After Tuesday night's practice, Bo Pelini raised a few eyebrows with his assessment of the prospects for the Nebraska defense in 2013:
"They're going to be playing good football when they kick it off. I have every confidence. I like what I've seen from our defense so far. I like what we're doing. You guys are the ones that are concerned about the defense, not me. We'll be just fine."
Cynics will immediately dismiss Pelini's comments as coachspeak, and they wouldn't necessarily be wrong for thinking that way. The Blackshirts only return four starters on a defense that got exposed in some big games. (Wisconsin scores again, and will be depending on several young players who have seen little, if any, playing time. So it's natural to be skeptical.
In fact, until we see otherwise, being skeptical is probably the safest conclusion fans can make.
That being said, there is a danger in dismissing Pelini's statements entirely. Sure, Pelini frequently throws out "fine" in reference to player injuries, only to have that player sidelined the next week or two. But Pelini is watching the team practice, not us. Skeptics are inferring the failures of 2012 onto the 2013 team, which is going to have a mostly brand-new lineup. Some redshirted last season, like Vincent Valentine, who's apparently looking like he's in better shape. Some played briefly, then were injured, like Zaire Anderson. Others are brand new, like Randy Gregory, who's raising eyebrows in his first practices.
Apparently Pelini feels he has enough depth at linebacker to move Max Pirman over to tight end. That's even after losing Trevor Roach to a season-ending injury and Thomas Brown to a career-ending bad decision. So I suspect that Pelini is not glossing over the weaknesses. I don't think he's saying that he's done an excellent job, in every way.
But by that same measure, he's setting fans expectations that the defense will be "fine" in 2013. That doesn't mean we should expect a defense playing at a 2009 level this season. But we also shouldn't expect a defense that fails like the 2012 defense did at times. Fans shouldn't expect that UCLA will accumulate over 600 yards, or that Nebraska will yield more than 60 points in games this season.
If that happens, faith in Pelini will lessen even further. I like Bo Pelini. I think he's done a pretty good job as a coach so far. I also think he can do a better job, though.
And if he tells us that the defense is fine, he'd better be telling us the truth.