SPRING PRACTICE is upon us now...we'll dive into some indepth hot topics from spring practice and what we should all be keeping our eyes on.
THE HOT LIST:
1. Spring Practice: What are we looking for?
2. Husker Baseball Closer Woes
3. Big 12 Baseball Review: Who's really the best?
1. Spring Football practice officially kicked off today. I wanted to dive into a few positions that I feel are critical for the success of 2010. This is the best time of the year, as we all are still glowing from the 31-0 whooping of Arizona. Nebraska clearly has a chance now to develop itself into what we hope can be a top 10 finish in 2010. Here's 3 Big questions that must be answered by the time we start the 2010 season:
1) Who will emerge at Free Safety and Strong Safety?
-No question last year Nebraska strength in the secondary came from the rising play of Matt O'Hanlon and Larry Asante. These two guys elevated their game to a whole new level at the end of last season, creating turnovers and sticking guys in the backfield. They made leaps and bounds from the disastrous meltdown at Virginia Tech to prove to be a key reason why Nebraska beat Oklahoma later in the year. The question comes can PJ Smith step up his game and fill holes that was vacated by these two guys. Also can Ricky Thenarse finally remain healthy enough to make a well needed senior impact in that group.
2) Who will step up as the big time WR?
Literally at times last season I saw numerous things that made me question whether anybody should have been suiting up on the team and playing WR. Guy ran poor routes, gave up on plays, and poorly blocked guys downfield. Niles Paul was vastly hyped as being the "big play" guy in the receiving core to make all the catches Nebraska needed but in reality he wasn't really ever the player that the fans put on him. I'm not going to question how he feels as being the big leader of the group as clearly he has stated he's ready to be a leader which is good.. The real question becomes who is ready to step along side of him and become a legit #2 guy that can take double teams as well. Mike McNeil makes a major transition to WR this spring to show that his great size and mobility can draw extra attention and open other guys up on the field. Nebraska absolutely must find a #2 guy this spring or the likes of seeing a more conservative offense like last season could be in store again in 2010.
3) How will the LB's grow from year one?
Nebraska used a few different sets of LB groups last season. Last season Nebraska went through some lumps and bruises with its young LB group of Fisher and Compton. Now with Phil Dillard gone, who emerges as the guy that can make the plays that Phil did consistently in the last 6 games of the season. NO question that the strength of any defense starts with the DL but its the play of your LB that have to make the plays in the open space for your defense to really look good. Phil did that and showed finally the type of caliber player that he could be. This spring somebody will have to shine in the spring game or the idea of playing those 2 together with no other experienced players around them helping them might keep a few fans on edge next season.
2. Nebraska Baseball is finally in full swing this spring but a major pressing issue that has bit the Husker team too much this season. Its Nebraska inability to have a closer that can be trusted to close out games. In last week's series against #2 Texas. Nebraska lost its 5th game where the opposition walked off with the winning run in the 9th inning. Nebraska saw Texas uncork a 3-run homerun to win in walk off fashion. Nebraska saw the same thing happen 2 times against Fresno State, once against Rice and UCLA. The pressing issue with this has been Mike Nesseth's wild control this season that saw him blow 2 early saves and balloon his ERA to over 18.00. Nebraska looked to Chase Adams on Saturday to get his first save but Curt Giller struggled to close out the Friday night game. The lack of stability in the back end of the pitching staff clearly cost Nebraska a chance to start off the Big 12 season on a high note. It also begs the question how many more games will Nebraska lose in this manner the rest of the season. A troubling stat when it comes to selecting teams for the NCAA Regionals is how many games you win by 2 runs or less. Those teams with 10 or more 1-run games certainly don't make the NCAA Regionals and getting back to a Regional has to be a top priority for this team in 2010.
3. The first week of the Big 12 baseball season came and went but who really is the best team in this league. Surprisingly I don't think its Texas, I think it's Oklahoma who Nebraska will get to see this weekend. Oklahoma brings back a veteran team who found out last year what it was like to be a team in the upper half of the division. Of course with Texas' deep pitching staff OU will almost certainly have to be Texas in its series to have the inside shot at the regular season crown. Senior Jeremy Erben is off to an impressive 5-0 record with a 0.39 ERA. He's no doubt a key reason why the Sooners are 18-2 right now and off to one of their best starts in program history. They are definitely a team to keep an eye on this season. We shall see what the Big 12 season plays out.
Coming back again Tomorrow...Promise