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January 14, 2009

Nebraska can't wait for spring ball

Sean Callahan
Rivals.com College Football
LINCOLN, Neb. - Officially, Nebraska doesn't start winter conditioning until Monday, but if coach Bo Pelini had things his way spring practice would start today.

After a 6-1 finish down the stretch, capped off by a 26-21 victory over Clemson in the Gator Bowl, the entire Nebraska football team is chomping at the bit to get things going for 2009.

Pelini said he can see and feel the enthusiasm in his players each day he's around them.

"I think our kids are working harder than they ever had before in the program probably since they've been here, but they're doing it with a smile on their face and they are enjoying what's going on," Pelini said. "That means we are doing some things right around here."

As the coaching staff starts to look ahead to this spring, the area where the Huskers have an opportunity to make a big jump in is on defense.

With seven starters returning, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini likes what he's going to have to work with in 2009.

"I know the Big 12 hangs their hat on offense and everybody likes to talk about the offenses in the Big 12, but we are very proud of our defense and our defensive scheme and how we are going to approach the game defensively," he said. "We plan on hanging our hat defensively on being physical and getting better and getting those numbers down.

"It's funny, at times we beat ourselves up this year, but ended up third in the Big 12 in total defense. In some weeks we didn't even think we played in an acceptable manner. It's going to be a source of pride for us to continue to get better on defense."

Carl Pelini expects the large number of players Nebraska redshirted in 2008 to really help the defense get stronger and deeper.

Pelini said he likes the guys who are returning on defense, but it's the added depth that could take this unit to the next level during the spring.

"We've got seven starters back, but we have another 20 or 25 guys behind them chomping at the bit and looking for an opportunity,' he said. "What I think is going to make us better isn't the guys coming back. That's part of it, but the bigger piece of the puzzle is the depth we are going to have and the competition we are going to have in the spring. It's going to be a war out there. I can't wait to get it started. I'm excited about the competition in spring practice."

No position on the team, however, will get more attention this spring than quarterback.

Nebraska must find a way to replace Joe Ganz, and redshirt freshman Patrick Witt and sophomore Zac Lee are the two early front-runners at this point.

Carl Pelini said he's confident offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and his staff will find the best guy and develop him to fit Nebraska's system.

"As offensive coordinators call more things from the sidelines, the no-huddle signaling, the audible signaling from the sidelines, you see more and more young quarterbacks having success," Carl Pelini said. "Like Bo [Pelini] said, I think we have talented, talented quarterbacks. There's ways for an offensive coordinator to combat the lack of experience by handling stuff from the sidelines. I'm sure you'll see a little bit of that from [Watson].

"I'm not worried about the offense, I'm sure they'll always be good and they're going to continue to score points. We've just got to take care of ourselves."

The other big story line with quarterback is how true freshman Cody Green will be worked into the mix this spring.

Green graduated from high school in December and started classes at Nebraska on Monday. Bo Pelini said it will be important that the coaching staff keeps close tabs on Green to make sure he's not overwhelmed early with the college experience.

"You just keep it in perspective," Pelini said. "He's got to take the same approach that I do, these coaches do and all the players do. You just go to work and do what you are supposed to do. Just handle your responsibilities on a day-to-day basis and put your trust in the people you are supposed to put your trust in and just go to work. You can't worry about all the influences and the fan fare and the expectations or anything like that. You just got do what you are supposed to do and work to be the best you can be every single day. Everything else takes care of itself in time.

"There are probably unrealistic expectations for that young man already, but he's a mature kid, he knows what he wants and that's why he's here early."

Pelini added that the hardest thing with any early enrollee like Green is making them understand how to take things slow throughout the process.

"You have to prepare them for that and tell them Rome wasn't built in a day," Pelini said. "You have to put a lot of hard work in. It takes time. His process just began a little bit earlier. For that, he'll take advantage of it. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be rocky at times and he's just got to have the maturity and the support from us to make sure he gets through it."

Sean Callahan, the senior writer for HuskersIllustrated.com, is a two-time winner of the Nebraska Sportswriter of the Year award and was the sideline reporter on gamedays in 2007 for the Husker Sports Network. This season will be his 11th covering the Huskers.
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