2009 Mar 04
SPRING FB: Bold as Bo Wants to Be
The Sooners have plenty to shore up and replace on offense, if you didn’t know. Only the hull of a giant, punishing offensive line remains. The wide receiving corps has been deemed thin, too. Junior Sam Bradford, undoubtedly storing that Heisman Trophy in a sacred schooner somewhere east of Eden, Okla., is in need of full supporting cast.
You can peruse the videos yourself on OU’s Web site, but I think you’ll find the kids are, shall we say, all right. Especially Oklahoma’s receivers, many of whom seem to have fifth gear on their first couple steps. So it will be at Texas. And Oklahoma State. And Kansas. And Missouri. And one day very soon, Colorado.
The landscape has changed in the Big 12. Other than Ames, Iowa, it’s all smiles and business around the league this spring, and unbridled optimism wells up like offshore oil. Even Baylor’s fired up. Baylor!
Texas Tech survived a contract spat with Mike Leach, who remained a West Texas pirate, after all.
Mizzou, sobering up from a crappy end to last season, is ready to turn the page with bigger, stronger Blaine Gabbert.
KU has to replace its linebackers, but otherwise as BCS stars in its eyes.
And out west, in Boulder, the penalties of CU’s recruiting scandals are beginning to wear off, and coach Dan Hawkins in calling for ten wins.
And then – Nebraska.
Not to separate the Huskers for having a bad winter. Hardly. NU enjoyed a good couple months, really, keeping its coaching staff intact, retaining Ndamukong Suh for a senior season, recruiting a 2009 class that fills almost every need with fast, adaptable players, and by settling its quarterback controversy before it ever started when Patrick Witt chose to transfer before spring ball.
By all accounts, the Huskers go into spring healthy, happy and full of young, hungry players. Like much of the Big 12, it’s an optimistic hour over in North Stadium.
Come the end of March, though, fans ought to give NU coach Bo Pelini the green light to shake it up. The competition for spots might have been tough last fall.
This spring, the heat will be turned up a notch for all but a few. And by few we mean, like, Suh. And maybe kicker Alex Henery. Then again, Henery’s got a big leg in Adi Kunalic behind him.
So it goes for the entire roster. No job is going to be safe or, if you wish, “safe.” Pelini might have redshirted almost his entire 2008 class, but it wasn’t for a lack of talent. A wise enough move. Just don’t expect it to hold any of them back now they’re fighting for starting and backup jobs.
Names you heard last year – especially at linebacker, safety and defensive backs – you may not hear as much in 2009. If you hear them at all. Guys who have only been a whisper until now – Alonzo Whaley, Courtney Osbourne, P.J. Smith, Brandon Thompson – may find their play eliciting shouts. And, as Pelini made clear by playing guys like Matt May, Matt Holt and Lance Thorell last year, the coach doesn’t much care if your education is getting paid for, or if isn’t.
If you worried about minor roster moves like Witt’s and Major Culbert’s departure now, you may want to cover eyes and ears for the next 4-6 months.
That’s not to say attrition will be forced. It may very well be natural. Whenever there’s a regime change at a college football program, only the goofy, unwise coach guts the roster two months after he’s hired. He doesn’t even know the players.
Rather, some guys who may not eventually fit the system stick around through a spring, a fall and maybe even another spring. Some see the writing, and walk. Other see it, and stick around for the coach anyway. The culture at NU is so internally improved after the Bill Callahan era that you may, in fact, see some scholarship guys down on the depth chart who accept their lot, and battle for playing time. Others won’t wait. Witt didn’t.
And that’s OK. Natural. The second spring is the time when a coach’s tenure comes into full bloom. The introductions are over. There are generally no new position coaches to break in. All facets of the program – from the players to the support staff to even the reporters – are acclimatized. There’s less to rush, and less to install.
The second spring is less about unpacking, and more about imprinting. If there’s an hour in a coaching career when you can settle in, get bold and craft a roster in the culture you prefer, it’s now.
Frank Solich’s second spring was beset with all kinds of concerns, like a bout of freakish injuries, the recovery of Bobby Newcombe and Deangelo Evans, fan frustration over a 9-4 season - imagine - and an offensive philosophy torn between a balanced attack and one dominated by the option. Although the 1999 squad was Solich’s best – and one of the ten best Husker teams in history – the beginning of that season was a mess, as many remember.
Bill Callahan, meanwhile, overplayed his hand in the first year, dumping a lot of gunk on his offensive players that they couldn’t handle, which meant the second spring was, in many ways, a do-over, with a defensive overhaul to boot. Callahan also had to answer for a 5-6 season.
Pelini has to do no such thing. His 9-4 campaign met or exceeded all expectations. NU is not currently running a hospital for hurt players. And while the Huskers must find a new starting quarterback, Zac Lee is the only currently reasonable option, and he’s been around for awhile now. He has all the momentum he could want or require. Not a whiff of doubt about how he’s coaching his staff or team.
So he can afford to be bold with this spring’s workouts. He can afford to try guys out at other positions, or take a half-practice to key in on a particularly talented redshirt freshman. He, and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, can afford to put the time into developing quarterback Cody Green. He can afford to make the defensive back seven as old or young as he needs it to be. Being a defensive back for Pelini is a little like being a surgeon at the Mayo – you’d better have the intelligence, grasp for detail and raw physical gifts to do the job.
Yes, bold. The coach will have to be.
The top of the league never thought to take a back seat to Nebraska, even when it did.
But now, the bottom of the league wants to ride shotgun, too.
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