Sometimes a coach can glean optimism by delving deep into the video archives.
Nebraska defensive line coach Tony Tuioti last week watched video from the Huskers' 2018 loss to Colorado. Yes, 2018. Forever ago. Tuioti was coaching at Cal at the time. Even so, he noticed defensive linemen playing for NU in 2018 that he coaches now.
"It was Damion Daniels, Deontre Thomas and Ben Stille," Tuioti said. "They were young guys in 2018. I started counting it up. I can't believe how old these guys are now. They have a lot of years in the system, and all of that matters. You're accumulating thousands and thousands of reps.
"I'm just excited for our guys, excited to see them take the next step. From the young guys to the old guys, they're a prideful group. Obviously, we have a long ways to go. But I definitely like the direction they're headed right now."
Nebraska football fans are looking for reasons for optimism, embracing any they can find. After all, the program has endured losing seasons in five of the past six years. But even the most pessimistic Husker fan should be able to find reasons for hope in the defense in general and Tuioti's group in particular.
In the Big Ten, strength in the trenches is integral. Having a strong core of veterans can help greatly. Which is why Tuioti was upbeat last week as he discussed his group as it plows into the final week of winter conditioning before it rolls up its sleeves for the start of spring practice in the last week of this month.
"For me and a lot of these guys, we're going into our third spring season," Tuioti said. "The techniques and fundamentals are the same. The terminology's the same. So now it's just how much better can we get? They completely understand what's expected of them."
Stille, a native of Ashland, returns for his sixth season in the program having last season played the best football of his career, especially down the stretch. Daniels, a junior from Dallas, comes off easily his most productive season, as he recorded 20 tackles, including five for losses. Meanwhile, Thomas, of Mustang, Oklahoma, last season earned a spot in Tuioti's rotation as a junior but was limited to two games because of injuries.
Which brings us to two of the most promising young defenders in the program in redshirt freshman Ty Robinson and sophomore Casey Rogers. A native of Gilbert, Arizona, Robinson started seven of eight games and finished with 17 tackles, including two for losses. Rogers, of Syracuse, New York, recorded 25 tackles, including three for losses.
Tuioti will look for more sack production from his stable in 2021. Stille had 1½ last season, and Rogers had one.
By the way, Tuioti's return to the fold also was critical. He believes in the importance of continuity on a staff, and not just the coaching staff. He clearly feels confident working with head football strength coach Zach Duval as well as Dave Ellis, Nebraska's director of performance nutrition.
"Between a position coach and those two guys, that's where the development really happens," said Tuioti, who came to Nebraska after spending the 2017 and 2018 seasons at Cal. "Most people only see what's happening on Saturdays. But these kids go through a lot in terms of transforming their bodies. They go through a lot physically, mentally. There's a lot that's invested in these young men, and I think our guys are the best in the business in helping us do that.
"I have a simple conversation with coach Duval," Tuioti added. "He already knows what's expected of these defensive linemen in terms of what they need to put out powerwise and also with change of direction and overall movement. Same goes for Dave Ellis. He knows how we need to build these guys the right way. I didn't always have that at other schools I've coached at."
Those pieces are important because it's difficult for young defensive linemen to compete at a high level in a conference as physical as the Big Ten.
"You're playing against grown men, guys who are probably bigger and stronger and a little faster, so there's development that has to take place," said Tuioti, who then shared a relevant story from last year about one of his freshmen, Nash Hutmacher (6-foot-5, 330 pounds), of Chamberlain, South Dakota, nicknamed "Polar Bear."
One of the Nebraska linemen's agility drills involves step-over ladders. The idea is to step over the rungs without smashing them. It seems Hutmacher's first go-round in the drill was a little rough.
"I had the whole defensive line. Everybody goes through the drill, and then here comes Nash," Tuioti said. "He picks his big feet up and brings them back down -- and he's snapping every single step-over ladder. They literally snap and pop to the side. They split like peas. Everybody stopped and started cracking up. I'm like, 'Nash, are you serious? You just broke three of those things.'
"He couldn't help it. Now we do the drill and he flies through it. He's become so much quicker. You're talking about the Polar Bear. Those are some big ol' trunks now."
Hutmacher is ready to take the next step in his development. Same goes for all of Tuioti's crew, young guys and veterans alike.
Bring on spring drills.