September 9, 2010

Thursday notebook: Huskers settling in

As Nebraska wrapped up it's final full practice of the week in preparation for Saturday's game against Idaho, there was a much more settling feel from head coach Bo Pelini compared to a week ago.

A week ago, the Huskers had to try and game plan for a Western Kentucky team no one really knew much of anything about, and they also lost starting Mike linebacker Will Compton during the final full day of practice.

This time around, though, NU's coaching staff had a much better idea of what it was getting its team into when Idaho comes to town, and they made it the entire week without losing a key player for a significant amount of time due to injury.

For the players, Pelini said the past week has gone a lot smoother than the last, which he hopes will continue to be the case the rest of the season.

"It's a daily challenge for them," Pelini said. "Let me tell you, there isn't a guy here who has everything completely figured out. The more reps they get, the more experience they get, the more practice time they get, the better of a football team we're going to become. These guys have got to challenge themselves everyday to get better and keep learning, because there's a lot to learn."

One of the biggest differences between this week and last was the fact that Nebraska's first-year contributors all had a game of experience under their belts. As a result, Pelini said they had a much better idea of what to prepare themselves for and how to prepare for it.

"There are a lot of things that happen in the first game that you can't simulate in practice," Pelini said. "It's just part of the deal. That's the way it is at this level, the high school level, the pro level. It's the same deal. There are certain things you can't simulate in the practice setting, so you've got to go out there, you've got to learn from your experience and you move on."

In particular, Pelini said linebackers like Alonzo Whaley and Lavonte David have taken major strides mentally since playing in their first games as Husker starters.

"As a linebacker group as a whole, I think they made a big jump this week," Pelini said. "But like I said, we've still got a long way to go. I thought the communication was better this week. I think they're understanding, and they continue to get better."

Tuesday practice takes
Hard to gauge: Nebraska's coaches have been reluctant to give out too much praise for the offense's performance against Western Kentucky this week, mostly because there really weren't very many plays to give a good enough evaluation. The Huskers ran a total of 58 plays on Saturday, with 33 of them being runs and just 25 of them passes. Compared to the 73 plays NU ran against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, it's easy to see why the coaches are waiting to see a little bit more from their offense before making any judgments one way or the other.

Bohl bashes Kansas:
Maybe North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl still harbors some old grudges against Kansas from his days as Nebraska's defensive coordinator. After shocking the Jayhawks on Saturday, Bohl said he was much more worried about the caliber of opponent Northern Iowa would be compared to what his Bison faced last week in KU. "I think the environment that we're going to play in Cedar Falls (Iowa) is going to be much more of a hostile environment than Memorial Stadium in Kansas. That was pretty docile," Bohl said. "And the type of team that we're going to be playing is going to be a much more physical, aggressive football team than KU. And quite frankly, I think we're going to be playing a better opponent. I know one school is in the Big 12 and the other one is in the Missouri Valley. I think that gives an indication on how we see Missouri Valley play and the respect we give Northern Iowa."

Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini said sophomore defensive end Cameron Meredith would be ready to play on Saturday after dislocating his shoulder last week against Western Kentucky. Pelini also said junior right tackle Marcel Jones, who sat out last week with an injury, returned to practice and would be available to play, though he said Jones would still be a game time decision.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced in helmets only for 90-mintes on the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Thursday, as the Huskers wrapped up their final full practice session of the week. The team will hold a brief walk-thru practice on Friday before getting ready for Saturday's 11:30 a.m. kickoff against Idaho.

Martinez alters WR blocking roles

Because of the redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez's big play ability running the football, Nebraska's wide receivers have had to adjust their blocking responsibilities a bit when he's under center.

Though he only scrambled once during Saturday's win over Western Kentucky, the Huskers' wide outs must be more aware of where Martinez is on the field and what he's doing with the ball while running their routes.

Receivers coach Ted Gilmore said his receivers have utilized a drill during practice where they break off their routes and turn into blockers when the quarterback decides to scramble.

"Every route, we have what we call getting phased up with the quarterback, where the guys know they've got to break those routes off and work that (blocking) technique," Gilmore said. "We're always talking about finding work, so whether it's in the run game or the pass game, we need to find somebody to block."

It hasn't been a complete blocking makeover for NU's receivers since the arrival of Martinez, however. Gilmore said his players have always been coached on blocking downfield to help spring big runs no matter who has the ball.

"What we're doing in the run game, and it involves the quarterback, but in my mind he's just another ball carrier," Gilmore said. "It doesn't matter if it's the quarterback carrying it or a running back, we're the difference on the second level from 5, 10, 20 (yards) or taking one to the house. We've got to accept that challenge."

- Robin Washut

Cotton happy with play at left tackle

One of the big question marks this offseason was who was going to emerge as Nebraska's starting left tackle.

While redshirt freshman Jeremiah Sirles ended up getting the start on Saturday over junior Jermarcus Hardrick, offensive line coach Barney Cotton said both players performed very well in their respective debuts.

Sirles was especially impressive because of the fact that he played snaps at both left and right tackle during the game, Cotton said. Because junior right tackle [/db]Marcel Jones[/db] was held out with an injury, Sirles moved over midway through the game to give senior D.J. Jones a break.

Given that Sirles had only started taking reps at right tackle for a few days before the game, Cotton said his performance was that much better.

"I think that's the case because he's a pretty intelligent guy," Cotton said of Sirels' quick progress. "We considered playing him last year as a true freshman until he kind of banged himself up a little bit and missed 30 days. But for a guy at his age to play both tackle spots and to keep it all straight, that's a pretty good feat in itself. He's still a work in progress, but we like what we've seen so far."

As for Hardrick, Cotton said the junior college transfer translated all of the raw talent he showed during fall camp onto the field on Saturday, though he still needed to get better at focusing on the little details in his technique.

"It's not that he doesn't pay attention to the little things, it's just that he's got to get a little bit better at the little things," Cotton said. "He played probably half the game the other night, and he's going to be playing for us. Hopefully with every bit of game experience he gets the better and better he gets."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***One receiver who flew under the radar on Saturday was senior Will Henry, who saw the most extensive playing time of his career. Gilmore said Henry has improved dramatically since last season, and he's going to continue to be in the mix as long as he keeps it up.

"Will's biggest struggle to this point has been catching the ball consistently," Gilmore said. "Will works hard. It's very important to him, and he's an awesome young man. What he's done actually since the spring has been catch the ball. He's in a position now where he would be the next X or the next Z to go in the ball game, depending on the situation… We do have faith in him and we do have confidence in him that he'll get the job done."

***Cotton said junior center Mike Caputo played as well as he expected him to on Saturday, saying he didn't notice any drop off between Caputo's play from former center Jacob Hickman.

"He's got a really good grasp of things intelligence wise, making calls and stuff like that, and he's a very good technician," Cotton said. "He's a little bit short-armed in pass protection, but he kind of makes up for that with effort and being in the right place at the right time. He got a little adrenaline-ized, if that's even a word, early in the game with his first start, but he settled down after a couple of problems and played a pretty solid game."

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