SPRING FB: Carl Pelini Talks The Peso

By at March 31, 2010 | 8:28 PM | Print

Much ado about nothing, according to Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini.

“Not one call is being changed,” he said Wednesday.

Just the name of the NU base defense – now called the “peso.” The personnel, too.

Leaning against metal bleachers in the Hawks Championship Center after the Cornhuskers’ fifth spring practice, Pelini laid out the new-but-really-old wrinkles in Nebraska’s updated alignment.

The strong side – or Buck – linebacker is out of NU’s 4-3 scheme, replaced by senior nickel back Eric Hagg. When opponents employ “heavy sets” of multiple tight ends and running backs, Hagg and his backup – junior Austin Cassidy – will function as linebackers. When the offense flexes out into one-back, multiple-receiver formations, Hagg assumes his typical nickel back duties.

“It all fits the same,” Pelini said.

The peso simply allows NU to keep the same personnel on the field for heavy or open sets. Most offenses – including Nebraska’s – have resorted to using tight ends in wide receiver roles to create mismatches on passing plays. Husker Mike McNeill could line up next to the tackle on first down, and turn into a slot receiver on the next.

“Which gives you a disadvantage if you have three big linebackers in the game,” Pelini said.

NU hadn’t given it a name at the time, but the peso is essentially “a carryover,” Pelini said, of the defense Nebraska used in the Big 12 Championship vs. Texas and the Holiday Bowl vs. Arizona. The Blackshirts held those prolific offenses to 311 yards and 12 points – combined.

It doesn’t sound like it will be one-year fad, either. Pelini noted that Nebraska will “have to adjust the way (we) evaluate high school talent” to recruit players for what now becomes a demanding hybrid role: Big enough to stuff the run inside the box, and fast enough to blanket receivers.

Radical? Not precisely; Nebraska’s best defenses under Charlie McBride often used safety-sized players like Terrell Farley at linebacker. The peso simply flips the script, using linebacker-sized safeties who can cover.

Pelini said Hagg, at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, and Cassidy – 6-1, 210 – fit the bill.

“Size-wise, they’re not much different from most linebackers we play against,” Pelini said. “They’re certainly physical enough to handle that…it’s an easy transition to make.”

Hagg, heading into his third year as the starting nickel, is a known quantity. Cassidy is not.

The son of former NU Director of Football Operations Tim Cassidy – who now holds the same position at Texas A&M – Austin Cassidy, a Lincoln Southwest product, starred on special teams last year. After Rickey Thenarse went down with a torn ACL, Cassidy was the No. 2 free safety, where starter Matt O’Hanlon was a friend and mentor.

By the Holiday Bowl, Pelini said, Cassidy had earned the staff’s total confidence.

“So coming out of the season he was very much in our thoughts,” Pelini said. “Then he had a great winter conditioning.”

Naturally Hagg – a skilled blitzer who often draws Pelini’s raves – will be difficult to supplant. But Cassidy, Pelini said, is giving a good push.

At free safety, Dejon Gomes and Anthony West are getting work, along with Thenarse, who was granted a fifth year of eligibility. Gomes could revert back his usual dime position, Pelini said, when NU faces “10” personnel – the one-back, four-receiver set favored by spread offenses like Missouri, Texas and Texas Tech.

It was Pelini’s first chat with the media this spring. During his 12 minutes, he applauded the work of his defense overall.

“We’re deep,” he said. “There’s not a big difference now when our 2s on the field and our 1s are on the field. It’s hard to tell who the 2s are and who the 1s are right now. They’re both playing well.”

One prized line pupil, defensive tackle Jared Crick, agreed.

“You’ll hear coach saying he likes the tempo a lot better and I see it in the group, both offensively and defensively,” Crick said. “We’re getting after it. The speed of the game is a lot faster.”

The depth and speed, Crick said, is the root behind the “five times better” line head coach Bo Pelini used in the offseason.

“We gotta take those necessary steps,” Crick said. “If we take a day off, our progress stalls and we don’t become the group we want to become. But sure – I think we can be a better group.”

With a new name.

And its origins? He arrived at “peso” – the preferred currency in many parts of Central and South America – because he thought it was synonymous with the number five. Like the nickel.

“I think it means ‘five,’” joked Pelini, an Ivy League grad. “I took Latin.”


*Sophomore tight end Ben Cotton and junior linebacker Mathew May were still not practicing in pads Wednesday. NU practices again Friday.

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