Huskers brim with confidence heading into spring

BY foxsports • March 24, 2010

The possible No. 1 pick in the NFL draft is gone. Last year's starting quarterback is on the mend. And there are a couple holes in the secondary.

That's OK.

Nebraska receiver Niles Paul said he and his teammates are hungry and confident as the Cornhuskers start spring practice Wednesday.

``We know we're good,'' he said Tuesday.

A program that was never short of confidence while dominating the 1990s devolved into a non-factor before Bo Pelini's arrival in 2008.

Pelini has made the Huskers relevant again after winning nine games his first season and 10 last year. The Huskers beat three Top 25 opponents for the first time since 1999, lost 13-12 to Texas on a last-second field goal in the Big 12 championship game and rolled Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl.

Minutes after the win over the Wildcats, Pelini declared: ``Nebraska's back, and we're here to stay.''

Pelini's players believe.

``We showed a glimpse against Arizona of what can happen, and we just need to build on that,'' receiver Mike McNeill said. ``People realize the potential we have. ... I think everyone realizes we can do something special.''

Pelini will use the spring to start figuring out several key personnel questions.

The biggest: Who will replace Heisman Trophy finalist Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line?

Suh and the Jared Crick were the top inside combination in the country last season. Baker Steinkuhler is the leading candidate to play alongside Crick, but Terrence Moore and Thad Randle also are in the mix.

``We feel real good about our guys inside,'' Pelini said. ``We think we're going to have depth on our defensive line, probably greater than we've had since I've been here.''

The quarterback competition has been re-opened even though Zac Lee will return after starting 12 games. Lee won't participate in spring drills because of offseason surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right (throwing) arm. That leaves Cody Green and Taylor Martinez to take most of the snaps.

Pelini also must find a couple safeties after losing NFL prospect Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon. P.J. Smith, Rickey Thenarse, who had season-ending knee surgery last year, and Courtney Osborne will compete.

Eric Hagg, the starting nickel back the past two seasons, also could see some time at safety.

Pelini said at least three players will try different positions.

McNeill, the Huskers' top tight end, will move to slot receiver. That change has been trumpeted in media reports the past week, but Pelini played down the switch. He said McNeill could line up at tight end or 4 yards wide in the slot.

``It will give us more opportunities without having to change personnel,'' Pelini said.

Mike Smith, a two-year starter at left tackle, will work at guard and center. Pelini said the decision wasn't directly tied to the arrival of junior-college offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick. But the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Hardrick is one of the touted newcomers, and left tackle is his natural position.

Cole Pensick will move from defensive to offensive line. Pensick was a dominant offensive lineman in high school two years ago but was recruited to play defense at Nebraska. Pensick gained 20 pounds in the offseason and is up to 270.

Pelini said competition at all positions would carry over to the fall.

``It's 15 practices. We don't make it out to be any more than that,'' he said. ``It's a chance to work on fundamentals and technique and development of our football team - period, end of story. This is not a time to be talking about depths charts. The depth chart isn't worth the paper that it's on.''

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