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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Toby Wright Brings the Wood

They were having a discussion on the Huskers Illustrated boards today about the hardest hit folks had ever seen. This hit by former Husker Toby Wright on Bert Emmanuel gets my vote. If memory serves Emmanuel suffered a broken jaw and Toby was fined a few thousand bucks.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bill Walsh on Interviewing Coaching Candidates

Sitting down with an individual for a limited length of time and determining whether a candidate has the requisite capabilities is one of the most ambiguous, subjective and challenging tasks that a head coach or administrator will face. The individual interviewing the candidate must know what he is looking for and how it will be determined whether he finds it.

Of this process Walsh states:
"Even the most seasoned, veteran head coach can have a tough time determining if an individual has the abilities he is looking for in a position coach or has exemplary communication skills and gives good interviews. This dilemma is why head coaches often hire people with whom they have worked before or individuals who have been recommended by someone in whom they have a great deal of trust.

When developing a systematic plan for conducting interviews to hire staff members, the head coach should consider the following factors:

· At some point, a single individual will have to make the choice of whom to hire (like most sound decisions).

· The more people who are included in the hiring process, the greater the likelihood that either a superfluous number of criteria will be added to the approach employed by the organization for decision making or the effectiveness of the undertaking will be diluted. This situation is particularly true when colleges look to hire a head coach. (Maybe Steve Pederson isn’t so crazy after all).

· The process of interviewing and hiring an assistant coach will be relatively easy if the individual conducting the interview (and making the hiring decision) has a history or a working relationship with a candidate who is well-suited for the position.

· If the situation, however, involves a candidate with whom the organization has little or no familiarity, it is imperative that a specific plan be established regarding whether a candidate has those attributes, and how the organization can make the process equitable for all the interviewees so that the procedures are not unknowingly biased toward one candidate.

· A precise set of criteria detailing what the position calls for must be established. If such criteria are not identified, the head coach (or whoever is conducting the process) may become distracted by the different skills and capabilities of the individuals who are being interviewed and may lose sight of the specific position he is trying to fill.

· The basic qualifications of each candidate must be assessed. This step can be accomplished in several ways. For example, his background should be closely scrutinized to determine the level of success he has enjoyed as a coach, the caliber of competition the teams which he has coached have faced, the level and type of responsibility he has performed as a coach, etc.

· An organization must make every effort to ensure that the different candidates are evaluated on an even field. For example, the unique qualities of a particularly talented candidate may be overlooked simply because the individual has been working for a team that has an inferior win-loss record compared to those of other candidates."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Filling the Remaining Spot on the Coaching Staff

So with Shawn Watson officially being promoted to offensive coordinator and QB coach, and Sean Callahan of Huskers Illustrated reporting that Ted Gilmore is expected to be named recruiting coordinator, Nebraska’s coaching staff lacks just a TE coach. I thought that this news would give me a chance to look into the process of putting a coaching staff together. This also gives me another opportunity to turn to my man-crush Bill Walsh and to his book, which I’m currently reading - Finding the Winning Edge. This book is like the Holy Grail when it comes to coaching football. It covers every, and I mean every detail of the life of a coach, from organizing a staff to working with the media. Although the book is out of print I managed to pick up a used copy that once belonged to the Jamaica, Queens Public Library.

First like any CEO, a head coach must be able to project the future staffing needs of the organization. This is crucial as over time, openings for assistant coaches will occur for any number of reasons (e.g., individuals take a position with another team, some retires, a coach is fired, the size of your staff increases, etc.). Walsh notes that:
“Each time an opening exists and is filled, a certain level of transition among the previous staff members typically transpires. If this transition is not handled properly, the situation can be very divisive and disruptive when the individuals are passed over for a particular position they wanted or reassigned from a job they preferred”.
Next it might be useful to define the role of the TE coach, according to Walsh:
“This person oversees the establishment, development and implementation of the game plan as it pertains to the tight ends. He works in association with the offensive line coach and the receivers coach. His primary responsibility is to work with the tight ends on their blocking techniques and skills.”
Once these basic responsibilities have been established a coach needs to identify the desired qualifications of staff members. This can be a difficult proposition. One the one hand, the staff must have the technical knowledge of the game that is necessary to ensure that every player performs up to the best of his natural attributes. On the other hand, the staff must possess the personal attributes that enable them to collectively focus their energies on a common goal. In addition, it is helpful to consider the diversity of your staff so that each person offers a somewhat different combination of traits, capabilities and experiences. Walsh highlights five major qualities of prospective assistant coaches:

1. A fundamental knowledge of the mechanics of his position. An assistant coach must be technically competent. His competence level must be such that he can work with each player on an individual basis as needed.

2. Ability to communicate. An assistant coach must be able to communicate with the players in a relaxed, yet authoritative manner. Such a quality is the fundamental basis of an assistant’s ability to effectively teach and interact with his players – perhaps the two key responsibilities of every assistant coach.

3. Ability to evaluate and project talent. Assistant coaches must evaluate the abilities and the performance potential of those players with whom they are working.

4. A relatively high level of energy. Assistant coaches must exhibit an appropriate level of energy that enables them to be upbeat, motivated and animated while in the presence of the players and their fellow employees. It is not unusual for a group of players to collectively take on the personality of their position coach.

5. Loyalty. Assistant coaches must exhibit loyalty at all times, both to the head coach and to their fellow assistant coaches. While a head coach always expects his assistants to display unconditional loyalty to him, their sense of loyalty should also extend to the other staff members.

That should hopefully shed some light on part of the process facing Coach Callahan as he looks to fill the final spot on the staff. I’m planning on writing a bit more on putting together a staff including the interview process and a few other details as the week progresses.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Norvell to UCLA

Offensive Coordinator and QB coach Jay Norvell has accepted the Offensive Coordinator job at UCLA. Interestingly, the spot was vacated by the firing of another coach with Nebraska (Wesleyan) ties Jim Svoboda.

Normally losing a coach this close to Signing Day would be troublesome. In this case, however, I don't expect it to have much impact. Norvell was a solid recruiter, but not spectacular and has not been the contact for many of our big-name recruits over the past couple of years.

My sense is that Shawn Watson will become the Offensive Coordinator, but much like in Norvell's case the position will mainly be a title. Callahan will likely remain in charge of game planning and playcalling.

First name I'll throw out there to fill the vacancy on the staff is Dave Roberts. His name has come up time and time again, and he is a very respected recruiter. I'll give some thought to some other candidates and update this over the weekend.

*Update - Another name to consider is Eric Roark. Roark is currently the recruiting coordinator at SMU and also coaches DEs. He has fantastic connections in Texas and would be a big help recruiting that state. Roark also played for Jimmy Johnson at Oklahoma State.

Greatest. Headline. Ever

Leave it to the Onion to bust out Bears Lead Rex Grossman To Super Bowl
"All season long, the Bears have shown that they can win, even in the presence of Rex Grossman."
Well played.

Oh, and go check out this post from Saurian Sagacity on the geographic distribution of talent in college football. It is a pretty decent piece of analysis and certainly explains some of the barriers impacting the Nebraska coaching staff.

And don't miss Mr. Irrelevant's look at the year that was the hotness of Erin Andrews. How on earth did I miss the pic of the Iowa kid groping her?

The Twenty Percent Failure Factor

Ok, I'm back...sort of. Darren at Big Red Network has a great piece on recruting in the age of attrition. He makes a lot of sense of a somewhat difficult topic. His work also got me thinking about something I had read from Bill Walsh.

In Finding the Winning Edge, Walsh discusses the twenty percent failure factor that impacts NFL teams with regard to their acquisitions. Walsh states:
"If a personnel department is doing an outstanding job of evaluating and acquiring talent through the draft and free agency, its failure rate (i.e., the number of players who don't 'pan out' for whatever reason) can be expected to be around twenty percent. In other words, regardless of how capable and efficient your scouts and coaches are in identifying, researching and projecting the potential value of a particular player, a fall out of approximately twenty percent wil occur."
I thought this notion was noteworthy as a the latest group of Nebraska players prepares for the NFL draft by participating in all-star games and getting in shape for the combine. Clearly every team in the NFL has experienced some degree of disappointment in its acquisitions. Top draft choices turn out to be busts (including players from Nebraska) or expensive free agent signings fail to live up to expectations.

Walsh claims:
"The point to be emphasized is that no matter how much time and effort a team puts into the acquisition process (i.e., no matter how thoroughly a team 'studies' a given athlete) some miscalculations will happen. The process simply involves too many variables to be able to accurately account for every factor."
Walsh argues that this twenty percent failure rate is about all a franchise can absorb and continue to be competitive and that capable and experienced management will firmly grasp this reality.

The failure factor is also interesting when one considers college football recruiting. Obviously the failure rate for college athletes should be somewhat higher given that college teams do not utilize a full-time scouting staff and also find themselves dealing with a much larger pool of eligibles. From CFB conventional wisdom (whatever that is) I've always gathered that a recruiting class in which 40-50% of the players become meaningful contributors should be considered a success. In light of the continued exodus from our 2005 class, and news that others considered leaving, however, Walsh offers another piece of insight.
"If the percentage of failures among a team's acquisitions climbs above the expected failure rate, then shortcomings exist in the team's system of evaluating and acquiring players. If disappointment after disappointment occurs, they can't all be related to 'bad luck'."
Players have always failed to pan out, and unhappy players have always left for the hope of a better situation. My hunch, however, is that this dynamic is going to continue to evolve. I see a future in which more player movement (from team to team) will occur. The spontaneous changes in personnel will negatively impact teams' development of depth. It may also eventually force coaches to play more first-year players, either to make up for this lack of depth or to placate the egos of highly regarded recruits. As more young players are then relied upon to contribute the degree to which a team will be able to expand its offensive or defensive system will be limited by the level of the squad's development. Player character will then become increasingly important, especially at the lower end of the roster. Although players in this situation may join the team under a lower set of expectations and might not be on scholarship, they may become important contributors and thus must sustain their intensity and their efforts. Finally coaching staffs will be forced to develop patience and to exhibit flexibility when dealing with the shocking loss of front-line players.

That sounds like a whole different ball game to me.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Roger Craig and Doug DuBose Rap

Obviously this is from their 49er days. I don't know how this never worked its way to the top of the charts. It is clear though that DuBose's rage-filled flow had a heavy influence on West Coast gangsta rap.

I'm not going to lie, these are tough times in the life of a college football blogger. Signing day isn't quite here and we are a few months from the beginning of spring practices. I have a lot of stuff in mind to fill the time, but the duties of a new semester are currently taking primacy.

He is I and I was Him

Once again letting YouTube do my dirty work, but this is too good not to post, especially for those that really know me. This kid and I are obviously basement-hoop slam-dunking soulmates. I am forever grateful that my family did not own a video camera. HT – Deadspin.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Nebraska ESPNU Commercial

I don't know if this is a regional commercial or what, but I've somehow never actually seen it on ESPN. So in case some other out-of-state readers have yet to come across it, here you go. I'll throw in a free T-shirt to the first person to rock a DXP-inspired vanity plate.

Need Help on the Gossip Front

I like to think that I'm up to date on my college sports gossip, but this one has me stumped. I'm getting a surprising amount of traffic from the search terms:

Brynn Cameron + Rudy Carpenter.

You might remember Brynn as the lovely USC basketball player who just happens to be carrying the spawn of Matt Leinart. Rudy Carpenter should also be a familiar name to Husker fans given that it was his ascension to ASU's starting QB slot that led to Sam Keller's transfer.

So am I missing something? Are these two now an item? How on earth would they be connected? Someone please enlighten me before my head explodes.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Developing First-Year Players

Tom Lemming and Bobby Burton - Spend more time discussing teenage boys than Tiger Beat magazine.
With the recruiting season winding down, many fans are busy penciling several of Nebraska’s verbal commitments into starting spots or key reserve roles come 2007. While I could write endlessly on why this is such a terrible idea, I will instead focus on a few key reasons why these recruiting junkies might want to temper their expectations. First they can look at Nebraska’s recent track record of utilizing first-year players. If they do, they will see that much has been made of the coaching staff’s apparent reluctance to play some of its younger talent. I actually touched on this issue briefly during the season, but concluded even then that the coaching staff probably had a better feel for the development of its underclassmen. Perhaps you will too after reading this.

It is important to note that while coaches often want (or need) their first-year players (particularly high-profile recruits) to contribute to their team’s success, in most instances first year players encounter too many obstacles, which must be overcome for them to make a significant contribution. In his book, Finding the Winning Edge, Bill Walsh highlights several of these obstacles, including - a lack of physical maturity, whether a player is prone to injuries, the fact that he is in “survival mode” during Fall camp, his possible lack of focus, the lack of attention he receives in Fall camp, and the major changes in his lifestyle.

Both fans and coaches need to consider the fact that most first-year players are still maturing physically. Many fans lose sight of this when an 18-year-old athlete with a muscular physique is described as a “boy in a man’s body”, or a “physical specimen”. The truth is, however, that even if a player is described s the prototypical physical specimen, that athlete may have difficulty adapting to the physical demands of Fall camp and the upcoming extended season (i.e., 12-14 games when you factor in conference championship and bowl games).

A first-year player lacking the physical maturity of an upperclassman can lead to several possible problems. Bill Walsh states that, “all factors considered, a first-year player is more likely to suffer a muscle pull than a veteran player”. Many new players participating in their first Fall camp may expend more energy than is necessary, while they learn what being a college football player involves. In addition, these players often do not have a complete appreciation for the value of using the team’s athletic training staff over the course of a long, arduous season the way veteran players do.

Another issue that may affect a first-year player is that during Fall camp, such a player often feels like he is in somewhat of a survival mode. This attitude may limit his focus to a point where he is just concentrating on getting through each “new” task (e.g., moving to a new city, reporting to Fall camp, starting school, surviving two-a-days, dealing with the substantial increase in media attention he receives, etc.). The player’s resulting mental fatigue may also limit his ability to concentrate well in team meetings. As a result, he may occasionally seem confused or appear unable to grasp and retain essential material.

The development of incoming freshmen is also affected by the fact that they normally receive less attention than returning players once two-a-days have concluded. Two-a-days provide an environment where the coaching staff can address the inexperience and the lack of preparation of the team’s first-year players. The coaching staff will often have low expectations for the performance of incoming freshmen during two-a-days, and the opinions the staff develops of them in this environment are often based solely on the athleticism of each player. The remainder of Fall camp and practices during the regular season are typically focused on preparing the entire team for the season. During this time the patience and tolerance of the coaching staff for the typical mistakes and learning difficulties of first-year players may be diminished.

In reality, it is unrealistic for a coach or a fan to expect a first-year player to experience much improvement as a result of practice during his freshman season. Too much is happening during the regular season for coaches or teammates to provide much in the way of detailed coaching to a second-line back-up player. In addition, a first-year player who is not ready to be thrust into a starting role, may only have a minimal sense of urgency to learn. As a result, Bill Walsh points out that a first-year player ‘s skills and level of preparedness may actually erode during the course of a season. Consequently, most of the development of first-year players occurs during the off-season and the subsequent Fall camp.

The best coaches and fans should hope for a player in his first year of Division I football involves the team establishing a specific role for him. By earning an active role on the field as a pass-rush specialist, a special teams player, or an extra receiver in a 3-or-4-receiver formation, a first-year player gains a measure of self-respect because his contribution to the team has been identified and isolated. Through establishing his role on the team and taking pride in the fact that he is contributing in a tangible way, a first-year player can achieve a sense of control in his football life. Not only is he able to earn his keep, he is also able to acquire the acceptance of his teammates.

So perhaps you can keep this information in mind come next Fall. Try to think rationally and logically when wondering why some 4-star prep phenom spends most of his first year on the bench. Consider long and hard the obstacles this 18-year-old is facing before labeling his freshman year as “a disappointment”. Stop thinking of these players as instant superstars and come instead to view them as “building blocks,” who could become the core of a successful organization. And finally, trust that the coaches will do everything possible to ensure that the skills and talents of each player on the roster are developed, refined, and utilized in an appropriate way.

Double Extra Point Store

You'll see a new addition to the sidebar - the Double Extra Point Store. Right now we have a couple of T-shirt designs and a few different shirt styles. These are one-of-a-kind designs that will help you stand out in a crowd (unless you order one in red and show up on gameday). New designs will be added when inspiration strikes. So check out the store and add something to your Big Red wardrobe. If you hurry you can even get your item shipped for free until January 31st, by entering the code FREESHIPPING07.

You can enter the store by clicking on the image above or by clicking here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

East-West Shrine Game

Houston sports radio guy Lance Zierlein is blogging from the East/West Shrine Game practices. Nebraska has three players playing for the West Squad – Zac Taylor, Matt Herian and Ola Dagunduro.

Monday's Practice Report

· Zac Taylor - Nebraska, 6'2 / 210: Taylor showed a better than expected arm but tends to windup a little before his release. Taylor excelled with his accuracy and looked sharp with his slant passes. Overall, I think he had a solid showing.

· Ola Dagunduro (DT, Nebraska) was very quick off the ball and caused problems for linemen throughout the one on one drills.

Wednesday Practice Report

· Nebraska TE Matt Herrian looks painfully slow and he's clearly not back from the devastating knee injury from 2004 that cost him all of last season. In the passing game, he just won't have the ability to get much separation on the next level.

· Another of my favorite players at this game is Nebraska DT Ola Dagunduro. He's not the biggest guy, but he's quick off the ball and gets his hands on the O-lineman very quickly. I think he'll be drafted on the second day and make a team that is looking for an up-the-field DT.

Thursday Lance brought in John Harris from College Football News to provide five players per side to keep an eye on.

West Players to Watch

4. Matt Herian, Nebraska TE - I really expected Herian to be more productive in the passing game at Nebraska and thought that he had the opportunity to be a poor man's Owen Daniels. I think he may actually 'fit' better at the next level than at Nebraska.

I don’t have a lot to add to this, but I felt it was interesting nonetheless. I think Ola is going to be a steal for some team, and could be a very productive 2nd day pick. The same could be said for Taylor. I don’t think a team will groom him to be a starter, but he could be a more than capable backup. Herian is just a sad story. I almost wanted to turn away at times when he was in action on the field. He was once as athletic and speedy and as a TE can get. He is now but a shadow of his former self. That is sad, but I wish him all the luck in the world.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Totally Nutts!

On Monday Houston Nutt lost his offensive coordinator, when Gus Malzahn left for greener pastures and the same position with Tulsa. Nutt’s week got worse on Tuesday when former prep-phenom QB Mitch Mustain asked for and received his release from the university. You might remember that Malzahn was Mustain’s high school coach and was offered the offensive coordinator job during Nutt’s courtship of Mustain. The exodus from Fayetteville also includes WR Damian Williams who transferred in December.

The mass departure seems to stem from unhappiness with the way Nutt was running the team. Malzahn was apparently upset after being told that his role with the team would change and he would be forced to share the offensive coordinator spot with quarterbacks coach David Lee. Mustain and Williams were upset about the offensive system that was being run by the Hogs. The high school teammates’ parents (including Mustain’s mother Beck Campbell)met with Athletic Director Frank Broyles during the season to protest that the Arkansas offense failed to resemble that which was run by Malzahn at Springdale High.

Wow, this production makes the Harrison Beck/Evelyn Beck-Bothwell fiasco this August in Lincoln, look a lot less melodramatic.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More on Brandon Jackson

Now that his intentions are known, we can take a closer look at Brandon Jackson's NFL prospects. NFL Draft Scout (subscription required) currently ranks Jackson as the 14th best RB available in the 2007 draft. They view BJax as the 189th ranked player in the draft and project him as a 5-6 round selection.

1. Adrian Peterson*
2. Marshawn Lynch*
3. Michael Bush
4. Antonio Pittman*
5. Kenny Irons
6. Tony Hunt
7. Darius Walker*
8. DeShawn Wynn
9. Kenneth Darby
10. Lorenzo Booker
11. Jason Snelling
12. Selvin Young
13. Ahmad Bradshaw*
14. Brandon Jackson*

* Denotes junior entering the draft

After the Cotton Bowl NFL Draft Scout had this to say about Jackson:
“01/06/07 - PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2007: RB Brandon Jackson - The rushing leader in a four-pronged backfield, Jackson's emergence as a featured back didn't matter much in preparations for the Cotton Bowl, where Marlon Lucky drew the start. The competition is good to have, though Jackson may be the most durable of the NU backs.”
Prior to his decision to enter the draft, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper had BJax ranked as the #1 senior RB in the 2008 draft (ESPN Insider Required).

I would like to have seen Jackson stay in Lincoln for his senior year, but for purely selfish reasons. However, with a strong combine I expect to see BJax move up the draft lists. My sense is that he is the most complete RB (running, receiving, and pass protection ability) that Nebraska has produced in quite some time.

For some historical context here are how Nebraska RBs who declared early have done come draft day.

1993 - Derek Brown Round 4 (pick #109)
1994 - Calvin Jones Round 3 (pick #80)
1996 - Lawrence Phillips Round 1 (pick #6)
1998 - Ahman Green Round 3 (pick #76)

Monday, January 15, 2007

BJax to NFL

In what should come as a surprise to few, Brandon Jackson has announced his intentions to enter the NFL draft. Jackson will finish his career with 1,431 career rushing yards to rank 35th on the Huskers’ all-time career charts.

Of the decision, Coach Callahand said, “We have been made aware of Brandon Jackson’s decision enter the NFL Draft. I want to thank him for his contributions to the Nebraska football program and we wish him nothing but the best in the future. We were hopeful that he would choose to stay at Nebraska to complete his eligibility and, most importantly, continue to pursue his college degree.”

Big Red Roundtable #1

Today we have the first edition of a new feature here at DXP, the Big Red Roundtable. The concept of the Big Red Roundtable is to garner the insights and opinions of Husker bloggers on a variety of Nebraka or college football-related subjects. The Big Red Roundtable will include DXP, Big Red Network, Corn Nation, and Husker Mike. Today's edition includes a series of questions developed by me concerning the recently completed 2006 season. You can find my answers below, and the answers from the other participants will be linked to when available.

Husker Mike's answers are here.
Corn Nation's answers are here.
Big Red Network's answers are here.

1. As a Nebraska fan you no doubt had a well-conceived set of expectations for the year. How did the 2006 Nebraska season jive with your preseason prospects?

Going into the 2006 season, my goals for the Huskers were to win 9 games and to capture the Big 12 North title. Early on, I had penciled in losses to USC and Texas. In addition, I predicted we would lose one unexpected game on the road against an opponent that we were capable of beating. I also assumed we would fall to the South champ in the Big 12 title game. Given these assumptions I really thought we would be 9-4 going into a bowl game. I somewhat overestimated our ability to prepare for a quality bowl opponent and really thought most match-ups favored the Huskers. That being said, I have a hard time being disappointed with the way the season played out, as it was almost completely in line with my expectations.

2. Given the long-standing success of Husker football how does losing five games influence your overall evaluation of the 2006 season? In other words, do the losses keep you up at night? Are you comfortable rationalizing them in some way? Or do you take the optimistic perspective of focusing on the left hand of the W/L column rather than the right hand?

I’ve heard from a number of Husker fans who are uncomfortable attempting to rationalize a five-loss season. Many fans deem this type of season “unacceptable”. Whether it is being optimistic, or making an attempt to rationalize, I think it is important to attend to the quality of opponent that Nebraska fell to 2006. The only game that we weren’t particularly competitive in was the USC game, and one could argue that we still looked better against the Trojans than did a Michigan squad that many believed should have been playing for the national title. Costly turnovers did us in against Texas and Oklahoma, but at times in both of these games, Nebraska looked like the better team. The one loss that does keep my up at nights is the Oklahoma State game. As I commented shortly after that game, it looked as if we laid down for the Cowboys in the second half. Our effort and execution bottomed out and for the first and only time all season, I questioned the progress the program was making.

3. Now that the season has come to a close we know that Coach Callahan will go over all areas of the team with an IRS auditor’s attention to detail. Help him out by offering a brief assessment of the 2006 offense, defense and special teams.

I was generally very pleased with the offensive performance of this year’s team. Finishing 14th nationally in total offense and 17th in scoring offense is testament to the continued progress of Callahan’s “O”. I was more than impressed with the improvement in the running game. It is hard to argue with going from averaging less than 3 yards/carry in 2005 to finishing 23rd nationally in rushing offense. I would still love to see more consistent play from the offense in “big” games. At times we have sputtered and almost seem to lose our offensive identity when facing speedy and talented defenses. I am also looking forward to the days of dominating offensive line play. Although the 2006 line was much improved, this area still seems like a work in progress.

Defensively I also saw a lot to be impressed with. I tend to still feel as though we have more talented athletes on the offensive side of the ball. Because of this, Cosgrove has had to make due with what he has available. Clearly losing Bowman and breaking in two new safeties impacted the play of the secondary. When I look back at the disappointments of the 2006 season they mostly involve players out of position, or unable to make plays in the secondary. This is an area that must improve, and actually should if our recruiting classes the last few years are as good as advertised. Philosophically I’m still not sure I always understand Coz. He’s shown the ability to plan an attack that at the very least keeps us in big games. At the same time, however, overmatched opponents have often found ways to gash our defense for big plays. Overall, I was very pleased with 2006 Blackshirts and hope to continue to see the defense improve.

One area that Callahan and Co. have not found a way to improve is our special teams. Our return games are anything but dangerous. While we improved in 2006, we seem to have a long way to go before we are breaking games open with our special teams play. Our 2006 kicking game was pretty mediocre. Dan Titchener seems to be a capable punter, but Jordan Congdon certainly did not build on his freshman All-American campaign from 2005. Now that he is out of the picture our kicking game has only become more muddled. One thing I will note, however, is that I actually like our strategy on kickoffs. I think we will soon see more and more teams adopt the strategy of trying to place kickoffs between the hash and the sidelines inside the 10-yard line. I like forcing the opponent to field the ball cleanly and to protect it, while sending our kickoff team down with the idea of stopping the return inside the 20.

4. No post-season assessment would be complete without handing out some hardware. Who are your 2006 Nebraska offensive and defensive MVPs and why?

My offensive MVP is Brandon Jackson for a number of reasons. The first of which is that the team just seemed to click when he was in the line up. He gave us a back that could go the distance on any play, was capable of getting tough yards between the tackles, and also seemed to do the best job of picking up blitzes. After averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, a year ago we knew Nebraska emphasized the running game in the off-season. BJax was able to return from injury and take the running game onto his shoulders. In 2005, Nebraska had just 1152 net yards of rushing. This season Jackson produced 989 yards rushing on his own, despite starting just 9 of 15 games. BJax also led the team with 1459 all-purpose yards, a 5.3 yard/carry average, was third on the team in receptions and led the Huskers with 10 TDs. I think these numbers speak for themselves and my biggest regret from the 2006 season was that Jackson had just 2 carries against USC.

My defensive MVP is Adam Carriker, although he did not quite have the year I had expected. With that said he still finished the year with 52 tackles, 16 TFL, 7 sacks, 11 QB hurries, one blocked kick and an interception. Carriker was enough of a threat to cause teams to account for his presence on each play. In addition, his play helped clear the way for the emergence of Jay Moore on the other side of the defense. It will be interesting to see how Carriker develops in the NFL.

5. For something completely different. If you had to name a coach of the year from the Nebraska staff whom would you select? This can be based on any number of things, including performance of a particular unit or the improvement of a particular aspect/unit over previous seasons.

My Husker coach of the year is defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Despite all of the negative attention he has received, his gameplans kept us in every game we played this season. Clearly there were two disappointing games from a defensive standpoint (Kansas and OSU), but I worried less and less about the defense as the season progressed. Cosgrove also gets my vote for his work with a relatively inexperienced defense and for having to adjust to the loss of Zack Bowman. Coz had two new and unproven DTs, first-time starters at both safety spots, a midget at one CB, and an untested JUCO at the other CB spot. Folks will point to some defensive statistics and where we stack up nationally to vilify Coz, but in the last two games of the season I had much more faith in our defense than our offense.

6. And finally, bust out your mental scrapbook. What is your favorite/most impressionable or defining memory of the 2006 Husker season? This can be a play, a game, a thought/image, or in CBS March Madness terms – “One shining moment”.

My biggest memories of 2006 still come from the Texas game. A lot of this might be because it was the only game I managed to see in person, but it certainly had a lot of other variables in its favor. The early kickoff meant a “kegs and eggs” start for Husker Nation as Big Red faced a Top 5 team at home. Chilly temperatures and unexpected snow only added to an electric atmosphere in Memorial Stadium. With our front four making plays and Steve Octavien flying around, one couldn’t help but flash back to the Blackshirts of the 90s. Offensively we saw an amazing catch and score by Purify, absolutely tremendous effort from BJax to find the endzone on the shuttle pass, and a halfback pass to give us the late lead that was absolute perfection. The late fumble dampened the overall mood, but by season’s end served only as a reminder of how close we just might be.

Please feel free to post your answers to these questions in the comment section.

Friday, January 12, 2007

NCAA Rule Changes

The American Football Coaches Association recently held its annual convention in San Antonio, and one of the more notable topics was a series of NCAA rule changes. Most of these rule changes govern recruiting and prospect evaluation.

First, NCAA bylaw says institutional staff members shall not attend any scholastic or non-scholastic activities devoted to agility, flexibility, speed or strength tests for prospective student athletes conducted at any location at any time.

In other words, universities will no longer be able to test prospective student athletes at their summer camps. In the past these camps have allowed coaches to line up prospects and test them in the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, shuttle, bench press and other agility drills. Testing of this sort allows for a direct comparison of prospective recruits and decreases a coach’s reliance on game tapes. This type of testing has been a bastion of these camps for several years and has also been a key component of the Nebraska coaching staff’s recruiting efforts. The early reaction to this change from coaches has not been positive and it will be interesting to see how they adjust.

Another key issue that is being examined is text messaging. Currently there are no rules governing the use of text messaging by coaches. However, you had to know the reevaluation of this rule was coming, as the NCAA prefers limits to be placed on all types of contacts. One of the interesting variables related to this rule, however, is that these text messages can actually wind up affecting a student athlete financially. If an athlete has a monthly service contract allowing only a limited number of texts, a flurry of messages from over-zealous coaches could result in overage charges. I suppose a change in this rule might also go along way toward preventing an outbreak of “Blackberry Thumb” among coaching staffs.

According to
“The NCAA is looking at three different options, one of which was just shot down at the NCAA convention. The three options are NCAA Proposal No. 2006-40, Proposal No. 2006-41 and the status quo.

Proposal No. 2006-40 - which was proposed by The Ivy Group - would eliminate text messaging to prospects and specifies that electronically transmitted correspondence sent to a prospective student-athlete is limited to electronic mail and facsimiles.
Proposal No. 2006-41 was considered to be a middle-of-the-road solution, and it would have reduced communication via text messaging from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The times would be based upon the location where the prospect resides. However, the NCAA Management Council earlier this week defeated this proposal.

That leaves either the status quo – where there are no rules at all – or Proposal No. 2006-40 on the table for consideration. Kerin said the Management Council could be leaning toward elimination. So at this point, Proposal No. 2006-40 could eventually pass and then be in place on Aug. 1. If it doesn't pass, nothing will happen and everything will remain as is.”

Another rule change that is already in place for the 2007 season is the override of Proposal No. 2005-54, which allowed student-athletes who received their undergraduate degree to transfer to another institution for graduate school and be immediately eligible for financial aid, practice and competition, no matter the student-athletes’ prior transfer history. According to NCAA research fewer than 1 percent of eligible student-athletes took advantage of this rule. One athlete who used this rule to great benefit was Florida DB Ryan Smith, who graduated early from Utah and then enrolled at Florida for graduate studies. Smith was named first-team all-SEC (AP) and third-team all-America ( after intercepting eight passes and recording 52 tackles, seven pass break-ups and two blocked kicks. Oh, and he also won a national title.

Next up appears to be a reexamination of the dreaded 3-2-5-e. A hot-button issue all season, the controversial clock rule was also a major topic at the AFCA convention. As the meetings completed the AFCA forwarded its clock-rule recommendations to the Football Rules Committee. Any changes will then be made by the by the Football Rules Committee, which convenes in February in Albuquerque, N.M. At least one important figure believes alterations to 3-2-5-e are in the offing. "My educated guess would be there would be a change," said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.

Thank God for that.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Woooo!!!! Validation

The College Football Blog Award nominations are up and unbelievably DXP finds itself nominated in not one, but two categories.

The first nomination is for the Best New Blog award, which goes to the best blog started within the past year. The other nominees are Card Chronicle, Fire Mark May, Conquest Chronicles, Saurian Sagacity, and Corn From A Jar

DXP is also nominated for Best Big 12 Blog along with Burnt Orange Nation, fellow Husker blog Corn Nation, CrossCyed, and The 12th Manchild

In this case it truly is just an honor to be nominated. I've marveled for months at the amount of quality work that is being produced by CFB bloggers. To just be mentioned alongside some of the folks that I have digested daily, linked to frequently, and stolen from blatently, well, that's just groovy man.

So thanks to any and all who might have nominated DXP and to my loyal readers who I can't thank enough for word of mouth traffic.

While our awards festivities won't feature the likes of "Soy Bomb," Sacheen Littlefeather, or lesbian liplocks, it will include the first acceptance speeches typed by pant-less dudes with cheetos-stained fingers, while sitting in their parents' basements. Plus, it will be a whole lot safer than the Source Awards.

Voting is taking place here. Kirk Herbstreit can rest assured, however, that Husker Nation will not be stuffing the ballot boxes, as voting is limited to college football bloggers.

Throwing the Slant

After the Auburn game I remarked that I didn’t feel like Nebraska had done a good job of completing passes on slant routes. I feel like this problem has existed since 2004 when Callahan first introduced his WCO. Given these difficulties I decided to do my homework and try to learn more about throwing the slant. What I found is that this is apparently a very complicated route even to read about. I can only imagine going over all of these variables in a matter of seconds with a couple of 300-pounders after you.

First from a list of notes on the dropback passing game from Bill Walsh on the West Coast Offense site:
-Slant pass is a big chunk play.
-12 yrd split - 5 to 7 steps and break.
-Slant is best weak.
-Throwing strongside you should use dropback and weak flow.
-Throw ball to middle of receiver and above his waist - if anything slow him up to catch it.
-Receiver should always be aware of relationship between corner and safety.
-Hop inside and come under control in hole.
-Ball should be caught 1 ft. in front of receivers numbers.
-Vs corner inside - go full speed and break across his face.
-Always practice 1/2 as many throws to outlet as primary.
A big part of the slant depends upon quarterbacks attending to the “type of throw” they are making:
“Typically out routes need to be frozen ropes, whereas slants are really about timing and taking a little bit off the ball. You'll see even NFL QBs struggle with the slant because they put too much velocity on the ball (See Michael Vick).

The BEST slant throwing team of all time was the 49ers with both Montana and Steve Young. Both threw a very soft slant pass and did not lead the receivers much. Instead they put the ball right on their numbers.

Bottom line: The slant is tricky to both throw and catch; when you increase a football's velocity you make it harder to catch, because the increased velocity reduces the margin for error too much to make the pass effective.”
In addition, the placement of the ball in relation to the receiver is also crucial:
“When QBs' throw to each other they should not just "throw it to the other guy," and instead pick specific targets on the other guy's body: We say throw it at the guy's nostril, his ear, or the corner of his numbers for practice. The better the QB is at this the better he can be as a quarterback. Bill Walsh used to scream and rip Joe Montana when he failed to throw the ball to the correct corner of the receiver's jersey. That's being specific and being accurate.”
In other words, the throw for each route needs to be placed in a different spot on the receiver's body:
“For the Slant: The upper inside corner ("in the body") of his jersey vs cover 2. Vs. cover 3 we say "one-foot in front of the numbers.”
The placement issue seems to be key when you consider turnovers. Throwing the slant pass either too high or behind the receiver will create problems in that the receiver cannot protect the ball with his body as he makes the catch and the defenders will have a greater opportunity to make a play on the ball.

The pace of the slant in terms of the receiver’s route is also important:
“The slant is one of the most potent but often one of the most poorly executed routes in all of football.The biggest problem I see is that players and coaches alike need to remember to slow down. The slant is a route where everything is under control. The route is never run at full speed and the pass is very, very far from being a bullet.

The route should be run at almost no more than 3/4 speed, if not just a bit more. The receiver will explode off the ball but will handle the rest under control. The pass is a touch pass. It is thrown on a rhythm and will hit the receiver one foot in front of the numbers, but as a general rule (which helps with a variety of coverages) the ball will be thrown away from the defenders, rather than directly to the receiver, if that makes sense.”
More on the route running:
“We have our receivers begin outside foot back. It is a 3 step route for the receiver, meaning he will step outside foot big step, inside foot, and then outside foot. On this 3rd step the receiver will land with his toes pointing inwards and will pull and roll off this foot into a 45 degree angle. We like to teach a fairly skinny break on the slant (aided with our 4 yard vertical step and the fact that it is run under control). Versus cover 3 it will end up being a bit flatter to get away from the corner.”
And finally, a little on the QB’s drop:
“The QB will take a 3-step drop. Some coaches teach "3 big steps," we prefer to just have him take a normal 1 big, two small 3 step drop, and if he needs to hold at the end that is find. On the QB's first step away from the line he will be looking directly down the middle keying the safety and not giving away any clues.”
So, obviously I would like to see Nebraska hit the slant route with greater regularity. But after reading all of that it is amazing that this pass is ever completed at all.

Brandon Jackson to the NFL?

Brandon Jackson is apparently considering entering the NFL Draft. My gut tells me he probably won’t be coming back. Next year’s class of running backs looks to be pretty stacked, making him a more appealing selection this year. Given Jackson’s injury history and his supposed family situation, this might be the best move for him. You can checkout his 2006 highlights below.

Obviously losing a back of his caliber will be a blow to the Nebraska rushing attack. Will Lucky, Glenn or Wilson be ready for primetime in 2007?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Final BlogPoll Ballot

Here is my final BlogPoll ballot of the season. I can alter it until tomorrow morning so if you have any feedback let me know.

1 Florida 2
2 Ohio State 1
3 LSU 1
4 Southern Cal 4
5 Boise State 4
6 Auburn 4
7 Louisville 1
8 Wisconsin 3
9 Michigan 7
10 West Virginia 3
11 Rutgers 5
12 Oklahoma 5
13 California 6
14 Texas 3
15 Brigham Young 6
16 Arkansas 4
17 Virginia Tech 2
18 Wake Forest 4
19 Boston College 4
20 TCU 4
21 Notre Dame 10
22 Oregon State 3
23 Tennessee 5
24 Hawaii 2
25 Penn State 1

Dropped Out: Nebraska (#20), Texas A&M (#22).

2006 - Year of the Gators. 2007 - Year of the Huskers?

A number of amazing coincidences can be found between the 2006 Gators and the 2007 Huskers.

· Florida won national titles in 1996 and 2006.
· Nebraska won the national title in 1997 and heads into 2007 with high expectations.

· Florida won 81 games over the 10-year period between national titles.
· Nebraska has won 81 games in the 10-year period between its last national title and the 2007 season.

· Florida had three coaches over this 10-year period (Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, Urban Meyer).
· Nebraska has had three coaches over this 10-year period (Tom Osborne, Frank Solich, Bill Callahan).

· Ron Zook was fired from Florida after struggling to replace a legend.
· Frank Solich was fired from Nebraska after struggling to replace a legend.

· Ron Zook has since taken the head coaching job with a team in the Midwest
· Frank Solich has since taken the head coaching job with a team in the Midwest.

· Urban Meyer brought with him a new offensive system, and many wondered if this style would work at Florida.
· Bill Callahan brought with him a new offensive system, and many wondered if this style would work at Nebraska.

· In 2006 Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong was entering his fourth season at that position.
· In 2007 Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove will be entering his fourth season at that position.

· In 2006 Florida was coming off its only 9-win season over the last three years.
· In 2007 Nebraska will be coming of its only 9-win season over the last three years.

· In 2006 Florida played four of its first five games at home.
· In 2007 Nebraska will play four of its first five games at home.

· In 2006 Florida played 8 teams that made appearances in bowls in 2005.
· In 2007 Nebraska will play 8 teams that made appearances in bowls in 2006.

· In 2006 Florida returned 12/22 starters.
· In 2007 Nebraska will return 12/22 starters.

· In 2006 Florida returned its leader in rushing, receiving, punting, punt returns and kickoff returns.
· In 2007 Nebraska will return its leader in rushing, receiving, punting, punt returns and kickoff returns.

· In 2006 Florida returned five of its top eight leaders in tackles.
· In 2007 Nebraska will return five of its top eight leaders in tackles.

· Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy. Kennedy had…oops got carried away.

Bonus coincidence:
· In 1997, Nebraska won its national title while led by a senior quarterback who had transferred from a Pac-10 school.
· In 2007, Nebraska will be led by a senior quarterback who transferred from a Pac-10 school.

Secondary to None in 2007?

Husker fans looking for an improved secondary may only have to wait until 2007. In addition to a recruiting class that is deep in DB-type players, Nebraska apparently has a great deal of talent already on the roster.

The website NFL Draft Scout (Subscription Required) ranks three Huskers among the top 32 cornerbacks available for the 2008 NFL draft.

Zackary Bowman is currently the fourth best CB in the 2008 class and is expected to go in round 1.

According to the site:
"The 6-2, 195-pound Bowman has great speed, clocking a 4.36 40-yard dash in winter conditioning, a Husker position record for defensive backs. He also has good coverage skills and great leaping ability, making him a prototypical cornerback with the skills to play at the next level."
Andre Jones is currently the 14th ranked CB in the 2008 class.
“Andre Jones earned a five-star rating from and was ranked the fourth-best junior college prospect in the country, regardless of position. Jones, who played high school ball at Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., recorded 50 tackles and three interceptions as a senior in high school, following up a junior campaign in which he tallied 44 tackles and four interceptions. After originally committing to Kentucky out of high school, Jones played in three games for the Wildcats in 2003 before suffering a season-ending leg injury. Jones was awarded a medical redshirt season for 2003, and transferred to Fresno City (Calif.) Junior College to start the 2004 season.”
Finally, and just for Chuck:

Cortney Grixby is currently ranked as the 31st best CB in the 2008 class.
“PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2007: CB Cortney Grixby developed into a top-notch cover man who ranked among the Big 12 leaders in passes defended. That won't stop opponents from attempting to pick on Grixby, who stands just 5-9 and must play smart to negate that disadvantage.”

DXP Bowl Game Pick'em Final Results

And the winner is...Brandon Vogel Brennan Vogel. Congratulations. Brennan is the brother of Brandon who was the winner of FOXSports' second ever Next Great Sportswriter competition. You can read Brandon's blog here. Despite Brandon's writing talent, clearly Brennan is the college football expert in the family.

Dr. D had a chance to come away with the win, but much like the bars at closing time, the good doctor walks away empty handed.

Props to my Mom for a solid finish in the Top 20. I won't run down the list of folks that she finished ahead of, but you know who are...cough...Sammy Vegas...cough

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest and I expect I'll be organizing a March Madness pool when the time comes.

Monday, January 08, 2007

All the Marbles

So, tonight is finally the night that college football crowns its "Super Awesome Fun American Football Team of the Year". I for one can't wait. Unfortunately I have nothing insightful to say about the match up. I expect Ohio State to be a bit more physical and for even Florida's most broken plays to be described as demonstrative of Urban Meyer's superior intellect.

Outside of that I decided the National Championship game was a good time to remind folks just how Ohio State stockpiles its immense talent. Without further ado I present to you the Best Recruiting Video Ever (HT - MZone). A word of warning, the video is not the slightest bit safe for work - unless Hugh Hefner happens to be your boss.

Oh, and Don't forget...

Friday, January 05, 2007

More on Fourth Down Decision-Making

Here is a New York Times article (Registration required) from December of 2004 discussing the science of fourth down decisions.
“Belichick is known for his unorthodox strategies: being more willing than most to not punt on fourth down; running the ball far more than average in certain crucial situations; and eschewing two-point-conversion attempts in situations when orthodox doctrine recommends them.

Not coincidentally, experts in the world of football statistical analysis endorse all these strategies. For example, David Romer, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, published a working paper arguing that conventional football wisdom led to far too much punting. Romer analyzed thousands of plays and calculated the chance of scoring from any position on the field. Based on that, he gauged the relative worth of the field position gained by punting against the lost opportunity to score. Romer found that football coaches punt far more than they ought to -- perhaps acting out of fear of the worst outcome (going for it on fourth down and failing), rather than rationally balancing risk and reward.

Romer's paper, ''It's Fourth Down and What Does the Bellman Equation Say? A Dynamic Programming Analysis of Football Strategy,'' is far from light reading, so it came as a shock to Romer when he learned that Belichick, who was an economics major at Wesleyan University, had read it.”

If Sam Keller Doesn't Work Out...

Jessica Alba looks to have all the tools to guide the Huskers in 2007.

My. Dear. Lord.