Wednesday’s practice was either the best of the spring or one of the worst, depending on who you asked following the midweek session.
“We just continue to be on the rise now,” head coach Scott Frost said. “I think today is overall the best practice I’ve been a part of at Nebraska.”
“When a head coach can get the team to a point that I can just sit back, blow my whistle and watch practice, we know we’re getting somewhere. That means I don’t have to coach effort, that players are coaching each other and they’re fixing things so coaches don’t have to. We’re getting closer, it’s a lot easier to coach that type of team.”
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander had a completely different account of the practice. After receiving praise from other assistants throughout the spring, Chinander’s defense struggled in its daily competition against the offense on Wednesday.
“We lost the competition, period,” Chinander said. “We came out and got punched in the mouth a little bit, which was awesome for us, a little slice of humble pie. I don’t think they came out ready to play. I didn’t like their attitude.”
“It was great to see a response from the offensive side of the ball, because defense has been getting the better of them all spring,” Frost added.
The first 30 minutes of practice were open for the media and during that time the offense ran a competition against the defense on the goal line. The offense scored repeatedly to the point that defensive players were audibly angry.
“But that’s good for us,” Chinander said. “Taking nothing away from the offense, they went out and executed on a higher level than we did...But being a defensive guy, anytime we walk out on the field it’s not about them, it’s about us. And today, we didn’t have enough.”
The defense rallied by the end of practice to lose the competition by only one, but Chinander was mad that it reached that point.
“It got better as practice went on,” he said. “I don’t want to call them up and be the one to do that. Bad teams have no leaders. Good teams are led by the coaches, and great teams are led by the players...I don’t want to have to gather everybody up after every period and tell them how we need to refocus and how we need to get the energy up.”
Chinander said he had to gather the team up, but the leaders on the team took over quickly.
“If you want to be a great defense, you’ve got to be ready to go as soon as you walk across that line and strap it up,” Chinander said. “And today I didn’t think that they were.”
Despite the defense’s struggles, Frost was still complimentary of how the unit has played this spring.
“We’ve made improvements everywhere,” Frost said. “The most noticeable improvements have been on defense, probably just watching the guys run around, make plays and that’s year two stuff.”
“Instead of wondering if they’re doing the right thing and being hesitant, they know what they’re doing and going full speed.”
A consistent talking point from the coaches all spring has been about the team not having any drop in effort during practice. Last week, they were blown away by how well practice went as players returned from spring break. This week, they were impressed that the team maintained its effort with the spring game still 10 days away.
“I haven’t seen it this year,” Frost said about a potential drop-off. “Maybe the defense didn’t come out with quite the same intensity today as they did earlier on in spring, but they found it. Last year, the drop-off happened quick. It was three or four practices.”
In the open portion of practice, the team ran drills pitting the offense against the defense first from the 35 yard-line, then from the goal line. They also used the time to warm up with the same stretches they do before games in the fall before the positions broke off to practice individual drills.
Junior wide receiver JD Spielman was absent from practice to recover from an undisclosed injury, while sophomore running back Maurice Washington Jr. was also absent due to disciplinary reasons.
One playmaker who featured throughout practice was freshman Wan’Dale Robinson, a hybrid running back and wide receiver. Robinson primarily took reps out of the backfield on Wednesday morning.
“Wan’Dale is going to know it all,” Frost said. “Learning the offense isn’t going to be an issue for him...Not only does he know what to do, but he knows how to make it work within the play. He’s just a very smart and instinctual player.”