spring
  • Fellow tight ends, sophomores Dreu Young and Michael McNeil, both missed practice on Saturday, each with minor nicks, according to the head coach, and should be returning to the field today.
  • Sophomore wide receiver Will Henry continues to be out with a tweaked hamstring
  • Stay tuned to Big Red Report all this week as we will bring you a new round of Spring in Motion, more of our video Practice Wrap Ups, Q&As with the players and coaches, Spring Snapshots galore and much, much more.

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