Michael Rose is not going to make up some story about how he was always patient while waiting his turn.
Admittedly there were moments over the last year when the Nebraska redshirt freshman linebacker grew restless, eager to hunt running backs and show he could play at this level.
“It’s hard to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Maybe I can’t do this,’” Rose said. “That’s why you have the people around you to say, “You can’t do it right now, but let’s work on some things to get you out there next year.’”
Rose actually thought he might be waiting a little longer to see consistent snaps as Nebraska began Big Ten play against Illinois last Saturday.
“I thought Zaire (Anderson) was going to play this week, to be honest,” Rose said. “I didn’t expect to start.”
Then he did. Then he led the team in tackles with 11. That drew praise from Bo Pelini.
It was not over-the-top praise, of course, but Rose did earn a “he played well” pat on the back from his head coach.
Not bad, considering it was the first time he played a lot of snaps since the Under Armour All-America Game in January of 2012.
“Always be ready. Always be ready,” Rose said. “If one guy goes down, the next guy goes in. That’s kind of the mantra I take.”
It’s unknown what roles Rose and fellow redshirt freshman linebacker Jared Afalava – who also got his first start Saturday – will have going forward.
But both got their first chance to make their cases in game action, and both are now listed as possible starters this week.
The latest depth chart lists the top WILL spot belonging to either Anderson or Rose, and the BUCK top spot belonging to Afalava or Nathan Gerry. Anderson was held out of Saturday’s game because of a bone bruise.
Those "ors" on the depth chart are hardly surprising for a team still looking to find the right mix at linebacker.
Last year, the Huskers often sent the same linebacker trio out – Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher.
This year, the look can change by the game or even series, including at the MIKE spot, where David Santos got the start again Saturday, after dropping on the depth chart the previous three games in favor of freshman Josh Banderas.
Rose doesn’t expect the revolving door at the position to impact his play.
“I think we’ve built enough chemistry as a linebacker unit where if we see a new guy it’s not the world ending or anything like that,” he said. “We’re a group of linebackers that all have a certain skill set and can all help this team, and the coaches are trying to figure out the right combination for us to consistently do that.”
Excelling at the art of communication will no doubt be one of the top requirements for a linebacker hoping to be on the field in the weeks ahead.
After a disappointing practice last Wednesday, coaches showed players video of last year’s more veteran defense, illustrating how that group communicated before plays, with all 11 guys talking and signalling prior to snaps.
“I think communication is so important on the defensive side of the ball. We stress it all the time. We got to the point last week where we as a staff got fed up with it,” Pelini said. “We demanded that we expect to see 11 guys talking on every single play. Eleven guys. And if you’re not talking, you’re coming out. I said, ‘Try it for a day.’ I think they found out what a difference it makes.”
Nebraska had one of its best communication days of the entire camp last Thursday, according to coaches.
Pelini said verbal communication is something he sees more and more players struggling with in this age of texting and tweeting.
“It’s just not natural with some guys and, to a certain extent, for this generation to talk and to communicate all the time,” Pelini said. “They want to use their hand signals. It’s like you’ve got to be forceful, you’ve got to be loud and you’ve got to communicate and talk all the time. I always equate it to basketball. The great defensive teams never stop talking. There’s a reason behind that.”
Rose heard the talking Saturday.
And after about a series, he settled in.
“You practice against certain things, come out in base formation, then they go spread and empty-backfield. It’s like, ‘Oh, man, it’s going to be a long one.’ But then you just calm down and realize it’s a game of football. You’ve been playing this game for, I don’t remember how long. And once it slows down, that’s when it starts to happen.”
The native of Kansas City, Mo., also goes into each game with a proper perspective.
In May, he took a trip with some teammates to South Africa, spending about a week there helping out at an orphanage for kids that lost their parents or guardians to AIDS.
It was an eye-opening experience.
“You just look at the things I saw over there, so many people hurt and devastated, and they continue to fight,” Rose said. “I know I have it way better over here in my shoes. … (And) especially with the game of football, don’t ever make this game any more than it is. In all reality, as much as we love to put so much into it, it’s just a game.”
That doesn't mean Rose isn't going to do everything he can to become a force in the game.
Watching a replay of Saturday’s performance, he saw the plays where something could have been done better.
But he also saw the positives, reasons for confidence.
“We played a pretty good game even if we weren’t in the right position every time,” Rose said.
It’s a building block.
For this Husker defense, right now, it’s about continuing to stack one block on top of another.
“We’ve got a lot of goals and the only way to reach those goals is to go through this Big Ten schedule with some confidence,” Rose said.