October 22, 2009

Thursday notebook: Lawrence gives up football

Nebraska got some disappointing but not surprising news on Thursday, as junior linebacker Blake Lawrence announced he was stepping away from the game of football for good.

In a written statement handed out to media before the end of practice, Lawrence said he met with his family, Nebraska's coaches, trainers and team doctor last night and decided the health risks of continuing to play outweighed the benefits.

Lawrence has suffered four concussions in the past 18 months.

"Football has been an integral part of my life since my earliest years, and has helped propel me to great heights," Lawrence wrote. "Playing football at the University of Nebraska has been one of my greatest accomplishments, and I will always be proud to say I am a Cornhusker."

The good news is that Lawrence will remain with the team for the rest of the season, serving as what he described as "a coach and mentor on the team." Head coach Bo Pelini said he was sad to see Lawrence hang up his cleats, but would make sure he would continue to be an important part of the team.

"It's too bad. I feel bad for Blake," Pelini said. "It's the right thing for his future. You start having some concussions and things - I mean, he's a talented kid with a tremendous future ahead of him, whatever he decides to do after playing here. He's still a big part of this football team.

"It's the right decision for him. It's a no-brainer. We'll still take care of him. He's still one of us and he's still one of our own."

Lawrence played in three games for the Huskers this season, including starting the first two games at WILL linebacker. He finished the year with 10 tackles. For his career, the Shawnee Mission, Kan., native had 33 tackles, one pass breakup and an interception in three seasons.

"Playing football for Nebraska has provided me with amazing memories that I will never forget," Lawrence wrote. "I have been able to share my experiences with the greatest fans in college football. My status as a Cornhusker has given me ability to make an impact in others' lives, from signing autographs for future Huskers, or talking with the elderly about the experience of Nebraska football. I have been truly humbled by the love Nebraskans have for this sport.

"I will continue my role as a student-athlete leader at the University, and will represent Nebraska in all my future endeavors. I am blessed to have been able to play for the greatest football team in college history. Thank to all who made it possible, and thank you for your constant support through this process."

Thursday practice takes
ISU building strong o-line reputation: If everything on offense starts up front, then Iowa State is laying a pretty solid foundation for the future this season. The Cyclones currently boast the nation's 14th-ranked rushing offense (213.9 yards per game), which also leads the Big 12 Conference. Additionally, they've only allowed three sacks through seven games, which ranks second nationally and second in the Big 12. It's been a process of building from the ground up for first-year ISU head coach Paul Rhoads this year, but he's off to a pretty good start in developing what currently looks to be one of the best offensive lines in all of college football.
No. 1 on the board: Both Sports Illustrated and ESPN's Mel Kiper came out with their updated NFL Draft boards on Thursday, and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has replaced Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford as the No. 1 overall prospect on the board. It's been a long time since the Huskers could say that. The assumption is Bradford's series of shoulder injuries has dropped his overall stock in the eyes of NFL teams.
Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini said senior wide receiver Chris Brooks (lower back) did not practice again on Thursday, and Pelini did not expect him to play on Saturday. Sophomore cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and junior running back Roy Helu both wore green no-contact jerseys, but both are expected to be ready to go against the Cyclones.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a 90-minute helmets only practice inside the Hawks indoor practice facility on Thursday. NU is scheduled to hold a short walk-thru practice on Friday afternoon in preparation for Saturday's 11:30 a.m. kickoff.

No change on QB front

Pelini had no news on Nebraska's quarterback competition on Thursday, saying once again that it would be a game-time decision between junior Zac Lee and freshman Cody Green.

"Like I said earlier, nothing has changed there," Pelini said. "You guys will find out what happens when the game starts. If we were going to name something different, we wouldn't do it here. Nothing has changed at the quarterback position. I don't know how many times I can say that."

As they've been doing all week, the quarterbacks again wore regular red practice jerseys on Thursday, and both stayed after practice as usual to test out the footballs they wanted to use on Saturday.

From the way Pelini has been talking, it looks like he's going to stick to his word and not officially name the starter until Saturday.

Last week, Pelini handed out the Blackshirts to the defense on Friday after putting it off all week, and it didn't take long for the news to leak out to the public.

Arnaud, Alexander questionable?

As if the task of beating Nebraska in Lincoln for the first time since 1977 wouldn't be a tough enough task for Iowa State, there's a chance the Cyclones might have to try and do it without their top two offensive weapons.

Heading into Thursday, both quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson were listed as questionable for Saturday's game.

Arnaud bruised his throwing hand after hitting it on a defender's face mask last week against Baylor, while Robinson - the Big 12's leading rusher - has been hampered the bulk of the week with a groin injury.

Rhodes said both players would start against the Huskers, but neither would likely be 100 percent for the game. Robinson's injury is currently the bigger concern, especially considering the practice reps he's missed this week.

West still a factor in secondary

Even though he's had to deal with losing his starting cornerback job the past couple weeks, junior Anthony West has maintained a positive attitude throughout and is still a key player in Nebraska's secondary, NU defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders said.

West started the first four games of the season at right cornerback, but eventually lost the spot to sophomore Alfonzo Dennard heading into the Missouri game. Since then, he's played spot duty in the Huskers' nickel and dime defensive packages, but Sanders said he still considers West a valuable asset to the defense.

"Alfonzo Dennard has become the starter at that position, and he's done some really nice things, and I'm excited to see that," Sanders said. "But Anthony West is capable, and I would not have any problem pulling the trigger and putting him in the game."

Sanders said West's experience and knowledge of NU's coverage schemes make him a nice weapon to have in terms of providing quality depth in the secondary rotation. Last week against Texas Tech, West played his biggest role since losing his starting job, as he worked in as a dime and nickel back in the game.

What Sanders said he's especially liked about West has been the positive attitude he's maintained throughout the situation, saying he hasn't expressed any negativity about his decreased role.

"He's complete team player," Sanders said. "That's what I feel is really good about our guys back there, is that they really want to help each other out and they want to see everybody succeed. I've worked Anthony at some nickel and dime, and he was able to come in there in the game and be effective for us.

"He works hard like he was a starter, and that's what we want to make sure we do with all our guys."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Pelini said the Huskers had a good practice on Thursday, and that it's been an overall good week for the team as it tries to bounce back from last week's loss.

***Pelini said there were also no new developments at the No. 2 running back spot, as he said it would likely be handled by committee on Saturday like it was last week.

***Pelini also touched on the wide receivers, saying he's been pleased with the way the unit has responded from less-than-ideal performance last week.

"We had a good week," he said. "I liked the physicality they brought to the table. I liked the way they blocked. I thought we took some steps forward in that area, and now we've got to put it on the field on Saturday."

***When former Nebraska head coach Frank Solich was in the market for a defensive coordinator after the 2002 season, besides Bo Pelini one of the other candidates he interviewed was current Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads.

When you start to think about it now, how much different would things be if Solich hired Rhoads. One thing is certain though, Husker fans are obviously happy with the hire of Pelini and Cyclone fans feel the same away about the hiring of Rhoads after a 4-3 start.

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