On Wednesday, Sam McEwon of the Omaha World-Herald reported that sophomore defensive tackle Chase Rome has left the team “for the forseeable future.” Specifically, Pelini said that Rome’s “personal perception of where he should be on the team doesn’t match the team’s goals.”
Which is a nice way of saying that Rome thinks he should be getting more playing time, and has become convinced that he won’t.
Rome started Nebraska’s first two games in 2012, and saw considerable playing time in 2011 due to injuries on the defensive line. But his playing time against UCLA declined in comparison to against Southern Miss. More importantly, it appears that the shocking yardage numbers piled up by the Bruins against the Blackshirts may be motivating a shakeup in the depth chart or perhaps even a shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment.
It’s never a good thing to lose a skilled and young defensive player, especially at a position where Nebraska is struggling in both depth and talent. But, taken by itself, Rome’s departure could be seen as addition by subtraction of a player not willing to dig in and fight for his place on the depth chart.
But Rome’s departure isn’t an isolated incident.
Since the end of the 2011 season, Nebraska has seen running back Aaron Green transfer to TCU, offensive lineman Ryan Klachko transfer to Illinois and offensive lineman Tyler Moore leave the team to consider (according to Rich Kaipust and Sam McEwon of the Omaha World-Herald) whether he would return to Nebraska or transfer to Florida or Florida State.
Green, Klachko and Moore were all part of Nebraska’s 2011 recruiting class, while Rome was in NU’s 2010 class. None of the four departures, then, were long-in-the-tooth upperclassmen seeing younger players passing them by. And if we see four players, three who saw playing time and two who were starters, that leave the team over a short period of time, questions should be asked as to whether a pattern is forming.
Each transfer, of course, had its own story.
According to the reports cited above, Green didn’t feel he fit in to Nebraska’s system and wanted to be closer to home. Klachko, according to a Pelini quote from pjstar.com, didn’t feel he fit into the culture of the Cornhuskers.
Moore, according to the report cited above, left the team for personal reasons and is using his redshirt season to consider whether he should return to Lincoln. And we know Rome left because he felt his playing time would not be there at Nebraska.
While it is difficult to detect a specific pattern based on what we know about the reasons for the four departures, it is illustrative to point out that all four players left at a time when they would begin defining their roles on the team and positions on the depth chart.
When one player leaves because he’s lower on the depth chart than he wants to be, you can chalk that up as a player not willing to fight for his spot. But when numerous players start leaving at the same time, broader questions should be asked about how the coaching staff uses its talent.
Pelini has always talked about his team as a meritocracy, but the fact is that the two-gap system he runs asks a lot of his defensive linemen. On each snap, a lineman must read the play and decide which of the two gaps (basically, which direction he should go) is appropriate.
If one lineman makes an incorrect read or is out of sync with the rest of the line, holes can develop for an opponent to exploit. As a result, players with more experience tended to see more playing time, as they were more comfortable with the two-gap system and Pelini had confidence in their decision-making ability.
In addition to the defensive complexities, there have been some baffling decisions with regards to the utilization of young talent. Tyler Moore was the first true freshman to start on the offensive line. But halfway through the season, with no injuries reported, Moore couldn’t even get on the field much less the starting rotation.
Jamal Turner had a similar experience. Through the nonconference schedule, Turner was Nebraska’s leading receiver and one of Nebraska’s most exciting talents on offense. Then, as the season wore on, he became a bit player and saw very few offensive snaps on the field.
The same questions can be asked of a number of players. Where has David Santos been? Zaire Anderson? Mohammed Seisay? Why was Brion Carnes not given any playing time to develop quarterback depth last year?
It’s been very hard to get a grasp on how Pelini and his staff make personnel decisions. At times, a young player (see Martinez, Taylor) gets the nod and sees the field almost regardless of his performance. At other times, younger players like Turner or Moore can make what appear to be far fewer mistakes and get banished to the bottom of the depth chart.
It is possible, although of course it is speculation on my part, that the players who left may have observed this as well and become frustrated at their inability to see a path to the playing field. It is a good thing for players to be competing for playing time, and having talented players on the bench because of performance can ultimately be good for the team as a whole.
But it is critical that the team understands the criteria by which they are being judged and feel that their position on the depth chart is based on merit. Given how some of Nebraska’s personnel decisions have been made by Pelini, it is possible that this lack of clarity may be partly to blame for the rash of transfers NU is facing.
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