Since Bo Pelini arrived at Nebraska, he’s taken a different approach to the tradition of handing out the dark practice jerseys affectionately known as the “Blackshirts.” For decades, these garments have been worn by the starting 11 on the defensive side of the ball, but under Pelini’s watch, even the best of the bunch have to earn the right to wear them. This year, that strategy needs to be tweaked.
Using Pelini’s current method, it’s easy to see why no Cornhusker defender has worn black in practice yet. A unit that gives up 351 yards and over 27 points per game doesn’t strike fear into the heart of any opposing offense. While the head coach’s strategy has been effective and admired by many up to this point, the current handling of the Blackshirts’ presentation is doing more harm than good.
Every Nebraska defender knows what those jerseys represent. In years past, players admitted having held back tears of pride and joy upon seeing them hang in their locker. At this point, given the struggles that the Cornhuskers have faced five games into the season, players under the watchful eyes of the Pelini brothers and their assistants have to be wondering if any defender will dress in black this year.
This might not be at the forefront of their minds, but to suggest that ownership of the coveted Blackshirts isn’t at least on a subconscious level is absurd. Coming off a disappointing start to Nebraska’s Big Ten conference debut and a return to fall camp levels of preparation, the black jerseys need to make an appearance before the Cornhuskers take the field on Saturday to face Ohio State.
While some players may feel undeserving, the original reasoning behind the tradition is simple – if you started Nebraska’s first game at a defensive position, you wore black in practice. If you couldn’t hold onto your starting spot due to poor performance or another player stepping up, then you would have to work even harder to regain what you’d lost. The offense that Pelini’s team employs in 2011 employs a throwback style. It’s time to go back to the Blackshirts’ traditional method of distribution.
It’s easy for fans to point to the secondary’s struggles and claim that they certainly don’t deserve to wear the renowned attire of defenses past. However, with the loss of players like Eric Hagg, DeJon Gomes and Prince Amukamara, expecting the 2011 secondary to not skip a beat is simply unreasonable. If Pelini is going to start from scratch and open competition for all starting roles, taking a page from his predecessors may be the morale boost his currently-maligned defensive unit needs to regain lost confidence.
Nebraska’s head coach has made it quite clear that no one player is bigger than the team. Not Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead, Jared Crick, Lavonte David or even Alfonzo Dennard. By the same token, no coach on Nebraska’s staff is bigger than what has been a Cornhusker tradition since 1964.