I remember the Spring game when Eric was facing off against Bobby. It was touted as one of the most anticipated Spring games in recent memory. Well, this year, there might be another QB race, but the biggest questions are, just what NU will look like on either side of the ball.
To be honest, I can't think of what the attendance record for a Spring game is, but I'm willing to bet this one will push that one for the title. Probably the only thing that would of made anyone think that was possible following a year like NU just had would indeed be a coaching make-over. Well, that's what they got and coaches like Bo Pelini have some fans watering at the mouth to see just what the new look Huskers will do.
A lot has also been made of so many coaches being placed in position to make this NU offense look vastly different from anything anyone has seen in quite some time. Jokingly, you could say "that means we can pass?" and with a brief smile and a sigh, you can hope that it just what you will see, plus a whole new way of doing it. It's not just passing more, but passing at the right times as well.
Oh yeah and it won't hurt to have the QB throw over 50% of his passes complete, but that's another story.
A passing coordinator, a tight ends coach from Purdue, a noted passing team, speedy receivers and tight ends and a coach that has a reputation for throwing it more on first down than NU has in recent memory. Ok, scratch that. The Syracuse Lacrosse team has thrown it more on first down than NU has, but you get the idea.
People will be filling the stands and as much as everyone says year in and year out that they aren't sure what they are going to see, this year, it will be true. Nobody has any clue as to what they will see.
Sure, some would-be know-it-all that says they talk to the coaches and this or that is what they are going to do, but don't believe it. In fact, I wouldn't be looking to the Spring game to learn and awful lot either as to what NU will have in store for their season opener against Oklahoma State.
Under both Osborne and Solich, NU has been notorious for being about as vanilla as you can be when the fear of losing isn't there. With a game like this, you will see bits and pieces of the pie, but I would assume the fans are going to have to wait for the season-opener for the whole dessert.
That won't stop the enthusiasm though, because there will be a few things that NU won't attempt or be able to hide if these changes have had the impact hoped.
First and foremost, the defense. From quotes you read in the newspaper, Bo Pelini darn near scared some of these guys to death with this ideology on how you play great defense. I think he was even referred to as "psycho". With that kind of ferocity from the coach, you know what to expect from all the players that have what it takes to hang in the Pelini regime'.
That means intensity, fire and flying around to the ball like maybe even those players haven't even imagined. Coach Pelini is expected to take them where they themselves might not have thought they could have gone, until someone was willing to push them all the way there.
I don't know about you, but just the thought that the "Blackshirts" should be back in form, heck, that's worth the price of admission and an hour-long wait in line right there. But, there's oh so much more.
Within the framework of what coach Pelini is expected to lay down, there will be eyes on certain individuals to be sure.
"Crunk Juice", a.k.a, Benard Thomas. A guy I have been waiting to see hit the field as a starter since he stepped on campus. He's got the size, the speed and if you didn't know this, on the field, this guy can be just plain crazy. He's got the energy and talent to be one half of a great rush end duo. The only question is, who is the other.
Demorrio Williams and T.J. Hollowell. At times, each showed just how good they could be and how big a "ballhawks" they were. Glimmers that people expect this season to shine, especially considering the fact that most expect the coaches to find a way to get both of them on the field at the same time. They have each proven what they can do when they are as they say, "flying around and making plays". With the eternal cattle prod, Pelini on their butts 24 hours a day, you could expect to see that all the time now.
Barrett Ruud. Ok, this is more me than anyone else, but I'm going to give you my personal assessment of this young man's accomplishments up to this point. They are nothing. Nothing compared to what I think he is capable. And why? Because a coach who shall game nameless was so worried about technical this and complicating that, he never allowed him to be the player I saw on tape in high school. I think Ruud does have what it takes to play the position and play it well and with Williams demanding that "Excellence" from him, I think you will see a different Ruud this season.
Dominance. That's what is expected by the interior defensive line, no questions asked. Forget about "sort of" or "kind of" or "pretty good", if this unit isn't solid from top to bottom, there is something wrong. They don't have one excuse. Not one. Experience, talent, speed and now, coaching, these guys shouldn't be formidable this year, they should be ferocious. If there is one single unit on the defensive side of the ball that you should expect near perfection from, it's these guys. And, it should start in the Spring game. The offense is once again going to have to "gel" as you can expect some changes along the line, so the interior guys on the defensive side should be teeing off on them all day long. Honestly, if they don't, something just isn't right.
The secondary could also be one of the more interesting stories, because we honestly don't know who's going to be in and who's going to be out. I don't think that any position is safe, even that of Fabian Washington's, so just for sheer drama and mystery, this is going to be a learning experience for everyone.
On offense, I would say a good theme for this would be, "If at first you don't succeed". Much maligned for most of the season due to a variety of reasons, the offense was never quite what anyone wanted, especially at the most critical times. Again, that's probably going to change, simply because it has to.
A lot of new coaches may have came in, but that doesn't mean anyone has got an easy year ahead of them and considering most of these new guys are actually old NU guys coming back, the pressure to succeed is that much more.
Where it will start it where it always starts with a good NU team, that's in the trenches and for me, it starts with where Richie Incognito goes. Ironic that someone named Incognito would be the most noticeable person on the line, but he's also probably the most gifted. Overshadowed by his oft-times over exuberant personality is the best offensive lineman Nebraska has and where he moves to (if he moves at all) will dictate many of the changes to be made on the line.
Names like JeMayel Phillips, Jermaine Leslie, Darin DeLone and Nick Povendo have all come up as the leaders for the outside positions. Yes, Dan Waldrop is the returning starter on the right side, but don't be surprised if this position is just one of the many changes made.
Will Erickson retain his position and will Junior get the guard position opposite him if so? I have no idea what this line is going to look like to tell you the truth. It's a lock that Richie is in there somewhere as Junior could be as well, but other than that, I think how this line shakes out could be as riveting as the QB position.
Oh, what a segue that was, eh? Jammal Lord. After setting the Husker all-time offensive yards record, some were thinking that he wasn't just the starter, but a Heisman contender to boot. Well, it didn't go so great after that, people now wondering if he should even be at the helm.
The problem is, nobody else with any sort of experience is realistic to replace him. Granted, if Curt Dukes were completely healthy, he would be the odds-on favorite for the job, but he's not. And we don't want to take anything away from Mike Stuntz. In fact, with some of the new ideas in passing more for the NU offense, Stuntz's stock might have just gone way up.
There's also the matter of some kid named Joe Dailey. Yes, he hasn't even stepped on campus and already he's being heralded as the next.............whatever. That's how it was with Curt Dukes though and to be realistic about it, that's how it is with just about every major QB prospect that comes to Nebraska, at least initially. Joe does have impressive passing stats coming out of high school though. As Scott Downing put it, probably the best since some QB by the name of Turner Gill. Well, the hype will be all over Joe to make everyone's dream come true, but since nobody is going to see him in this coming Spring game, they will just have to focus on Jammal and Mike, because that looks to be the only two healthy quarterbacks NU has right now.
What Barney Cotton said he would do is simplify the offense. Instead of 14 sets, maybe 10 or 11. Cotton likes play-action and to Jammal's credit, that's when he has done his best. Again and I know this is a broken record by now, I don't think we are going to learn anything about this position in this up-coming game. With Curt probably out and Joe yet to see the field, this is a head-start for Lord and Stuntz, but that's about it. I don't see this position even close to shaking out until right before the season begins.
What will we see from the running backs? Hopefully, the first thing NU fans see is a bigger David Horne. If Horne was missing any one thing, it was the size to go along with everything else he had. He was patient behind blockers, was pretty elusive and had some good speed in the open-field. What David didn't have was the body to take a lot of damage and that kind of strength you need to bear down when you can't go around.
Robin Miller has always been good in the Spring games, but for whatever reason, hasn't managed to see the field for more than token appearances during the regular season. With his impressive performance index scores, he raises expectations about what he can do, possibly as high as they were when he came here, choosing NU over Washington. It was a victory then for NU when they got him, his style compared to that of Mike Rozier's. To date though, we haven't seen that potential come to fruition.
Cory Ross, Josh Davis and Marques Simmons all have just as good a shot as Horne does for this year's starting job. Each has something that makes them particularly valuable to the team. For Ross, it's his elusiveness, for Simmons, it's his straight-line speed and for Josh, he's just a solid all-around back that despite his size can be as physical as any of them. Like the QB position, this Spring game will mean little in establishing depth, but it should be interesting to see how they play and how the coaches play them. It could give you an idea of just who they think is "the guy".
The Spring game really isn't about establishing depth in the end. It's just about evaluating talent. But, within that evaluation process, you do find those gems that step up and some of those players expected to be what they are expected. The Red White scrimmage is for the coaches and yes, it's for the fans and this year, there should be a lot of the latter in attendance to see what I can only call an "epic" in the making.
So many times, we look at these games as indicators to who will be where and what they can do, but often, they just let each fan see a glimpse of each in action. Sometimes that's enough, but this year, it won't be all about the drama on the field, but the new one off the field or rather, the sideline area and in the booth.
New plays, new play-caller, a new defensive coordinator and basically, a whole new defense. Some stars expected to shine and some emerging stars, assumptions made as to their inevitable brilliance. It's all part of the game.
I'm torn though as to what I am most curious to see. What each player does or how the coach has them doing it. I expect a low scoring game as with any offense trying to gel, that's just logical. But, I also expect some offensive quirks that should have fans eager for the opener against the Cowboys. Nothing dramatic and again, not the entire dessert, but I imagine the coaches know just how much impact this game can have not just on the team, but the fans as well.
And to reiterate, I would think that in regards to fans, there's going to be plenty. Heck, this should be a record in the making. You can't ask for more than this. I know a lot of people that can say, "I was there when.............". Well, this might be one of those times that you will want to be able to say that in the future.
Well, we hope.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619