Published Thursday, March 23, 2006
Huskers back at it
By Eric Olson
AP Sports Writer
LINCOLN -- Adam Carriker was talking about winning the Big 12 North. Corey McKeon was talking about having one of the five best defenses in the nation. Zac Taylor was talking about a renewed sense of confidence among the Nebraska football team.
Apparently the positives derived from three straight wins to end last season carried over as the Cornhuskers began spring practice Wednesday.
"We play a tougher schedule, but we can be very good," said Carriker, the Huskers' star defensive end. "We have a lot of returning people, and we're familiar with the system. There is no excuse, no reason why we shouldn't be very good and playing in the Big 12 title game."
Coach Bill Callahan said there finally is continuity and stability at Nebraska after two seasons of tumult.
A year ago the Huskers went into spring practice off three straight losses at the end of a 5-6 campaign in 2004. Callahan was still trying to install, and sell, his West Coast offense. He also was looking for a starting quarterback.
This spring the Huskers continue to draw positive vibes from their three-game win streak to end last year's 8-4 season. And they have an experienced, if not seasoned, starting quarterback in Taylor.
"There's a real, definite correlation to take a strong finish and build on it," Callahan said. "It's not the end-all. If we look back at the '05 season and say this is as good as we can be, we'd be fooling ourselves.
"We have to continually compete and take our competitive level up to bring a championship home to Nebraska. That's what we have to do this spring."
The Huskers have eight starters back on offense and seven on defense.
McKeon, who had a team-leading 97 tackles from his middle linebacker spot, said the players in position to take over for the lost starters can be as good or better than the ones they're replacing.
Key holes are in the secondary, where Tierre Green and Andrew Shanle are front-runners at safety, and in the defensive line, where Ola Dagundaro and Barry Cryer are vying for the tackle jobs.
McKeon said if those four progress as he expects them to, "we're going to be a very troublesome defense going into fall camp."
Callahan said players to watch are I-back Marlon Lucky, the heir apparent to Cory Ross; and newcomers Tyrell Spain at wide receiver and Victory Haines at offensive line.
A number of players have changed positions. Backup quarterback Jordan Adams is now a free safety. Also moving to free safety are former wide receiver Dan Erickson and former cornerback Bryan Wilson.
Former cornerbacks Green and Ben Eisenhart are now strong safeties. The strongside linebacker corps has new members in former defensive end Dontrelle Moore and former middle linebacker Lance Brandenburgh. Craig Roark has moved from offensive line to nose tackle.
Six players have been ruled out of spring practice after having off-season shoulder surgeries. They are offensive linemen Kurt Mann, Jordan Picou and Newton Lingenfelter, defensive end Tony Sullivan, running back Brandon Jackson and linebacker Nick Covey.
Backup place-kicker Eric Lueshen is out until fall after having back surgery last week.
Erickson, the free safety, will be limited after having his appendix taken out.
Ruled out of contact work are linebackers Stewart Bradley and Bo Ruud. Bradley had knee surgery, and Ruud continues to go through rehabilitation after breaking his arm before the Alamo Bowl.