Kevin Dixon gone...move on

Perhaps with any other coach losing a potential starter to disciplinary reasons might be inspiration for the theme of a press conference, but not for Bo Pelini. Typical to his style even the forced departure of senior defensive tackle Kevin Dixon is just another thing. It's an unfortunate thing, but Pelini describes this team as one trying to move forward and he'll make sure they do exactly that.

Not to say it came in a rather perfunctory manner, but it was certainly matter-of-fact: 

Kevin Dixon is no longer part of the team 

Due to a violation of team rules, according to the head coach, the junior college transfer would no longer be part of the team. 

You can imagine the series of questions which followed that statement, some asking about the impact his absence will have, if he has others who can step up or simply the level of concern with such a vital position on the team. 

Kevin Dixon no longer with the team

Let's not forget that this defensive line was gashed to the tune of 112th, that being the final ranking in total defense for this unit last year. Dixon was seen as someone who, because of his size and speed, not only could contribute but could threaten current starter senior Ty Steinkuhler for the number one spot. 

He's gone now and the explanation? 

"We move on. We move forward," Pelini said. 

The lack of a potential starter would seem to be a worrisome issue, especially considering last year. It gets a little more problematic when you look at who is going to be backing up the often injury plagued Steinkuhler: 

Sophomore Ben Martin seems to be the most logical choice at this point, especially with the off-season departure of Seth Jensen. Martin played in seven games last season totaling three tackles. 

After that it gets a bit sketchy. 

It's actually so sketchy that the older Steinkuhler could be backed up by his younger brother and super-star prep athlete Baker Steinkuhler who Pelini said would be starting out this Fall on the defensive line. Based on what redshirt freshmen Terrence Moore does over this Fall will dictate just how likely it will be two see the brother-tandem go one and two on the depth chart. 

Even with that scenario the head coach was unfazed when asked if he had a numbers problem there, now. "We're fine there. We'll be OK. We have a lot of good football players on this team," he said. 

"We're OK." 

It's something you would expect a coach to say, because honestly, what's the alternative? Is he going to scream about how things are bad, his defense is undermanned and how he's just scratching as hard as he can to put something resembling a team together? 

Of course not, and the reality is that while the defense certainly isn't deep, losing over 100 games worth of starting experience between those lost from the linebacking corps, at safety and cornerback, it could be a heck of a lot worse. 

The defensive line could be inexperienced all over again. 

That will be partly the case with the Dixon departure and some playing back up roles will be seeing significant duty for the first time, but there's just enough experience coming back to make you think that they could be better. 

It's been one of the more interesting things and I suppose for the head coach, one of those things which might be getting to the point of frustration. It's about the fact that things are going so well with the team when it comes to the way they look and simply how they act, it's interesting to contrast that to things which occurred just a year before. 

Baker Steinkuhler could back up his older
brother this year
Why is this team so different? How bad was the morale last year? How could this team seemingly so depleted on talent this year be better than a woeful defense last season which seemed to have all the players to get it done?

And if they are, was it worse last year than even now, we can imagine? 

Those are the last questions Pelini wants to answer. Last year was what it is, this year is what it is and things aren't about what they have been, but what they will be. "I know what has to be done. I know what we have to do to get this football team ready to play, and that's all I have my mind focused on," he said. 

What has to be done, obviously, is continue the rebuilding process of a team which as a whole has seen better days. This is a program that played in a national title game back in 2001 and hasn't came even close to that since. It's the degradation of a mind-set which has had feelings reeling for years watching in fan-like horror as their once-beloved world-smashing football team has become just another blip on the schedule for the new powers that be. 

Of the current players, not only have they not been on a team ranked in the top 10, they haven't even beaten a team ranked in the top 10. Even Colorado going into their third year under Dan Hawkins can say that, as they upset top five Oklahoma two years ago. 

Rebuilding mentalities isn't the coaches' job either, according to Pelini. Sure, you are trying to instill confidence in what you do and what you are trying to teach. But the confidence isn't the goal, but the byproduct to the process of building this foundation Pelini has talked about at length. "I can't get into a room and wipe out any bad feelings or bad memories they've had. As they're taught and they get comfortable in our system and they develop confidence those things go away," Pelini said of the process in trying to erase the 2007 team completely. "You could say it was a damaged psyche when I got in here in 2003, but it's not something I address. It's how we approach things, how we build, what we are doing, how we move forward. 

"As long as you focus on the process to get there and you have a vision of where you are going, what happened in the past becomes for the fans and the media to talk about." 

That's been done and redone, obviously. It's part and parcel of being involved with a program with the storied tradition this one has and the almost unprecedented success it's had at times. 

The rubber meets the road there, though, for Pelini, as he appreciates the overall history of the program, but only looks to the microcosm of it which is his time, his tenure with the program. 

The are going to be a myriad of themes talked about on end over this Fall and, of course, well into the season. But for right now, even if significant players are gone and there is still so much to do, Pelini's philosophy which he talked about on a personal level before Spring, it's about the players and not about anything else. 

"Players are going to respond to you if they understand that at the end of the day, no matter what you are asking them to do, you have their best interest at heart," he said. 

Notes: 

Bo Pelini said that freshman wide receiver Khiry Cooper arrived in Lincoln last night and is expected to participate with the team from this point forward. Cooper has been since being selected by the Anahem Angels in the major league baseball draft, deciding on whether he'll take the signing bonus, which we believe hit $200,000 or start his career with the Huskers. It would appear that it's the big red who will get him in the end. 

Pelini also commented on the four freshman still not at Nebraska, that being offensive lineman David Grant, cornerback David Whitmore, running back Justin Rogers and wide receiver Antonio Bell. Pelini only addressed Bell specifically, saying there were still some NCAA Clearinghouse issues to deal with, which means his academic status is still up in the air. 

While Baker Steinkuhler has moved to defense junior college transfer Ricky Henry will stay on offense, working at center more than likely. Junior Jacob Hickman is expected to take most of the snaps as the starter, and is currently backed up by redshirt freshman Mike Caputo. With Caputo weighing around 270 pounds and Henry weighing just over 300, at least from a physical standpoint Henry is a logical fit there at this time. 

Nebraska will hit just the helmets today as they start practice under the normal NCAA acclimation process where they will go in just helmets for the first two days and progress into full pads by the end of the week. 

Stay tuned to Big Red Report as we have much, much more to come, including video Q&As with running back Roy Helu, junior linebacker Phillip Dillard and a bevy of audio as well.

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