Saturday, April 08, 2006

Husker Spring Football

Next week is the Husker spring game. Chances are I won't be attending for two reasons: (a) holiday weekend is booked solid, and (b) I don't learn anything watching the starters beat up on the scrubs. Let's face it, how many people thought that Joe Dailey's and Zac Taylor's spring game performances were any indication on how they'd play at the start of the fall? (Don't worry, Steve Pederson is not taking names...) It seems like the main reason to show up is to impress recruits.

So I'm going to go by what media folks are saying. Not that they know anything, but at least they're watching the scrimmages and practices. Here are some thoughts, based on what I've read and heard so far.

The Good
Zac Taylor Last spring and early into the fall, I wasn't that impressed with him; he seemed to be a serviceable quarterback, ala Trent Dilfer. He gradually improved during the season, but what impressed me more about Taylor is his toughness. In road games against Missouri and Kansas, Taylor showed me that while he doesn't have the running ability of a Scott Frost or an Eric Crouch, he did share their toughness and durability. And as he took a beating all season, I really started to admire his heart. This spring, it sounds like Taylor is just seeing enough work to stay sharp, which is fine by me. This is the first spring in 5 years that Nebraska has a solid returning quarterback who isn't learning a new offense.

Matt Slauson This freshman was a silent last-minute addition to the Huskers last fall, but might have been the key to the Huskers' performance against Colorado and Michigoon. Slauson's play on the offensive line solidified a line that made Zac Taylor a living bruise and limited the Husker ground game. Yesterday, KOZN's Sean Callahan said that Slauson is having an impressive spring and talked about this previously unknown walkon eventually being an Outland Trophy candidate in a couple of years.

Steve Octavien Octavien wowed the fans in the first quarter of the Maine game with playmaking that reminded us of Terrell Farley or Demarrio Williams. Then he broke his leg, and we all wondered, was that just a fluke against a 1-AA opponent, or is this guy for real. So far this spring, it looks like he is real. Earlier this week, Octavien knocked both Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn off the field with injuries.

Cody Glenn Husker fans loved the tough running this guy showed in short yardage situations last fall. Now, he's catching the ball, hitting his holes, and by all accounts, is the first-string starting I-back.

The Bad
Harrison Beck Zac Taylor is firmly entrenched as the Huskers' starting quarterback, and doesn't need much work this spring. That is giving Beck every opportunity to take his game to the next level. So far, it's not happening. Everybody talks about Beck's cannon for an arm, but it's erratic. Sometimes great, but then sometimes awful. There is a growing concern that Beck may not pan out, though it's still way too soon to know. At this point, he's developing much slower than people expected. (Of course, that's probably more the result of the unrealistic hype from Recruitniks than anything else...) Perhaps this is why Bill Callahan is still so worked up about losing Josh Freeman to Kansas State; he needed the competition and another solid QB in case Beck flops.

Marlon Lucky His kickoff returns against Kansas aside, I didn't see enough from Lucky to warrant his 5-star hype last season. Now, it sounds like Lucky is battling with Leon Jackson for the backup I-back position. Perhaps Lucky will be used as a "slash" player, alternating between receiver and running back to utilize his speed. At this point, he doesn't look like an I-back; word is that he may be closing his eyes approaching the hole in preparation for getting hit. (Apparantly these college players hit harder than the guys in high school...) Perhaps Nebraska should give him a shot at punt returns; it sounds like he's got the hands and the open-field running ability to excel there.

Matt Herian The unspoken story this spring is Matt Herian. Still hobbled 18 months after his broken leg, people are now wondering if Herian will ever be able to return from that devastating injury. You don't ever give up on a player as talented as Herian, but at this point, any contributions from Herian may be a bonus at this point. That's a shame, too, because Herian made plays we haven't seen since Johnny Mitchell left prematurely for the NFL.

The Quiet

So far, there hasn't been much discussion about receivers and the secondary. I get the feeling that Nate Swift and Terrence Nunn are quietly establishing themselves as the starters. However, I believe some fans are hoping that some of the young recruits will challenge them at those positions. We'll see how that turns out; those hopes generally didn't pan out last season.

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