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Official Husker Locker Blog

2010 Feb 22

Husker Monday Takes: Now It's Niles


By HuskerLocker

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Six takes after your morning shower, shave and, well, you know…

*The most important Husker rolling into spring football? Who is it for you? I’ve been asked this via email and personal chats. My answer may surprise you: Niles Paul. Nebraska’s senior receiver is one of the best offensive playmakers, a local kid and a natural, driven leader. He also turned into a pretty dangerous punt and a kickoff returner toward the end of the 2009 season.

When NU’s offense got stuck in permanent mud during the last half of the season, the plan became:

1. Plunge into the line.
2. Modest playaction pass.
3. Bomb to Niles.

Paul is the team’s best perimeter blocker too, so you have a guy ingrained into Huskers’ offense, plus a respected voice in the locker room. With reduced leadership at quarterback, a beaten-up offensive line and running back Roy Helu skittish with the media, Paul will be one of the team’s spokesmen. It‘s notable that, after gaffes vs. Texas Tech and Iowa State, Paul did not duck the media. Nor did he dodge questions - or teammates - after his cop stop last spring.

Until the last half of last season, Paul hadn’t necessarily fulfilled his considerable potential. But he made clutch plays vs. Kansas and Colorado - you could argue he won both games - and his punt return in the Big 12 Championship should have set up NU’s game-winning touchdown.

*Spring football is now officially Cody Green’s proving ground, now that offensive coordinator Shawn Watson decalred senior-to-be Zac Lee out for this spring.

Watson spoke at length to the Omaha World-Herald’s Tom Shatel in an interview, mostly about last season, a bit about what’s to come. Watson artfully dodged a majority of the questions - he’s good at it - but 2009 is over, there is no use in hashing it out again, and 2010 will be the OC’s proving ground.

But, crucially, Watson said Lee “won't be there at all” for spring football.

“He'll get back in the mix later,” Watson said.

That means Green gets his shot. He couldn’t handle the “emotions” of the Oklahoma game last year, Watson said - and Green looked bug-eyed and confused in the Holiday Bowl, too.

Watson and Co. have two years invested in Green. The OC doesn’t bring his entire offensive coaching staff to Green’s high school state title game otherwise. Green doesn’t enroll early otherwise. Green doesn’t hustle back from a minor groin injury to play last spring otherwise.

I don’t blame them - the size, the speed and the personality all scream: Prototypical QB. But in that second spring, you either make the leap or risk getting leapt over. In this case, those frogs would presumably be Kody Spano and Taylor Martinez.

Jury’s out on what Spano can do - he has to play with two previously-torn ACLs, for one thing - but Martinez…here’s a guy who spent most of last fall as a scout team receiver and scout team Wildcat QB. The regular scout team QB most weeks was walk-on Ron Kellogg.

Said it before, and here it is again: That a kid who has been given, to this point, a token chance at quarterback is in the running for the No. 2 or No. 1 job speaks volumes about the state of the position and the direction of the offense.

*Through three losses to Fresno State, Nebraska baseball has twice handed a two-run lead to closer Mike Nesseth in the ninth inning, and he has twice blown that lead. Both a 7-5 loss on Friday and the 10-9 loss on Sunday stung badly, but yesterday’s heartbreaker was compounded by two wild pitches by reliever Chase Adams, one of which served as the Bulldogs’ winning run.

It’s early, but pitching remains the issue. Casey Hauptmann and Jordan Roualdes appear to be on track as the season begins. We’ll see about Sean Yost, who recovered from a shaky start on Friday. Everybody else?

Let’s be blunt: NU could easily start 1-9 or 2-8. That’s a big hill to climb.

*A huge loss by Notre Dame over the weekend (to Georgetown) puts Nebraska’s women’s basketball team in even-better position for a No. 1 seed now. Get past Oklahoma, and there’s just no stopping NU from a regional date in Kansas City. And if Huskers draw a more beatable No. 2 seed - say, overrated Xavier - than all the better.

Should the Huskers lose to OU, but still win the Big 12 Tournament, that top seed is still in the bag. Lose to the Sooners and in the Big 12 Tourney, and NU may need a little more help from the Irish.

Whatever gets Nebraska to Kansas City. If the Huskers land there - regardless of the seed - NU volleyball fans will get a run for their money.

*No matter how the season ends for the Nebraska men’s basketball team, it’s going to be one bear of an offseason for the returning Huskers under head coach Doc Sadler. This team will work, I know that. And weight training will be a priority.

The inconsistency has to be maddening, and I think it’s a combination of lacking attitude, confidence and toughness and just plain speed, man. NU has to get faster in the offseason. And stronger. How does NU keep brawling away at Kansas State Wednesday night, then seemingly back down at home vs. Missouri on Saturday? The Tigers, who are just slightly more talented than the Huskers - certainly not to the tune of 17 and 15 points in two games - just played harder and hit tough shots. Period.

Know this: Sadler won’t sit still after a year like this.

*A few words about Tiger Woods’ statement and apology on Friday:

It appears clear now that Woods had, to brilliant on-course success, compartmentalized his life into various spheres of golf, family, modern-day brothel, ad image, foundation guy, etc. He wasn’t leading a double life, but several lives. He lived them well, in part, because mankind is generally stupid, and we allow a wider berth to rich, successful people. I got a lotta money to make here, so let me carve out time for the GFE! Mankind does so to their general detriment, as it often turns out, for the sake of our own self-satisfied sycophancy but, you know, back to the point.

When two of those many spheres collide, it can have a startling effect. Woods’ game began to decline after his rehab and return from amazing win at the 2008 U.S. Open, and, it seems clear now, the demands of the harem, or whatever you’d like to call the legion of his emotionally-kept women, were beginning to bleed into other areas of his life. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, but I suspect he had friends making sure it didn’t. More than the few who have already been implicated as enablers.

Now. Erase all those enablers and replace them with people who insist the walls are part of the disease - which they probably are - and demand they stay down. That’s a vulnerable state for an elite athlete. Imagine somebody in Woods’ life expressing concern over thrown clubs and muttered curses. To make oneself whole, see, you have to break down every little part. But if one of those parts was the key to Woods’ success on the golf course?

There are advantages to being whole. It’s the real thing, for one. You don’t become an emotional Darth Vader. It also prevents you from becoming the miserable sourpuss Michael Jordan turned out to be, for two. But maybe you lose the “part” you liked the most in the process. You have to rebuild it as part of the whole. Like Woods rebuilds his swing.

Let’s see how he does with his wife and addiction support system tracing his every step. For a man of supreme control to suddenly give it to someone else? Try jumping without a net.

Tags: husker monday takes, bo pelini, niles paul, shawn watson, cody green, taylor martinez, doc sadler, connie yori, baseball, wbb, mbb, mike anderson, tiger woods

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