Friday, April 07, 2006

Gruden compliments Lucky

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden was in Lincoln on Friday as the featured speaker at Nebraska's spring football coaches clinic. Gruden met with reporters following practice and responded to various questions, including one regarding which players had impressed him. He mentioned two by name, quarterback Zac Taylor and running back Marlon Lucky. He said Nebraska was "lucky" to have Lucky. The mention of Lucky caught some reporters by surprise since Cody Glenn has attracted most of the attention this spring. Watching practice is extremely useful, but you can easily begin to believe that you know more than you do. The I-back competition is a case in point. It's probably too close to call, as Gruden's praise of Lucky underscores. Though he saw only one practice, he was watching with a coach's eye.

Posted by Mike Babcock @ Friday, April 07, 2006 || 32 comments

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Upgrading talent

Among Bill Callahan's responsibilities when he was hired was to up-grade talent, and he has accomplished that. It's particularly apparent in competition for positions this spring, and that competition will, in turn, provide more depth in the fall. For example, with Stewart Bradley and Bo Ruud sidelined, and in green jerseys, Kevin Cosgrove still has four proven linebackers: Corey McKeon, Lance Brandenburgh, Steve Octavien and Phillip Dillard. Ndamukong Suh has drawn a lot of interest this spring. He's a load and had an impressive scrimmage today. Yet for now, at least, he's backing up Ola Dagunduro at nose tackle. John Blake indicated that Suh would play both tackle positions, and he still could. But Ty Steinkuhler has made the transition from defensive end (he backed up Adam Carriker last season)and as a result, it appears Suh will concentrate on nose tackle for now, with Steinkuhler backing up Barry Cryer at the three-technique position. Zach Potter has stepped in behind Carriker. Potter scooped up a fumble and returned it 45 or 50 yards for a touchdown on the final play of today's scrimmage. Add Jay Moore and Barry Turner, who has picked up some weight without losing speed, and even though Le Kevin Smith and Titus Adams were significant losses, the front seven could be solid, and deep come fall. And that's not counting Brandon Johnson, who won't arrive until then. The same is true of the offensive line. It's young and inexperienced, but there's competition from tackle to tackle, and again, a junior college transfer who arrives in the fall, Carl Nicks, could be a factor, according to Dennis Wagner. And the offense will work only as well as the line allows. With Zac Taylor established at quarterback, much of the attention has turned to the competition at I-back -- the next highest profile position after quarterback. Again, the competition is spirited, and again, a junior college transfer who could be in the mix -- Kenny Wilson -- won't be here until fall. But up-front is where it counts. And that has looked pretty good midway through the spring.

Posted by Mike Babcock @ Saturday, April 01, 2006 || 9 comments

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Much ado about nothing

Ordinarily, Bill Callahan's post-practice interview on Thursdays attracts maybe a half-dozen reporters. Today it attracted a crowd of about 20, with television trucks outside the stadium for live remotes and news reporters assigned to cover Callahan's response to the Big 12's reprimand following his gesture in the Oklahoma game. One news reporter even asked the sports information office when the public reprimand would take place, as if Callahan were to be paraded to mid-court at the Devaney Sports Center and berated by a Big 12 official. Callahan handled the situation pretty well, indicating that he felt as if he had been publicly reprimanded the last four days. The degree of punishment probably indicates that the Big 12 didn't consider the gesture significant. But so much has been made of it, the conference had to do something. It shouldn't have happened, of course, but failing to acknowledge that it did initially allowed it to gain momentum. The connotation of the description "throat slash" magnified the problem beyond reason. Callahan should have been encouraged to address the situation quickly, tossing out another description of the gesture, something less prejudicial. Once the term "throat slash" was accepted, it became a much bigger deal than it deserved.

Posted by Mike Babcock @ Thursday, November 03, 2005 || 1 comments

Friday, October 28, 2005

Sooner time

The consensus of opinion seems to be that Nebraska-Oklahoma lacks the game's traditional excitement because neither team has a national ranking for the first time since, when, 1961? National significance or not, however, the old excitement will be there for me (and I would guess many from my generation) when I see those maroon Oklahoma helmets, gumballs they look like, with the OU on the sides. Nebraska-Oklahoma represents the best in college football for me, just as Ohio State-Michigan probably represents it for folks in Michigan and Ohio. It doesn't get any better than Nebraska-Oklahoma, regardless of what the Big 12 has done to the series. Having said that, I'm surprised that consensus among those with whom I come in daily contact seems to be that the Cornhuskers will win, without question, a confidence that makes me wonder as the game approaches. Certainly, Oklahoma has dropped dramatically given preseason expectations. But the Sooners' decline doesn't diminish the fact that they have had highly ranked recruiting classes, which means they should have talent. Also, their three losses are hardly disgraceful. Texas and UCLA, of course, are undefeated, and TCU is hardly a pushover -- plus, that was the opening game, when uncertainty at quarterback can be a real problem. In addition, the fact that Oklahoma had to play overtime to beat Baylor at home can be countered by the fact that Nebraska had to play overtime to beat Iowa State at home. And Iowa State hasn't exactly met expectations this season. Also, when Nebraska played Baylor, everyone agreed that the Bears had improved, so why wouldn't that improvement apply in the Oklahoma game as well? Is there such a thing as selective improvement? Not that I'm aware of. A healthy Adrian Peterson would make a big difference probably, and though he could play, he probably won't be full speed. But we still don't know what would happen if a team tried to line up and run at Nebraska in an attempt to nullify the speed at linebacker and take advantage of their size. Rhett Bomar is no doubt improving at quarterback and though he hasn't run a lot (and averages less than a yard and a half per carry because of the losses), he has the speed to do so. Nebraska has the advantage of playing at home, but I'm hard-pressed to sell Oklahoma short. I've been conditioned to think that way probably by all those seasons when Barry Switzer was the coach. Tom Osborne's record against Oklahoma during Switzer's time was 5-12, and 8-1 after. That's my frame of reference. A week ago, I would have picked Nebraska, regardless of what happened at Missouri. But the more I look at it and the closer it gets, the more that seems optimistic.

Posted by Mike Babcock @ Friday, October 28, 2005 || 1 comments

Friday, October 07, 2005

Smooth sailing? Probably not yet.

Nebraska got untracked offensively against Iowa State, sort of. Zac Taylor certainly passed efficiently, and as Bill Callahan said afterward, he took a physical pounding without flinching. So Taylor provided a glimpse of what the offense can do. But to think, as some apparently do, that there won't be glitches from here on out is a bit naive. Plus, to have 400 yards passing in regulation and only 13 points on the board shouldn't be described as "untracked." Instead of leaving yards on the field, the Cornhuskers left points, a greater concern. Still, what Taylor did after only three games was enouraging, if not remarkable. He needs time to be comfortable. And the offense needs to be able to run the ball better than it did against Iowa State to provide him with some physical comfort. However, I suggested that Nebraska would be inclined and able to run against Iowa State. So what do I know? Maybe it doesn't need to run. But it does need to translate all those yards into points.

Posted by Mike Babcock @ Friday, October 07, 2005 || 8 comments

Friday, September 23, 2005

Gentleman, start your engines

After watching Iowa State struggle to beat Army, eventually wearing down the defense, Nebraska should crank up its running game. The Cyclones breathed a sigh of relief when Nebraska didn't line up and run the ball at them last season, and it would appear that their concern would be the same this time around. It ought to be a big day for Cory Ross and the other running backs. A week ago, I might have been inclined to pick Iowa State, but not so now, as long as Nebraska keeps the ball on the ground and pounds away. Plus, the Cornhuskers' defensive pressure should be more than Bret Meyer can handle. Iowa State was not impressive, even taking into account the fact that Army came between Iowa and Nebraska, two emotional games. The Big 12 north looks wide open. It could be the Cornhuskers' for the taking, for now anyway. Defense and special teams can be worth a lot.

Posted by Mike Babcock @ Friday, September 23, 2005 || 12 comments

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Apologize to Joe?

Two games into the season, it appears that maybe folks ought to offer Joe Dailey an apology for piling all of Nebraska's offensive problems onto him last season. For instance, when passes were dropped (and they were)the responsibility was his. Now the responsibility is placed on the receivers. The truth is, responsibility should be shared, just as the offensive line has to share in the blame when things aren't clicking, which they aren't. If the quarterback doesn't have time to make decisions, the decisions aren't likely to be good ones. And poor decisions can result in interceptions, as we've seen again this season. Dailey's decision-making wasn't the best, but Taylor's hasn't been either, not consistently anyhow. That's to be expected. Few quarterbacks are going to step in at this level and play error-free from the get-go. Oklahoma has provided dramatic evidence of that. Experience is critical at that position, which is why Tom Osborne never wanted to schedule a Kickoff Classic or other early-season toughie when he didn't have a veteran quarterback. Taylor needs time under game conditions to develop the skills he has to make the offense work. But the sense I've gotten is, folks are already becoming impatient. Some in the student section were even chanting Josh Freeman's name during the fourth quarter of the Wake Forest game, and he won't arrive on campus until January. Even if Saturday's game were to get out of hand, Taylor would probably get most of the snaps because he needs the experience, particularly with Big 12 play beginning in two weeks.

Posted by Mike Babcock @ Wednesday, September 14, 2005 || 16 comments

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