Getting tough: Frost wants Huskers' practices to be physical
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By ERIC OLSON
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Scott Frost often harkens to his playing days in the 1990s when the Tom Osborne-coached Nebraska teams used brute force to impose their will on overmatched opponents. Three national championships in four years validated that way of doing things.
Upon his return as the new coach, Frost found a team that had gone soft - something apparent to those who watched a 4-8 season in 2017. The winter strength and conditioning program was, by all accounts, extremely taxing and went a long way to get the players in better shape.
Now Frost is using spring practice to toughen them up.
"We're going to try to keep the guys healthy," he said, "but we need to learn how to be physical."
Practices were famously not physical under Mike Riley. Full contact was extremely rare. Riley, maybe only half-jokingly, once characterized a practice as "recess."
Frost said he ramped up the amount of contact in practices during UCF's 13-0 campaign in 2017. He said that decision was based on advice he received from Osborne last summer.
"Back in the '90s during the season we would have some live reps on Tuesday and some live reps on Wednesday," Frost said. "I remember as a player thinking how that kept us so much sharper, and when we hit the field on game day, that wasn't as hard as Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We adopted that last year and we actually went live to the ground even during the season, and I think it made a difference for us. We need to be able to run and hit, and we need reps at it, so we're going to take some live reps this spring."
Across the sport there's been a move toward less contact in practices. For now, Nebraska is going against the trend.
"It's definitely why a lot of guys play football," linebacker Will Honas said. "They love the physical aspect, and it's good to get the pads popping."
"It brings the best out of everybody," running back Greg Bell said.
Frost said he's been impressed with how the players have responded, especially the offensive line.
"I'm seeing them start to get some movement up front and get us some yards coming off the ball," he said, "and that all comes down to the weight room. It's been that way (traditionally) in Lincoln, Nebraska, for a long time, and we're going to keep pushing the envelope there."
Tackling remains a concern for a defense ranked among the worst in the nation last season. Two years ago, Nebraska paid the Seattle-based company Atavus $100,000 to consult coaches on how to implement rugby-style tackling, an experiment that lasted a year. Frost did a double-take when a reporter asked if he had considered hiring a consultant.
"Tackling consultant? Hey, they pay us good money to coach," he said. "If we don't know what we're doing, then they probably need a different coach."
Frost, who played quarterback at Nebraska and switched to safety in the pros, led a meeting about tackling on Monday. He said he was a poor tackler in the NFL until his coaches at Tampa Bay taught him the proper way. Frost said he wants to see relentless effort in the tackling.
"We're going to work on it every single day until these guys master it," he said. "If you're going to run through a tackle and be aggressive, you're going to miss some until you get good at it. I want guys to continue to try to make the big hit - the splash play, the impact play - instead of being afraid to go make that play."
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Updated April 4, 2018