LINCOLN — Bo Pelini’s view more often than not on Saturday was from the middle or the back of the Nebraska defense as the Huskers started spring football practice.
Afterward, the NU head coach acknowledged that’s where he’s going to spend more time over the next few weeks.
“I’m going to be actively involved,” he said.
Nebraska is starting a major defensive makeover after losing eight seniors who started at least five games last season. On Saturday the defense usually had only two or three seniors on the field with the No. 1s — led by defensive end Jason Ankrah and cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
When the defense split into two groups, Pelini stayed with one and defensive coordinator John Papuchis with the other.
“We’ll kind of move our coaches around and spend a lot of time with each group, to make sure we’re getting a lot of reps and getting them coached at the same time,” Pelini said. “So you need an extra set of eyes on what’s going on.”
Nebraska started spring practice just two months after returning from the Capital One Bowl, where it completed a 10-4 season with a 45-31 loss to Georgia. The Huskers worked out for just more than two hours both inside the Hawks Center and on the outdoor grass fields.
With NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck returning a three-year starter at quarterback and a wealth of experience on his unit, it will be a little easier for Pelini to turn more of his focus to the defense.
“I think that helps us,” he said. “Tim has such a good handle. I’m still going to spend time with the offense, but even starting last year I started moving over to the defensive side a little bit more. That’s where my area of expertise is.”
Nebraska has some repair work to do in addition to the inevitable personnel changes. The Huskers allowed 653, 640, 589 and 498 total yards in their four losses last season, and gave up 45 and 48 points in games the year before.
So Ankrah said he figured Pelini might be a little more hands-on this spring.
“The offense is more than set and ready to go,” Ankrah said. “It’s not really the defense trying to catch up to the offense, but making an own identity for ourselves, and Bo has emphasized that.”
How did the first day go? Pelini said it wasn’t too bad.
In fact, Ankrah said he thought the organization and pace were pretty good despite having a host of new linebackers, safeties and defensive linemen on the field, and two other seniors (Thad Randle, Andrew Green) on the sidelines with injuries.
“It was just little minor mistakes that young guys make — just thinking too much, overthinking things, a little robotic out there,” Ankrah said. “But I thought it was going to be worse than what it was today. It was pretty good. So I think we set a good building point.”
Nebraska has to replace more key defensive parts than in any of the last four years. Pelini even likened it to the times that he has come into a new situation, including his first season as NU head coach after the 2007 meltdown.
“But our guys, they have a base,” he said. “They were in meetings all last year. They went through a fall camp. So it’s not like they’re starting at square one.
“I thought there was a lot of good recall. Really, it comes down to the little things that they have to learn from, and they will.”
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