Saturday’s practice was a busy one. There were tons of players and assistants brought forward to speak with gathered media afterward, but there was just so many high school coaches and assistants on hand to watch the practice the second-floor lobby of the Hawks Championship Center felt way too cramped. With so many eyeballs on them just 10 practices into a new era of Husker football, did the staff hold back? Give the visitors a watered down version of what they see behind closed doors?
“No, I’ve got no secrets,” Erik Chinander said. “We want these guys to see what we do, we’re not trying to hide stuff from anybody.”
That’s a good theme for the rest of the afternoon as well; Chinander didn’t hold anything back Saturday.
One of the things the Huskers are looking for in spring ball, and the defensive coordinator was quick to point out they don’t have yet, are vocal leaders that will bring it every day.
“Nobody’s been good enough. I wouldn’t say right now we have a bell cow, we have a guy we can rally around,” Chinander said. “Sometimes that’s a by-product of they don’t know their job well enough, they’re trying to swim in deep water, but that part of it has got to improve.”
Senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg is about the closest thing the Blackshirts have to what Chinander wants, for now at least. Stoltenberg continues to miss practice for an unspecified reason — Chinander said he’s “a little banged up and a little sick” — but has done a nice job from the sidelines helping the coaching staff. Chinander made sure to acknowledge that, but he also made sure to say the same can’t be said for the field.
“We don’t have a guy on the field yet that we can rally around,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t make leaders, a lion’s a lion, a zebra’s a zebra and you don’t change sometimes. That’s why they hired us, that’s why we’re here. If they don’t have a leader that’s got to be our job.”
The hope, Chinander says, is once summer workouts begin a player, any player, says, “Enough is enough,” and takes up the mantle. Or maybe publicly saying no one has done so yet is another way to spur that. If that’s the case, Chinander might be sitting pretty soon. He also called for consistency.
“I thought Tuesday we were pretty good, I thought Thursday we were down, I thought today we were a lot better,” he said. “Right now I’m just trying to get some consistency out of everybody, out of the whole unit, a little more fight when it’s tough. We were outside, it got a little cold and I think both sides of the ball went down a little bit. They’re used to practicing inside, I need to see a little more fight when things get rough.
“This team is a different animal than some teams and it hasn’t been like, ‘The d-line, boom, they’re here. All of the sudden they’ve arrived.’ It’s more they’ve had a good day, the next day the linebackers have a good day, the next day the DBs have had a good day, that’s why we’re trying to get consistency out of these guys right now and we just haven’t gotten it from any position group yet.”
Asked about the cornerback spot, Chinander went a little farther.
“The other day somebody asked me who are the guys that are playing good. Nobody, everybody’s got to improve,” he said. “There’s some guys that are playing okay but we’ve got to get better all across the board. I’m not ready to say that anybody’s taking a job yet, anybody’s stuck out yet because we all need to get better right now.”
The Spring Game is exactly a week away, then spring ball is over and they’ll transition to the summer. Chinander is just as excited as anyone to see what this looks like April 21.
Other News and Notes
>> Asked who has improved the most in the secondary, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said it would be junior corner Lamar Jackson. Fisher said Jackson still has work to do, but from a physicality standpoint and doing what they’ve asked of him, he’s happy with the progress the corner has made.
As for the overall depth, Chinander said it’s hard to feel good about where they’re at just looking at the roster on paper, but he’s optimistic.
“When you look at the roster and there’s only eight scholarship defensive backs, that’s not a great feeling,” he said. “But, the guys we have are playing good, some of the guys that are walk-ons are playing well right now, we’ll get a couple more in the fall so I think by the time the fall rolls around we’ll have some depth there.”
>> Special teams coach Jovan Dewitt says junior punter Caleb Lightbourn has taken over kickoff duties from the recently departed Drew Brown. Lightbourn talked about wanting to be the top punter in the country and Dewitt feels like there’s a correlation between kickoff success and punting success
>> Sophomore tailback Jaylin Bradley told me his goal this summer is to win the starting job. He said he’s enjoyed the receiving component of the running back’s responsibilities in the new offense and is trying to learn to be more patient in his running. We’ll have a story on him later.
>> Chinander said there won’t be much blitzing or trickery from his defense during the Spring Game on April 21.
“People want to see touchdowns anyways, I don’t want to see touchdowns but that’s not the point for me in the spring game,” he said. “The point for me is to get a fair evaluation in a game-like atmosphere and see who can play with who and who can actually do it.”
>> Senior guard Tanner Farmer says he’s been playing center more and more as practice moves along.
“I love them both,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play offensive line, I grew up a big kid playing o-line and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, so as long as I get to do it I’m happy.”