LINCOLN — Nebraska football players apparently returned to spring practice Monday with some of the bounce and freshness that the coaching staff had hoped to see.
The Huskers had been off since March 14 for spring break, providing them a chance to catch their breath before the final six practices that precede the April 6 Red-White scrimmage.
“It was a much-needed break,” safety Corey Cooper said. “We got after it physically the first half, so we got a chance to let our bodies heal and just go over things mentally.”
Cooper said the Husker staff sent the players away with instructions to clear their heads, but also to take care of themselves physically and keep up on their notes and playbooks. The junior from Maywood, Ill., said he went home for a few days and heeded the advice.
After the workout Monday at the Hawks Center, Cooper said it looked as if most had handled the 11-day break the right way.
“It went well, I think,” he said. “Guys did what they were supposed to do, because they came out here and had a good practice. I think it worked out for us.”
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said the break supplied the coaches with a chance to study and evaluate the first eight practices that culminated with a physical scrimmage. But Beck said it was mostly about the players, who had gone from the Capital One Bowl to winter conditioning to the earliest start to spring practice in memory.
“Probably since August they’ve maybe had, what, 10 days off?” Beck said. “So I think it was as much welcome for them as it even is for us to go back and say, ‘OK, where are we right now? What do we need to do? What do we need to look at? What have we got to get accomplished in these next five days?’”
The break might have been most beneficial to Cooper and his defensive mates. The Huskers lost eight starters from the defensive side of the ball, and coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis had been throwing a lot at a mostly young and inexperienced unit since March 2.
One thing Papuchis said the defensive staff studied last week was how much it needed to tweak its teaching progression because of that youth.
“Some are ready for level two and some aren’t,” Papuchis said. “I think that extra week kind of gave us that extra time to step back and really take a good look at that.”
Zaire Anderson said one thing he saw Monday was some tinkering with the linebackers, including David Santos and Michael Rose joining him at the weakside position. Santos and Rose had been going at middle linebacker, where NU also has Trevor Roach and Courtney Love.
Anderson said all the linebackers subbed liberally Monday, and Papuchis said don’t make too much of any moves as NU continues to evaluate at the position where it lost three fifth-year seniors.
“We kind of continue to kind of move guys around,” he said. “One thing we want to make sure of — and it sounds obvious when I say it — is that we have the best 11 guys on the field.”
Anderson and defensive end Jason Ankrah said the pace was swift Monday and the focus was on chasing the ball — all the time.
“Running to the ball, tagging off, coming back and doing it again,” Ankrah said. “Not just one play. It’s go, go, go, go. It’s not easy. But it’s a good challenge for us.”
There was another challenge for the defense, assistant coach Terry Joseph said, after the more seasoned Husker offense got the best of that March 14 scrimmage.
“As far as maturity, we don’t have a lot of it on defense,” Joseph said. “So it’s a tribute to those guys that the way the (first two weeks) ended, they came back and knew there was a lot of work to be done.
“Last Thursday’s scrimmage opened some eyes for us to where, ‘Hey, there is a long way to go.’ But we took some positive steps today.”
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