LINCOLN — Aaron Curry shakes his head at the thought of all the mistakes at the beginning of spring practice. For the defense, the first half was rough.
Things were a little choppy, and sometimes downright disappointing. Some of it was to be expected after the Husker defense lost eight players who started at least five games last season.
“We started out pretty slow,” said Curry, a sophomore defensive tackle. “We had a lot of missed assignments and stuff. People didn't know what they were doing.”
In retrospect, perhaps it had some benefits. Maybe the unit needed the early mistakes to find answers.
“To show us that we need to get more serious,” Curry said. “Our offense is pretty good. They exposed us. It was a wake-up call.”
A few weeks and a lot of lessons later, the defensive unit will get a chance to show its progress on Saturday during the Huskers' annual spring game. A crowd of 50,000-plus is expected for the 2 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium. The Red-White scrimmage also will be televised live by the Big Ten Network.
“I think we've come a very long way, from the very first practice we were out here until now,” NU junior cornerback Josh Mitchell said. “We have a lot of guys that are just flying around to the ball and learning their assignments.”
The last two weeks haven't been flawless, but they've been an improvement from what coach Bo Pelini saw before the Huskers headed into spring break after a March 14 scrimmage.
“I was a little bit concerned,” Pelini said.
So much so that the sixth-year head coach sent his players off with pages and pages of notes to study. Pelini and the defensive staff, meanwhile, combed through what they had witnessed and had been trying to correct in those first eight practices.
Outside of having senior Jason Ankrah at defensive end and seniors Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the secondary, the Huskers were working with an inexperienced bunch. They were especially full of fresh faces at linebacker and defensive tackle.
“It wasn't so much that I got concerned. I just wanted to let the guys know that it's not easy,” Mitchell said. “Because some people think that you come out here and you just step into the role and it's going to be handed to you.”
Curry said the humbling moments came often — and for all to see.
“After we watched film, saw ourselves on film, we just thought we were in a bad spot,” he said. “And we just had to get into our playbooks and study harder, and that's what we did.
“But we've improved these last weeks, and I feel like we're at a good place right now. But we still have to improve on all that.”
The spring game will be Husker fans' chances to formulate opinions, but it will offer just a small evaluation for the staff. It will all be fairly simple, with an eye kept on who's making plays and how some of the younger players handle the environment.
Then it's back to addressing those March mistakes and back to the grind as NU points toward the 2013 season opener with Wyoming on Aug. 31.
“It's about consistency and getting those things fixed,” Pelini said. “Some of those things got corrected. Some of those guys will still revert back at times. I've seen our consistency get a lot better defensively. We've made a big jump defensively in the last week.”
There's plenty more to do, Pelini said, “but the potential's there, the attitude's been there. Our guys are working at it.”
“I like the group,” he said. “But it's going to require a lot of hard work on all our parts to get it to the level that we want to get it to.”
For two to three hours Saturday, Curry said, NU defenders will try to play hard and play fast and have a little fun. There will be no lack of incentive with the knowledge that many people will be watching their every step.
“It's a good time for them to just go out and play,” NU assistant coach Terry Joseph said. “Not a lot of thinking, just go out and see who can make a play. That's what you look for in a spring game.
“It'll be a good time for fans to get out and see a little glimpse of the product we're going to put on the field against Wyoming.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1042, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/RKaipustOWH