SPRINGTIME WITH BO: A New Swagger

By at March 23, 2010 | 2:24 PM | Print


He’s still Bo Pelini, Youngstown-tough, and the Nebraska coach had to indulge that side of himself for a brief moment at NU’s spring football press conference.

“The depth chart isn’t worth the paper that it’s on,” he said. “We’re not going to answer depth chart questions.”

So if reporters were considering a handicap of, say, the quarterback race – or the competition at safety – no dice. And forget asking the assistants.

“The only person who will be answering depth chart questions is myself,” said Pelini, who, as you may have noticed, isn’t.

Beyond his opening disclaimer, though, Pelini was as expansive and upbeat as he’s ever been as the Cornhuskers’ head coach. The same guy who proclaimed “Nebraska is back!” after a 33-0 win in the Holiday Bowl, who expected NU’s defense to be “five times better” in 2010 as it was in 2009.

He likes spring football, and his team in it. He finally sees the depth at each position that allows Nebraska to run two practice units effectively. He loved the work the Huskers did in winter conditioning.

“Forget about talent and expectations on us,” Pelini said. “I like the way they go about their work. I like their attitude. I like the leadership. I like the type of football players we have on this team and how they’ve come together. I think that our culture is starting to take hold.”

And the Nebraska culture is starting to take hold in Bo. The positivity and perspective. Folks, this is a coach who, when asked about the quarterback race, said “our situation is great,” when, let’s face it, it’s great like a bowl of bacon ice cream. The 2009 senior starter has to watch 7-on-7 workouts while the heir apparent, quite frankly, ain’t so apparent right yet.

But this is Bo emerging from the bunker. His NU vibe. The next phase of his era in Lincoln.

Sound dramatic? It’s our stock and trade, the galactic big picture, the tea leaves, the pigskin prophecies. Reality is – it’s day one of this spring fling, and Bo’s sure to have a bad day at the office. Within the week.

And yet the positive energy is evident in Nebraska’s aggressive recruiting strategy for the 2011 class, in its achievements in winter conditioning – where Cody Green and Niles Paul both set positional records in the 10-yard dash – and in its sheer confidence.

“Our swagger for sure has been turned up,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “A new style of energy. A new, different type of emotion we play with.”

“The swag is high,” tight end Mike McNeill said. “I think people just realize the potential we have.”

That 13-12 loss to Texas did more than just provide some 00:01 motivation for the offseason. It galvanized NU for a terrific bowl game, for one thing, but it also sent a clear message: Nebraska can hang with anyone. By scheme or talent or sheer will and work ethic, they can, and if the Huskers had anything more than a rudimentary offense in the Big 12 Championship, the national media would have been sniffing around Tuesday’s presser, asking all the big picture questions it specializes in, rather than the usual collection of scribes sifting through the sand for a penny of detail.

Bo obliged, of course, and worked the media room instead of reacting to it, covering every position group except, somewhat surprisingly, linebackers, where question marks loom.

Offensive line was an area of focus, as it should be after a rough 2009, and Pelini foresaw competition and tinkering. Left tackle Mike Smith will dabble a bit at guard and center, while JUCO transfer Yoshi Hardrick is “raw,” Pelini said, and in need of conditioning and development. The unit was smashed-up by debilitating injuries last year – Keith Williams played a torn pectoral muscle, a pain that equates to getting gored like a matador on each play – and has to avoid them in the spring and the fall if NU’s offense is to function the way Shawn Watson envisions.

A more cautious coach might restrict some of his elder linemen in practice, but the Huskers can’t afford it. They have to, somewhat desperately, get more physical. One-yard holes have to become three, and a hole, period, might be nice on a power play. That means putting the five best players on the field. That means the competitive ringer.

“It’s a contact sport,” Pelini said. “Guys are going 100 miles an hour and they’re going after each other and they’re not worried about (getting hurt)…I don’t care if it’s a contact drill or a non-contact drill, when you’re out there in athletics and these guys are big and talented and doing things, you can have injuries. How much you hit and how physical you are – I don’t think that plays much into it.”

If Smith is sampling from the position buffet this spring – take notice. I suspect Barney Cotton, a giant, intense man already, sets that jaw even a little harder this spring. Those linemen are in for the toughest month of their young careers.

None of it will be easy. Pelini nearly killed this team with work in his first spring at NU.

“To the point where even I felt bad for them,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini once said of that first camp.

Said Amukamara: “They’ll just keep raising the bar. We’ll never meet their expectations.”

So don’t mistake Bo’s smile for “soft.”

But maybe, now, the bar doesn’t have to be raised quite as much. Judging by Bo on Tuesday, the Huskers’ standard as it enters spring football is already quite high.

What's your take from the Nebraska press conference?

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