Saturday morning was day one of spring practice, the last time around for Jason Ankrah and the other seniors on coach Bo Pelini’s sixth Nebraska football team.
Seniors are definitely in the minority on defense.
So Ankrah, a two-year starter at defensive end, found himself in the midst of young players on Saturday. “It’s more of a reality check,” he said. “They always say when you first get here it’s going to go by fast. I really didn’t take that in. Now I’m a senior. I’m just like, ‘Wow, it really did.’
“I gotta bring the young guys with me, just like the older guys brought me with them.”
He tries to remind them that their time at Nebraska will pass quickly.
Does he think they listen to what he says?
“Not really,” said Ankrah, “because I don’t think I listened.”
They don’t listen to that part, anyway. He says other things, however, to which they need to pay attention, in his role as a team leader. In the off-season, following the Capital One Bowl.
“Coach Bo (Pelini) sat me down, Coach JP (John Papuchis), Coach Kaz (Rick Kaczenski) sat me down, talked to me about it (leadership),” Ankrah said. “I already knew it, deep down. So I just acted more upon it, calling guys, calling more meetings, getting on guys for getting out of line, just all the little things.
“You’ve got to bring them along with you and do all the little things.”
Two seniors who will be with Ankrah in the fall won’t be with him this spring: tackle Thad Randle and cornerback Andrew Green.
Pelini indicated at the letter-of-intent-signing-day news conference in early February that Randle would be sidelined. And on Saturday, he added Green.
The two-year starter underwent surgery, said Pelini.
For what? “Off the top of my head, I can’t remember,” he said.
The early start to spring practice is a benefit, according to Pelini, as is the break in the middle. The Huskers will have seven more practices, the seventh on March 14, before the break and then resume on March 25, with the Red-White game scheduled for April 6.
“I thought it was good,” Pelini said of the March 2 start. “We had five-and-a-half weeks of winter (conditioning), which I thought was good. Our guys are fresh going into spring practice.”
The 10-day break will enable them to be fresh for the second half. “I always believe, from my coaching and even back when I was playing, you get into the third week of spring ball and sometimes that can be like pulling teeth; it’s getting long,” said Pelini.
“I want to see how this works. I think this is going to be a good situation for us.”
The Huskers also had a break the past two springs.
“We can make the most out of every practice we’re out there,” Pelini said.
A year ago, Pelini began spending more time with the defense, and that will continue, because coordinator Tim Beck “has such a good handle” on the offense, said Pelini.
Defense is “where my area of expertise is,” he said. “But I’ll still have my influence on the offense.”
His defensive focus will be linebackers and the secondary. “That’s where I’ve coached mostly, and obviously a little bit with the defensive line,” Pelini said. “But we’ve got to move our coaches around and spend a lot of time with each group, make sure we’re getting a lot of reps and getting them coached at the same time. You need an extra set of eyes on what’s going on.”
Those eyes were on several young players, including 13 scholarship freshmen coming off redshirts as well as sophomore cornerback Jonathan Rose, who sat out after transferring from Auburn.
“I’ve been in this situation before, and it’s kind of like coming into a new situation, but our (young) guys, they have a base, they were in meetings, obviously, all last year,” said Pelini.
“They went through a fall camp, so it’s not like they’re starting at square one, these guys.”
True freshmen Courtney Love, D.J. Singleton and David Knevel are, however. What do they need to accomplish in the spring? “You know what, get their feet wet and learn,” Pelini said.
Among the things they’ll learn is that their time at Nebraska will go quickly.
Ask Ankrah, or senior quarterback Taylor Martinez.
“I’m excited and sad at the same time,” Martinez said of the start of his final spring of practices, “can’t wait for it (spring) to be over . . .
“I just can’t wait for the season to start and (to) show the country what we have.”