Huskers Get Spring Practice Underway: Nebraska Facing Some Changes

Bugeatersteve StuchlikCorrespondent IApril 5, 2009

When the Gator Bowl ended back on Jan. 1, one of the biggest questions was whether junior Zac Lee or sophomore Patrick Witt would win the starting quarterback spot, or if incoming freshman, Cody Green from Dayton, Texas might even be in the mix.

Well a lot changed in the next month. After a meeting between Witt, his dad and head coach Bo Pelini, Witt decided to transfer out of Nebraska at the end of May classes.

The word out of Lincoln is that the Witt’s went to Pelini wanting a starting quarterback to be named after spring practices. When Pelini made it clear that would not be happening, Witt decided that he no longer wanted to be a Husker.

Great for Pelini, letting everyone know once again that he is the captain of this ship and playing time is earned on the field, not in negotiations during the offseason.

So, that only leaves junior-to-be Zac Lee, red-shirt freshman Kody Spano and true freshman Cody Green as the only quarterbacks at the start of spring drills. Due to the lack of depth, the coaching staff actually converted linebacker Latravis Washington to the spot, at least for the spring.

Interesting note: Washington, who is from Bradenton, Fla., donned the No. 15 jersey, and many Husker faithful will remember another Bradenton native that wore No. 15—I believe it was someone by the name of Tommy Frazier.

At any rate, let's get back to the current situation. My belief, along with the majority of others in Lincoln, is that the quarterback job is Lee’s to lose until someone else steps up and proves otherwise.

Without seeing practice though, who knows how well Spano is doing?

Maybe heralded freshman Green will make an immediate impact.

The 6'2", 210-pound Lee, a junior college transfer who arrived at Nebraska in January of 2007, has an edge in experience when compared to the three other quarterbacks in camp, though that’s not saying much.

Lee has the strongest grasp of Watson’s system, though he has thrown only two passes in game action for the Huskers.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the need for four quarterbacks in the spring is based on the shear volume of throws. “

We throw a ton, that’s just the nature of our offense,” Watson said. “You need four arms in camp.”

In regards to the other part of the backfield, returning running backs Roy Helu, 2008’s leading rusher with more than 800 yards, along with Quentin Castille who had his greatest rushing game in the Gator Bowl with 125 yards, will look to make the new quarterback more comfortable.

Castille lost more than 10 pounds off his playing weight from last season and appears to be faster as well as stronger. Gone is the baby fat, replaced with muscle and better conditioning.

Helu hit the weight room with a passion this off season and has put on more than 20 pounds of solid muscle.

"I feel faster," he said, "More explosive. There's a lot more muscle than fat."

Besides Castille and Helu, redshirt freshmen Collins Okafor out of Omaha Westside and Lester Ward hope to enter the mix for playing time this year. Sophomore walk-on Austin Jones will provide depth as well, and NU added two more Texans to the position from its February signing class—Dontrayevous Robinson and heralded all-stater Rex Burkhead from Plano, Texas.

One big advantage going into this season is the fact that the entire coaching staff is back, so there is no learning curve among the staff in knowing how each likes to run their area. Learning each other's nuisances is important in building a successful program.

Watson returns five talented tight ends to lean on next season, and while he has lost standout wide receivers Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, returning back-up wide outs Niles Paul and Menelik Holt are more than ready to step up and contribute.

Marcus Mendoza, a 5'10", 185-pound redshirt sophomore from Houston, Texas, has been moved from the I-back position to receiver to help provide some experience depth.

“We’ve got more speed at the position this season," said Husker wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore. "Let’s hope that keeps the offense on the upbeat."

The staff has a better grasp on the talent level of its players than at this point last year, and that lack of familiarity was one of the reasons the offense struggled early last season.

"We just weren't familiar with the players as much because we hadn't been around the players as much," assistant coach Ron Brown said. "We were still learning about them."

Stay tuned for my next article where I will cover the defense and what to expect from that side of the ball.