Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini and three Husker seniors met with the media on Tuesday to preview the start of spring practice on Wednesday afternoon. Nebraska will hold a total of 15 spring practices, capped with the Red-White Spring Game on April 17 at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers' third-year head coach said his focus for spring practice is simple--fundamentals, technique and development. Pelini said these practices are the next step in the development of the 2010 Huskers following the offseason conditioning program.
Pelini discussed numerous topics surrounding the football program on Tuesday including the Huskers' improved depth, highly anticipated position battles at quarterback and safety, Nebraska's success during winter conditioning, position changes and injury updates.
Read Coach Pelini's comments, along with quotes from cornerback Prince Amukamara, tight end/receiver Mike McNeill and wide receiver Niles Paul.
Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini
Spring Practice Press Conference Quotes
Tuesday, March 23
"We're looking forward to spring ball. We had a really good winter up to this point. Really, to me, the first phase of our offseason just ended, that was the winter conditioning aspect of it. The lifting, the running, the conditioning, and our guys did great. I thought we had a really productive time there, our guys got better, the numbers proved it to be. But we're not about numbers. In the end, all spring ball is is a second phase of the offseason, and it's 15 practices, we don't make it out to be anything more than that. It's a chance for us to work on fundamentals and technique and development of our football team, period, end of story.
This is not a time to be talking about the depth chart. The depth chart is not worth the paper it's printed on. We're not going to answer depth chart questions, the only person that will answer depth chart questions is myself. The other assistants will not answer questions to how they rank on the depth chart. That's not for this time of year. Who starts in that first game, there's a lot of time after spring ball, between the summer, through fall camp, the competition is on. We have depth in a lot of different positions, there's going to be competition in all those positions, and that's going to go well beyond spring. You guys can talk about it all you want. As a staff, I will talk about it, no one else will talk about it. Just so we got that straight right off the bat.
I know everybody's curious about the safety position, the quarterback position, wherever else there may be. But there's a long time coming, there's a lot of guys up for jobs. Our job right now through the spring is to develop our guys every single practice, and the off days when we're in meetings and to get our guys taught, and that's what this time of year is for. To me, that's what spring practice is all about. I love spring practice because you get a chance to develop your kids. There's a lot of young kids that we feel have a chance to be on the come, and it gives us 15 practices to address that and to get better as a football team. So that being said, those are our goals going into spring."
On if no depth chart means that everyone is on the same level
"Basically. Obviously you have to have different teams and things like that. But to me, this is the time of year it's about repetition, and getting guys out there, getting them on the field getting a chance to show what they can do. We'll be doing a lot of two-team stuff, a lot of multiple-station things, and getting our guys a chance to get opportunities and to learn. Spring practice is about learning and developing technique and fundamentals and really developing an understanding of what we're trying to accomplish. Along the way, us as a staff, working on our schemes and the things that we're doing to set ourselves up to have success in the fall. It's not about gameplanning the offense or gameplanning the defense, it's about development of your football team.
On Zac Lee's recovery and if he could join the team by the end of the spring
"I doubt it, I don't think he'll be here for the spring, but you know, who knows, time will tell. He's progressing right along, and we feel like he's doing just fine."
On Mike McNeill moving to wide receiver
"He's really an adjuster, is what we call it. We've used him a lot as a wide receiver in the past, I wouldn't read too much into that. We believe Mike is a multi-talented guy, and he can do a lot of different things for your football team. There's still a chance you're going to see him some at the tight end position, we're just going to move him around to give us more opportunities to move him in different positions, without having to change personnel to give us more versatility. I wouldn't read much more into that. He's a heck of a football player, we're going to give him an opportunity."
On any other position changes
"Cole Pensick is moving over on the offensive line. Mike Smith is going to play a number of different positions on the offensive line, not just tackle. We're going to look at him at center, and maybe possibly some guard. But he'll still be out there at tackle some. This is a time of year to tinker with things, and give other guys opportunities and to make sure we have the pieces in place to tinker around and look at some different things."
On if he thought McNeill was underutilized last season
"I wouldn't say underutilized. I thought we needed to get him the ball more. Sometimes it wasn't scheme thing. Sometimes he was open and we didn't get him the football. We just think he's a heck of a football player, and I thought he had a chance to have a bigger year than he had, because I saw him on film he was open a lot. Some of them were scheme oriented, some of it was defense dictated. We just think he's a good football player, and use him as an adjuster gives us a chance to move him around a little more."
On Jemarcus Hardrick's progress
"We call him Yoshi. He's very raw right now. He's a talented young man, he's big and he's got good size, but he's got a long way to go as far as getting up to speed in conditioning, getting in position where we can get him developed. He's got a lot of learning to do. That's not necessarily why we're moving Mike Smith around, we've got some other young guys. We're just trying to get everybody an opportunity. We believe hopefully in the future Yoshi will be in there and get a chance to show what he can do. We'll see how he progresses. But he's got a long way to go, as do a number of the young guys. We have a lot of talent on the offensive line right now, and we have more depth than we've had, so it gives us a little more versatility."
On accelerating the development of junior college linemen
"Well that's why I say that spring practice is about getting reps to guys, and getting them taught. That's why we're doing more multiple team and multiple-station things, some things where we can get more guys on the field and get them taught. It's going to be more about teaching fundamentals and techniques and the basics to get them up to speed as quickly as we can - all the young guys. The more experience we get them in the spring, the better off we're going to be in the fall. There's just a lot of learning to do."
On the depth in the receiving squad
"I like our receiver position, I think we have good depth there, I think we have a lot of numbers. I just look at what they've done through the winter, and most of our guys have gotten better. I think Niles (Paul) and Brandon Kinnie have had a great winter up to this point, they've got to follow it up in the spring. Curenski (Gilleylen) has had a great winter. Obviously Mike McNeill is going to be playing in that adjuster positition a little bit more, so we'll see him out there. I think (Tim) Marlowe has had a good winter. We have a young man who was a former baseball player, Joe Broekemeier, who's going to be playing wide receiver, he's had a good winter. There are a lot of numbers there, as we do at a lot of other positions, so it's important that we get our guys reps and see if we can make some progress through these 15 practices."
On Rickey Thenarse
"I think he's ready to go. Obviously any time you're coming off a knee, I think he's done everything he needs to do up to this point to allow himself to get out there and compete. We'll see how he comes back, but I think physically he's doing real well. The training staff and doctors have done a great job with him."
On the quarterback situation
"The situation is great. We have a lot of depth, we have a lot of talent, and we have the guys to get them taught. I love the prospects at the quarterback position. There's a lot of talent there, and a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things."
On Kody Spano's progress
"Kody's doing great. He's in great shape. He's probably going to be the one guy, until he feels fully confident, I might put a green jersey on him, really for his mental well-being, and to give me a little peace of mind, because he's had two ACL (injuries). He doesn't want to wear a knee brace, he's feeling good, 100%, but I guess that's just for the head coach's peace of mind, I might put a green on him."
On the decision to not have quarterbacks wearing green jerseys
"We took them off a long time ago, so I don't think there's much to talk about. It's football. It's a physical game. They're not going to be out there in tackling drills or anything like that, but they're going to get hit. That's part of the game."
On the coaches clinic in April, and how he feels about Bobby Bowden coming up to speak
"We love to have the coaches clinic, because it gives us a chance to interact with a lot of different coaches and share some football, and we really enjoy that part of the year. Obviously, having Coach Bowden come up is an added bonus. He's a legend, and one of the greatest to ever walk the sideline. I'm excited to have a chance myself to spend some time with him. I think it will be great for all the coaches who come in to hear a guy like that, somebody who's had that much success speak, and we can all learn from someone like that."
On how many coaches attend
"We have upwards of 1,000 coaches sometimes come in here. It's great to get different guys in, you get a chance to learn from people, hear speakers. It's a busy weekend, but it's a good weekend. Hopefully a lot of people benefit from it. Not just ourselves and college coaches, but all the high school coaches around the state. It's a time to give back and to share some football."
On the depth of the cornerback position
"I feel really good about the corner position. I like the depth there, the quality of athletes. The one guy who won't be out there, at least for the first week or so is Andrew Green. That's kind of a decision we made as a staff, he had a nagging injury, we wanted to get it cleared up and fixed. Other than that, we've got a lot depth there and a lot of quality players. It gives us a lot of versatility. Really, I feel that way about our defensive backfield as a whole. We have a lot of depth, a number of different guys who can step up. And the way we play, we need a lot of depth in that area. I feel great about our defensive backfield, and I'm excited about that aspect."
On who will be working in the defensive tackle spot alongside Jared Crick
"Baker Steinkuhler, Terrance Moore, Thad Randle, we've got a number of different options there. We feel really good about our guys inside. I think we'll have depth on our defensive line, probably greater depth than we've ever had since I've been here. We've got a couple young guys who came in in January, Chase Rome and Jay Guy. Obviously they're young guys, but they're guys that we feel like have talent to help us down the road, and it gives us a chance to work with them here in the spring. We feel real good about that position. Justin Jackson's had a good winter. I like our d-line as whole, inside and outside."
On how much of spring practice is going back to basics
"The initial seven, eight, nine practices our progression doesn't change much from last year to this year. Maybe towards the end of spring, we start tinkering around and doing some added things, maybe some more specific things. I just believe at this time of year, when you only have 15 practices, it's about fundamentals and technique, it is not about scheme, it's about how to rather than what. That's just our philosophy as a staff, and it's not a time to have the pen last, and do all those things you do gameplan wise. You put in a lot of concepts, a lot of teaching and principles, and a lot of fundamentals and technique along the way. That's the philosophy that we have, and it's worked well for us."
On the decision to keep Baker Steinkuhler on defense
"I think Baker's a guy that can help you in a lot of different areas on your football team. The guy's a multi-talented guy. Right now, we really like, especially when you go back and look at how he played last year when he was in there, he made plays, and this guy's on the come. He's happy where he is, and we're happy where he is. Do I think he can help us on the offensive line? There's no question, I think he's a tremendous talent. But I think he's going to be an impact player for us on defense too."
On if Taylor Martinez is being looked at other than quarterback
"Taylor's a quarterback. He's a multi-talented quarterback, and has a lot to bring to the table. But he's a quarterback, period, end of story. Until further notice, this guy is a tremendous talent, and we're looking forward to getting him taught. He's got a long way to go as a quarterback, so it's not the time or the place to mess around with moving him here and moving him there, because he's a quarterback and he needs development as a quarterback, so he needs all the reps he can get."
On using him as a wide receiver last fall
"We use a lot of guys in scout team situations and different places to give us the best picture. Like I said, he's a multi-talented guy. This guy's an explosive athlete. He can bring a lot of things to the table, but in the end, all along the way we knew he was a quarterback."
On if he would compare his mobility to Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech)
"I don't know, I don't get into comparisons. This guy, he can do a lot of different things to make you a better football team, he's a good player. He's a good athlete. He's got a lot to learn, like a lot of the young guys."
On his impression of this year's senior class when he first came in
"I thought they were raw. I think the guys have developed well. I'm excited about this group. I'm excited about the leadership that they've shown in the winter. I like the team as a whole right now. I like their work ethic, how they go about their business. I think they're very enthusiastic, I think they're hungry. I think that starts with the leadership, obviously the bulk of the leadership starts with that senior group. These guys have been through it, they've played a lot of football, and I think that's an advantage for all of us."
On if this year's seniors stepped up as leaders last year with a smaller senior class
"Yeah, I think so. I think the more time you're together, like I said, I've never been anywhere unfortunately, knock on wood, I haven't been anywhere longer than three years. What I've found is that if you go one year to two years to three years, the longer guys are together with you as a staff, they start seeing things the way you do, they start seeing the culture of how you're doing things. Not just on the field, but off the field, and everything that goes into building a football team. All these guys on the team have been through it for a couple years, with the exception of some young guys coming in. So that gives you an added advantage, because they're hearing things, a consistent message over and over and over, and to me it gives you a better opportunity to have success."
On the running backs and if running will be an emphasis in spring ball
"We always emphasize that. There's going to be added emphasis on it. I like our running back position. I think Rex Burkhead has had a great offseason. Roy (Helu) is feeling good, he's feeling healthy, he's had a good winter. Dontrayveous (Robinson) is up to about 235. Austin Jones has had a good offseason. Collins Okafor has had a good offseason, as has Lester Ward. That's six guys right there that are going to be getting reps. The fullback position now, we're going to take the redshirt off C.J. Zimmerer, and move him in there to compete with (Tyler) Legate and Mike Hays. Ryan Hill is going to move back and play a little more fullback. You're just looking at greater depth in both the tailback and fullback positions, and you add that to the depth on the offensive line, and I think that will equate in the end to a chance to be a better running team."
On if he has seen strides in winter conditioning
"Tremendous. Like I said, James Dobson, I wouldn't trade anybody for him. I think he's done a tremendous job, he and his staff. I like where our football team is right now, I like what we accomplished through the winter, from January through March. It set us up to have a good spring. I think we're in good position right now to make the best use of these 15 practices."
On if he's surprised that they've been able to establish depth so quickly
"I like the way we've recruited. Time will tell. I like on the surface where we are, we'll find out. There's still a lot to find out about a number of these guys, but on the surface I like where we are. We'll be able to talk more about that after spring as we head into the fall and once we get into fall camp. I like what we're set up to be able to do. I really believe the walk-on program has helped us. Bringing in the amount of walk-ons that we've had, and I believe that there are a number of those guys that provide depth and have a chance to be really good players for us, and increase our depth, and increase our numbers so we can practice a certain way. You can't do multiple teams and do a lot of repetitions if you don't have numbers in a lot spots, and we didn't have those numbers before, because they just weren't there. Over a couple years now, we were able to increase those numbers. It kind of changes how you can practice, and the amount of reps you can give to guys. For instance, let's say you're deep at the defensive back position. You can't rep all those guys if you don't have all the offensive linemen and defensive linemen to put up in there and have reps in those areas, and now we're a little bit better equipped to be able to practice that way. I think in the end, hopefully it will make us a better football team."
On if he was able to talk to Curt Tomasevicz, watch his Olympic performance and hold his gold medal
"I did all of the above. We're proud of Curt. He was a special young man when I was here the first time, when I had a chance to coach him. It doesn't surprise me what he was able to accomplish. It's pretty special, obviously. I was shocked at how heavy those gold medals were, it was pretty cool to hold one. I know I'll never win one, unless they make football an Olympic sport, I think we (United States) could win it. I'd like to be the coach of USA football, you guys put it out there. We wouldn't have much competition."
On who he would name as his assistants
"I don't know. I'd take my staff. But if I had to name another head coach, maybe I'd take (Bob) Stoops."
On if he thinks it's tougher to go 12-0 in football or 29-0 in basketball
"I don't think either one, it's a pretty tall task either way. Look at how great of a year Connie (Yori) had in the regular season. She had that one hiccup at the end. It's just hard. The more you win, the bigger that price goes, and people start coming after you. That's why it was pretty special what the women's basketball team was able to accomplish. That's a pretty significant accomplishment, their regular season. Hopefully they'll follow it up tonight with another win and take that next step. I think everybody's proud of what they've accomplished."
On how much he has kept up with Ndamukong Suh during the NFL Draft process
"We talk fairly regularly. Not every day or anything like that. We've kept up as far as what he's been doing. I think he's handling it exceptionally well, kind of like he handled the whole season and everything that went on around it. He stays grounded, he stays very on track, he's a very focused young man. I don't know where he's going to get picked, I've heard a lot of different things. I just find it hard to believe that he won't go high, very high. Crazier things have happened. But whoever gets him is pretty lucky. He can come back if he wants."
On being upbeat about the team this spring
"I don't know, I'm excited, I like spring ball, I love the aspect of it. It gives you the opportunity to really develop your team, and find out about how guys learned. To me this is a big, I don't read too much into it, but I think it really gives you a chance to take all that work they put in the winter, put it on the field and really start getting your guys developed. Bringing the redshirt kids, the incoming kids that are here, get them a chance, get them taught. As a coach, it's a challenge, and one where you really have a chance to take those baby steps. Obviously taking your guys that are veterans and taking them to the next level, but starting that progress with those younger guys. I enjoy that aspect of it, I think our staff does. I think our team has a great attitude right now going into it. I really like our football team. Forget about the talent and expectations and all that other stuff, I like the way they go about their business. I like the way they work, I like their attitude, I like their leadership, I like the type of football players we have on this team and how they've come together. I think our culture is starting to take hold, and that's exciting to me. You don't read about our guys for the wrong reasons in the paper, in ESPN, knock on wood, they represent this program the right way, and they're doing things in the classroom and the workouts and every aspect of their life here they're doing things the right way right now, and that gets me excited about what we can do in the future."
On how to balance physical camp while keeping the players healthy
"There's certain things you can do, certain aspects of it that you do to take care of each other when you can. But in the end, it's a contact sport. When guys are going 100 miles an hour and going after each other and they're not worried about it. To me, when you get hurt, sometimes, freak things are going to happen. Certain things are going to happen in athletics, you're going to have injuries sometimes. Hopefully that doesn't happen significantly. But I don't care whether it's a contact drill, a non-contact drill, when you're out there in athletics and these guys are as big and fast and talented and doing things, you can have injuries. But how much you hit and how physical you are I don't think plays a big part into it. You go after it, you play hard, you go in there and you try to do the best you can, and hopefully, God willing, everyone will come out of it healthy. You can spend all the time you want trying to protect each other, and I don't want to have an injury here, an injury there. Most injuries that happen are non-contact injuries anyway. I don't read a lot into that. I think we practice smart. In the end we need to be a hard, high-effort, physical football team, and that's the way we're going to practice."