Bo Pelini emerged from Nebraska's roller-coaster 2012 football season still supremely confident in his defensive system.
Asked Friday whether last year's results -- including a 63-38 loss at Ohio State and a 70-31 throttling by Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game -- shook his faith in his approach on defense, Pelini replied, "Are you kidding me? No."
The sixth-year Nebraska coach said he likes what he has on the roster -- on both sides of the ball -- as the Huskers prepare for the beginning of spring practice Saturday. Yes, it's an earlier start than usual. The spring season ends April 6 with the Red-White Spring Game.
The Huskers will have a respite March 17-24 during spring break.
Although Pelini retains faith in his defensive system, he identified improvement on that side of the ball, as well as the reduction of turnovers, as two major points of emphasis this spring.
"Defensively, let's face it, in some areas we weren't good enough," he said. "We won 10 games, and in those 10 games we were probably in the top five in the country in total defense. In the four we lost, we got exposed in some areas. That's what we have to fix. That's the direction we're heading."
The Huskers last season captured the Big Ten Legends Division with a 7-1 record despite finishing 105th nationally in turnover margin, mostly because their 35 giveaways ranked second-to-last nationally.
"We have to stress it, and we do stress it," Pelini said of the ongoing turnover issue. "We've made progress, but we're obviously not to the point where we need to be."
Nebraska returns seven starters on offense, including three linemen. The Huskers have five returning starters on defense. Even so, the story of the spring figures to be how well a slew of young and generally unproven defenders grasp Pelini's system.
I'm especially interested in linebacker Thomas Brown, defensive tackle Vincent Valentine and cornerback Jonathan Rose.
Husker fans should hope the young guns are as confident as their head coach, who graciously took time out for a pre-spring practice Q & A.
SIPPLE: Why the early start to spring practice?
PELINI: "I wanted to split up our spring ball around spring break -- I wanted to go half and half. I think it'll be better for the players. I think there are advantages to having more time after spring practice. It helps the players academically and gives them more time with (head strength coach James) Dobson. I just hope we have good weather for the spring game. We'll see."
SIPPLE: It appears the spring game will be televised live by the Big Ten Network. Do you regard that as a positive?
PELINI: "I think it's a good recruiting advantage."
SIPPLE: Your defense is probably going to include several young and inexperienced players in key roles -- too many to mention. How much urgency is there with those players this time of year?
PELINI: "The same urgency as with anyone else. Get them taught. Get them a ton of reps. Get them ready to play. It's all a process. To a certain extent, I'm looking forward to learning a lot more about them -- to continue to see what their strengths and weaknesses are."
SIPPLE: Considering the immense value of senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and junior running back Ameer Abdullah, will you limit the amount of hits they absorb?
PELINI: "We're going to do a lot of 'live' work, but we'll limit those two. They won't be going 'live' very much. And we're going to scrimmage a lot, because we're young and we have more depth. I want to see how these guys react. There will be a lot of 'live' situational work. I want them playing football."
SIPPLE: In what areas do you want to see Martinez improve?
PELINI: "Like any quarterback, he has to work on being a better game manager and decision-maker. I think he's come a long way, but I think there is still a ways to go as far as consistency. I think he's done a better job of not trying to force things. But every now and then he wants to force things that aren't there. He needs to let the offense work for him. When he's doing that, he's really good. He just gets impatient sometimes."
SIPPLE: Is redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong ready to practice (he had knee surgery in late October), and in what ways has he impressed you?
PELINI: "He will be ready, yeah. I'm impressed that Tommy is very mature. He gets it. Tremendous worker. He can do a lot of different things very well. He ran the offense well (last fall); he understood it in a hurry. I think he's going to be really good."
SIPPLE: As far as potential position changes, there is buzz about Charles Jackson moving from cornerback to safety and defensive end Jason Ankrah perhaps moving inside to tackle ...
PELINI: "Jackson will be working some at safety. As for changes, we'll see. We'll work a couple guys at different spots and see how it plays out. Ankrah played inside some this past season -- he's not moving to defensive tackle (permanently) or anything. He might play in there some like he has in the past. We'll see. We're going to assess where we are and what we need to do."
SIPPLE: You got hit hard by graduation throughout the defense, and will be young and inexperienced at the safety positions, among others. Is safety an area of particular concern?
PELINI: "I really like our potential at safety. I think we're going to be very athletic at that position ... We have Corey Cooper, Charles Jackson. I mean, I don't really want to name specific names because I'll leave out somebody. And the thing is, I'm not going to earmark anybody at a certain position; I want to get the best players playing. We have a lot of options in the secondary, I'll put it that way."
SIPPLE: In discussing Barney Cotton's altered role on the staff last week, you said he was "second-in-command" on offense behind coordinator Tim Beck. Does that mean Cotton would be a logical successor to Beck?
PELINI: "I would never go there. I wouldn't even want speculation out there, as far as that's concerned."
SIPPLE: The offense finished 26th nationally last season in average yards per game, and eighth in rushing. What are Beck's strengths?
PELINI: "He's smart, detailed. I knew what I was getting. He understands both sides of the football. He's a great communicator. He's the full package. And he's very, very creative and innovative."
SIPPLE: You recently attended Big Ten meetings involving coaches and athletic directors. What was the general feeling about the deregulated recruiting rules that could go into place in August?
PELINI: "I think it's obvious nobody likes them, and it's something that needs to get fixed."