Ever since Scott Frost was hired as Nebraska’s head coach on Dec. 2, Husker fans have waited excitedly for the team to hit the field under his leadership.
It would be hard to blame the fan base for collectively daydreaming about that high-powered offense and a defensive system, run by Erik Chinander, that produced 32 turnovers last year at Central Florida.
Let’s focus on that side of the ball for the moment. Chinander has outlined his core philosophies as being centered on aggressiveness and on putting his athletes in position to change games.
As he told the Journal Star last month, “We’ve got to create an environment where (the players) can be successful and then get out of the way to some degree.”
The highlight-reel plays, for now, feel like a long way off. More than five months from Nebraska’s season opener against Akron, the task is less like wreaking havoc and more like learning a foreign language.
Even a playbook designed to free athletes from overthinking has a Page 1. Sophomore defensive lineman Ben Stille said he can already see how the system will eventually be fun to play in, but the current task at hand is a slog.
“From just how he’s explained it to us, you definitely get that sense (that it will come naturally), but right now it’s overwhelming a little bit,” he said.
It’s not a new feeling for Stille and the Huskers, though, who are on their third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. Fifth-year seniors like Mick Stoltenberg are on their fourth defensive systems, having learned from John Papuchis, Mark Banker, Bob Diaco and now Chinander.
Coaches aren’t allowed to oversee any kind of football-specific drills before spring ball begins Friday, though they can watch on-field conditioning work as along as an actual football is not involved.
That puts the onus on players to begin learning the new playbook on their own time and to stop by the coaches’ offices with questions. It can be — and, by several coaches’ accounts has been — a productive time on the calendar as far as learning goes, but there’s no substitute for practice repetitions.
“What’s going to get us to a different level is hard work, and these guys have gone to work,” Frost said last week. “I hope we have a whole team of guys that aren’t satisfied with the record last year, because the way to fix it is to get in the weight room, get on the field and get in the classroom and work. I’ve seen a lot of guys starting to do that.”
The Huskers have been in the weight room and in the classroom to some degree, and now the on-field part will begin in earnest. At first, it might be a little bit bumpy.
Asked what he wanted to get accomplished in NU’s first spring practices, Stille said, “I think just getting that side of (the defense) down to the point where you don’t have to think so much when you see the call. You don’t have to sit there and pause and try to get to the back of your head and your brain somewhere and figure out what you’re supposed to do with that call.
“That’s a lot of it is just getting the thinking eliminated out of it so we can play fast.”