Pelini: We’re ahead of where I expected
By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State football coach Bo Pelini didn’t watch a lot of film of last year’s Penguins before spring practice, preferring to keep an open mind about his roster.
After 14 practices, he’s pretty pleased.
“I like the ingredients on this team,” he said. “I like the potential on this team. We have a long way to go to be the type of team we want to be and have the type of season we want to have, but I think it’s been very productive.
“We’re probably a little ahead of where I thought we’d be.”
The Penguins get to show their progress at tonight’s 43rd annual Red-White spring game at 7:30 at Stambaugh Stadium. The scrimmage will pit starters against starters (and backups against backups) and will feature regular rules in the first half and a running clock in the second half.
“We’re not real deep — no one is this time of year — so if we have to shorten it up, we’ll shorten it up,” he said.
While there were no real surprises on the rosters — the only returning starter who got demoted was junior cornerback Nate Dortch — Pelini said tonight’s game gives everyone one last chance to impress.
“We get to see how guys react in a game-type atmosphere,” he said. “For players, it gives them one more opportunity to show they’re ready to play and compete for a spot on the club.”
YSU’s offense returns eight starters from last year’s 7-5 team, including sophomore quarterback Hunter Wells, along with offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery and line coach Carmen Bricillo. While the Penguins need to replace a wide receiver, a tight end and a center, this spring has been relatively smooth on that side of the ball.
Defensively, six starters (more or less) return. But while linebackers coach Ron Stoops was promoted to defensive coordinator, the 4-3 scheme (which features a lot of nickel) is definitely new and definitely Pelini’s.
“I feel really good about the amount we have installed,” Pelini said. “Obviously we have continuity on the offensive side, but we had some new offensive coaches who had to come together and get on the same page and I think that happened. Defensively, we came together quickly and we got a lot in.
“We’ve laid a good foundation heading into fall camp and that’s what we needed to accomplish.”
The biggest question marks are on special teams. YSU graduated Joey Cejudo, who handled kicking the past two years and punting last season, and the five kickers/punters on the roster are all freshmen or sophomores.
“That’s an area of concern for me,” Pelini said. “We have potential in that area but we have a long way to go.”
YSU will break for more than three months after tonight’s game and Pelini said it’s important for them to get time away from football.
“You have to give guys a chance to have a summer,” he said. “You need time to recharge your batteries and come back hungry and ready to go.”
That said, Pelini expects his players to work.
“If we stop thinking about football from now until August, we’re gonna get the same result that they have over the last few years,” he said. “There has to be a level of commitment to continue to learn, to understand what we’ve done over the last 15 practices so we can solidify the foundation we’ve laid.
“They need to work their butts off in the summer to be the best-conditioned football team out there when we get together in August.”
Nebraska had more than 60,000 fans at last year’s spring game — tops in the Big Ten — but Pelini said going from the Lincoln spotlight to his hometown hasn’t been much of an adjustment so far.
“To me, coaching’s coaching,” he said. “I enjoy the football aspect of the job. The teaching. I think guys have put in a lot of time and effort this spring and I’ve seen the progress. I enjoy this time of year and I learned a lot.”