Published Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 7:47 am
FOOTBALL
Shatel: A great day for Jack, a summer of work for defense

LINCOLN — We saw the next great Nebraska football star on Saturday.

He introduced himself late in the Red-White spring game. The kid came out of nowhere. But they'll be talking about him today in every church pew and coffee house in the state.

He wore No. 22. He cracked through the right side of the line like a bolt of lightning. Then he raced like the wind toward the end zone, outrunning a team of pursuing defenders.

The kid scored and the crowd went wild. And then the entire Nebraska team — Team Jack — mobbed 7-year-old Jack Hoffman, the little big man undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

For the record, it was a 69-yard touchdown run, and it went into the official spring game stats. Jack was the Huskers' leading rusher. You can look it up.

It also goes down as the greatest thing you'll ever see at a spring game, and maybe any other Nebraska game.

It was, without question, the most memorable thing of this Red-White day.

That's to be expected. This was practice, after all, No. 15 of the spring. Several Huskers sat out the day. A defense full of no-names is being rebuilt. And there are 29 practices coming in August that will be more meaningful to depth charts and the definition of the 2013 season.

HOFFMAN STARS AT SPRING GAME
Click to read more about 7-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman's star turn at the Husker spring game.

But there were observations and takes to be had, too:

» Tommy Armstrong fumbled on his first play. So he's not perfect.

But No. 4 looked good after that. Very good. The redshirt freshman from suburban San Antonio runs a terrific option, better than Taylor Martinez, and has a strong arm. He threw a pair of sideline ropes, including one for a touchdown to Alonzo Moore.

Overall, it had to be what Husker fans wanted to see. Which is a future with hope. Armstrong shouldn't play much this fall, but if he does, he looks like someone who can make plays. And, perhaps, keep Martinez sharp.

» You can't go wrong with the name Tommy playing quarterback at Nebraska. It is “Tommy,” right? I just hope I don't write it “Tommie” Armstrong, after all these years.

» Those who came for a glimpse of hope on defense left disappointed. There were six scoring drives early. Busted assignments. Missed tackles. And the offense was vanilla, the quarterbacks refrained from running, nothing exotic going on.

Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said his young defense needs to spend the summer studying film and the playbook.

Is the defense too complicated? JP said no, in response to a question. He said the players know the defense on paper, it's “against moving parts” and “against formations” that things get dicey.

Will that issue be solved by Aug. 31? Maybe the better question: how many points can Nebraska's offense average this season?

» Are there playmakers on defense? Papuchis said there could be, if they do the work over the summer. He listed Avery Moss, Greg McMullen, Zaire Anderson, David Santos, Ciante Evans, Corey Cooper and Mo Seisay as “potential playmakers.”

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» Who's the next Thunderfoot? Mauro Bondi showed serious leg strength on a 50-yard field goal and a 55-yard attempt that was wide. Yes, they came with a strong wind. Still, that's a good sign. NU needs its recent string of effective field goal kickers to continue. The offense has a lot of weapons, but it doesn't need the pressure of having to score touchdowns all game.

» If Nebraska needs an offensive lineman to catch a punt, Andrew Rodriguez has game. So does Zach Sterup, who makes for a nice target at 6-8, 315.

» Watching Rodriguez try to catch a punt was fun. I'm more interested in watching Jamal Turner catch and run with punts. It will be good to have Turner on the field more this season. Remember when he returned the punt for a touchdown and did the flip in the end zone? That was five years ago, right?

» Alonzo Moore. Real deal.

» There will be depth at running back. Imani Cross is not just a short-yardage bruiser. King Frazier showed some good moves. The cavalry is coming in August.

» Tight end has not been a huge factor in the passing game at Nebraska. Tim Beck has so many options available at wide receiver, that trend shouldn't change. But Jake Long and Sam Cotton, who each had three catches, look capable. That won't be a problem spot for NU.

» I liked the sideshow additions to the spring game. The “Will To Win” drill was a nice change of pace. It may have been hard to follow from the stands, but nobody knew it was coming. Do it again next year.

No, not with coaches vs. the media.

Apparently there was a tug of war event and a field goal competition with coaches and players that didn't materialize. Too bad. I wanted to see Bo Pelini's range.

I'd like to see NU add more games and drills. Involve more former players. Have an alumni game. Do a skills competition. More, more, more. The spring “game” should be about entertainment, a day to sell and celebrate the program. It makes for good TV, too.

I like this side of Pelini. He understands the entertainment value of a spring game. And, to be sure, he also knows how to make a dream come true for a 7-year-old Husker hero.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com; twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini:



Video: NU's Taylor Martinez:



Video: NU's C.J. Zimmerer:



Video: Sights and sounds from Memorial Stadium:



Video: Spring game time lapse at Memorial Stadium:



Video: Jack Hoffman runs for a 69-yard touchdown:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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