LINCOLN — Trying to glean anything from the Nebraska spring game is like hillbilly hand fishing — you're reaching around in the muck hoping to find anything that bites back. Once you feel like you're getting a hand on something, it usually slips away.
Bear with the analogy for a minute — this column is going somewhere.
The muck in Lincoln Saturday was the mix of first- and second-teamers for Nebraska spread across both the Red and White teams. Heck, there was no way to sort out the potential starters from the walk-ons — the fish from the muck.
Husker fans are hopeful after a 2012 season that featured a series of disappointing defensive performances in the big games, that somewhere in the muck coaches will find fresh talent to turn the Blackshirts around.
If you're sticking your hands blindly below water looking for something to bite back, you may be disappointed in this year's annual scrimmage. As a journalist I was hoping to see how the tandem of Vincent Valentine and Aaron Curry held up in the middle of the defensive line — where NU has been slow and lacking depth for the past three or four seasons.
The big fish, 325-pound Valentine, stood on the sideline in street clothes, while Curry and senior Jay Guy anchored the first-team defensive front where Jason Ankrah and Walker Ashburn joined them at the end spots.
Keep in mind, this is just a spring game, but in the first half the Red defensive line look winded as the White offense of a bunch of different stringers put together two impressive scoring drives. What's more, it was hard to watch Ankrah being held in check during a drill called the "find-a-way-to-win drill." It features a ball carrier with two blockers, going up against one defender who has seconds to find a way to the ball carrier.
Ankrah didn't come close — maybe he's saving it for the season opener Aug. 31 against Wyoming. Good news is linebacker Zaire Anderson looks to be completely recovered from the injury that sidelined him at the start of 2012 — as he did get to the ball carrier in the same drill.
Yes, the spring game is evolving into something entirely not a game — actually kind of refreshing.
They even stopped the action a couple of times in the first half to hold a series of team "games" within the "game," including the punt-catch competition for linemen (yeah, I said linemen). St. Cecilia graduate Zach Sterup, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, was the only big guy to show even a hint of athleticism, catching a punt over the shoulder and drawing high fives from the White sideline.
The most disappointing development of the day came when the highly anticipated tug-of-war was canceled. (I'm not kidding.)
In all seriousness, maybe most impressive of all the defensive newcomers is redshirt freshman Thomas Brown, who shows prowess as a downhill tackler and has decent closing speed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. And the guy was a hitter on the Red kickoff team Saturday. There are parts and pieces to string together a pretty athletic defense. Redshirt freshman defensive end Avery Moss has long arms and reminds you of Neil Smith in stature. Emphasis here on "reminds." Wouldn't want to put too much pressure on these young guys just yet — there will be plenty of time for that in the fall.
OK, still fishing here.
On the offensive side of the ball — again, this is the spring game — senior quarterback Ron Kellogg III looks comfortable running the offense and made some nice throws in the first half. He was 11-for-12 passing for 148 yards, with a touchdown to sophomore tight end David Sutton.
The future of the Husker offense showed flashes, as redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Westerkamp turned heads with a couple of nice runs after the catch. Redshirt freshman Alonzo Moore is long and fast and had a nice catch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Red team could have turned a few more heads in that tug-of-war — imagine the 6-1, 225-pound Imani Cross anchoring the Red squad.
Though he fumbled on his first snap behind center and then again in the second half, redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong was, well, strong running the option and showed a real knack for when to pitch to the trailing back. Speaking of I-backs, redshirt freshman King Frazier churned out 58 yards rushing, including an 18-yard run and a touchdown in the first half — again, this in the spring game.
So back to the bite analogy here — the spring game is no time to make grand predictions about an upcoming football season that is a summer away.
I've learned the hard way throughout the years that you really can't take these spring games all that seriously.
Some things are more important.
Think of it, I could write in stone that No. 22 Jack Hoffman's 69-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes sealed his spot on the depth chart. Yet that would understate the tough times little Jack has been through.
See, he's the little boy battling cancer who Rex Burkhead has taken under his wings.
He lived out a dream in playing one, big play for the Big Red, wearing his favorite player's number.
That's better than watching hillbilly hand fishing any old day.