Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rome Is Burning

The big news out of Lincoln today is that it's raining.  Well, maybe that's the big news for people who don't care about football; let's face it, this rain is too late to help this season's crops.  It should ensure that my lawn looks better than Northwestern's Ryan Field this weekend, that's for sure.

No, the big news is that Bo Pelini is going to tinker with the Nebraska defense in the aftermath of UCLA's exploitation last weekend.  The big experiment is a move to a 3-4 defense, or that's what we've been told.  I tend to think it's going to be more of a 3-3-5 defense; I just don't see Pelini looking to replace a defensive back with another linebacker.  The problem at UCLA didn't seem to be in the secondary, but rather up front.  Replace a defensive lineman with a linebacker who's likely more athletic, and maybe that sparks the Husker defense.  Maybe that gets a player like Sean Fisher, David Santos, or Zaire Anderson on the field.

But this move changes things for the defensive lineman, and somebody is going to end up on the bench. The rumor mill heated up this afternoon that sophomore Chase Rome stomped out after learning that he was heading to the bench.  Pelini pretty much confirmed that tonight, saying that Rome was off the team "for now" and then added this:
"His personal goals and personal perception of where he should be on this football team doesn't match the team goals"

Ouch.  There are so many ways to take this.  The simplest is to point out that the defense played horribly last week, and changes need to be made.  Nobody should feel that they have a right to anything after that performance.  Lots of players need to re-earn their playing time.

Rome is now the fourth high-profile player to leave the team since the end of spring practice. Aaron Green saw a backlog on the depth chart, and headed to TCU.  Freshman offensive lineman Ryan Klachko transferred to Illinois at the start of August's practices.  Sophomore offensive lineman Tyler headed home to Florida about a week and a half later.  Now Rome walks off.  Is there a bigger problem in Lincoln?

One or two probably aren't such a big deal.  The third raises questions, and the fourth raises alarm bells.  But what is the problem?  Is it Bo Pelini?  Or is it a sense of entitlement by high-profile recruits? In sports today, people who lose their spot on the depth chart seem to respond by looking to change their uniform.  It happens in college all the time, and happens even more often in the NFL.

Husker Online's Nate Clouse pointed out this evening that Pelini makes it clear that nobody is entitled to playing time at Nebraska:
This is nothing new with Pelini; I've heard variants of it from Pelini over the years.  Players shouldn't be surprised when Pelini means what he says in that regard.  Maybe talk like that is why some recruiting followers worry that Pelini can't land as many big-time recruits as they'd like. But is enabling a sense of entitlement the right thing for the Nebraska football program to do, long term?  Maybe we keep a high profile recruit in one situation and he eventually becomes a star.  But consider the alternative of players "holding out" to demand playing time.  That can't be a good thing.

We also don't know if there were any extenuating circumstances outside of what happened on the field (both in Pasadena as well as on the practice fields this week) that led to this situation.  That could turn something that looks tonight like a high-profile player who doesn't want to earn his playing time into something else entirely.

Pelini said that Rome was off the team "for now."  Maybe Rome goes back to his apartment, sleeps on it, and talks to friends and family about what happened.  Maybe he realizes that as a third-year sophomore, he only can play one more season at another 1-A school unless he gets his degree.  Maybe after a cooling off period, Rome can sit down with the coaches, clear the air, and rejoin the program. Pelini seems to be leaving the door open for now, that's a positive.

But the whole situation has the potential to take this football team into a 2007-like downward spiral. Nebraska entered this season with high hopes, and those hopes, while not completely dashed, were probably unrealistic. Now it's getting ugly, and the team can either rally and rebound.  Or fold, like the 2007 team did.

And that's the most unpleasant scenario of all to consider.

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