Even in March, when basketball brackets are on people’s minds and a football game 5½ months away, a coach can’t help but think his team could always be a few more steps ahead.
John Papuchis will freely admit coaches are not always the most patient.
But when working with a defense as young as this Nebraska defense, patience is something Papuchis knows just has to be part of the deal.
It should be a surprise that the more experienced Husker offense is going to win more than its share this spring. That’s probably how it was during the scrimmage a week-and-a-half ago before the team parted on spring break.
"We saw a veteran offense who had some moxie and some game readiness who made a few plays," Papuchis said Monday, recalling the last scrimmage.
But when Nebraska’s defensive coordinator stepped back and reviewed the tape of that scrimmage, he noticed some encouraging things, too.
"I feel that our offense is one of the better offenses we're going to play all year. And for our group, for a lot of that scrimmage, to go toe-to-toe with them, I thought we did some good things,” Papuchis said.
He believes some of the young Husker defenders are starting to make mental gains.
And perhaps those gains aren’t always made as fast as a coach might want them, but Papuchis also said it's important to step back and look at the full picture.
“The reality was, at that time when we had our last scrimmage, we had 12 days where we really worked with these guys. Twelve days in the big scheme of things really isn't very long,” he said.
"So I want it to happen faster sometimes, but I do see the light starting click. And really every guy we've ever had, whether it's here or any other place I've been, there's a point where the light kind of clicks for them and all the things they've been hearing in the meeting room all kind of come together. Obviously, for some of these guys, we need for it to happen sooner rather than later. But it's going to happen.”
The next two weeks will be an important part of it.
Nebraska’s practice Monday marked the first practice after a 10-day layoff, and the first of six practices leading into the April 6 Red-White Spring Game.
Papuchis saw some of the rust he expected.
"But I thought the attitude was good, the effort was good. I thought the attention to detail in the meeting room was good. I was excited to get back at it. I think the guys were pretty excited to be back here."
On the surface, spring break may have seemed more useful to coaches, who could take a closer look at practice film and give some extra attention to recruiting.
But offensive coordinator Tim Beck said it's also one of the few chances players get all year to recharge their batteries.
Beck pointed out how quickly players jump into winter conditioning after the bowl game. And even when spring ball ends, workouts in the weight room continue.
"There’s never a time really just to take a breath," Beck said. "Probably since August, they’ve had maybe, what, 10 days off? So I think it was as much welcome for them as it was for us to go back and take a look at, ‘OK, where are we right now? What do we need to do? What do we need to look at?’”
Figuring out where you're at without any game results might not be the easiest task.
But defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said he believes you can get a general feel for the direction you're heading even now.
And while Kaczenski can have patience with the occasional mistake, he better see maximum effort and mental toughness.
"If you've got those attributes ... we can fix everything else. But if you have to constantly coach other things, if you have to coach effort, coach toughness, it pulls away from all the other fixable thing," Kaczenski said.
"Coming out of spring, that's what you want to know: Is this guy tough? Can we count on this guy? Is this guy accountable to his teammates? We want a guy that does more than what's asked of him. ... It's not punching the clock at the mill. We've got to do more than that."