Husker Defensive Coordinator John Papuchis says he’s seeing good strides for the Blackshirts heading through the spring.
After Monday’s practice he said, “With the amount of young guys we played a year ago, the long-term hope that we've always had has been that we wouldn't miss too many beats from the end of the season to now," Papuchis said. "We're probably even a little bit ahead knowledge-wise from where we've been the last couple years, as a defense."
Papuchis said a bright spot for the Huskers this offseason has been the improvement of the defensive line, both in scheme comprehension and physical development. On Monday he commented on what he has seen from his young athletes this spring.
“For the most part, guys like Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen and Randy Gregory had no experience going into last fall," Papuchis said. "Now, with Maliek and Randy having an offseason in the weight room, we're seeing them not only get better at understanding the scheme, but physically more explosive as well."
Another young Blackshirt who has impressed Papuchis this spring is Nathan Gerry. Gerry played in every game as a freshman, taking most of his reps at linebacker, before the coaches decided to move him to safety. The sophomore has seen his reps increase this spring, following an injury to senior safety Corey Cooper. According to Papuchis, Gerry has taken advantage of the opportunity.
“(Nathan) Gerry is a guy we knew was probably going to be a long-term safety for us," Papuchis said. "With our inexperience at linebacker, we thought it was worth a year to try him there, but he's really done a nice job this spring to put himself in a position to play a lot this fall."
One difference that Papuchis has seen across the board in his defense this spring is a growing confidence and belief in each individual's role.
“True confidence is only built when you have a great understanding of your role and responsibility," Papuchis said. "It was hard to have that swagger a year ago because guys were just learning. Now that they feel confident and comfortable with what they do, and with all of the hard work they've put in this offseason, they've earned the right to go out there, have some fun and just play. We're going to play much better when we're loose, flying around and jumping around. That's the way I want us to play, and that's the way they want to play, but you have to earn the right to get there."
The Nebraska football team’s annual spring game is Saturday. Kickoff will be at 2 p.m.