August 12, 2009

Wednesday notebook: Plenty of competition at RB

There's little question of Roy Helu and Quentin Castille's place on Nebraska's upcoming depth chart at running back this season.

After them, however, is a completely different story.

The competition for the No. 3 running back spot is arguably one of the most wide open battles going on in fall camp at the moment, as the Huskers are loaded with a wealth of young talent all looking to get a chance to prove itself.

At the end of spring practice, redshirt freshman Lester Ward looked to be the frontrunner for the No. 3 spot. But when the Spring Game rolled around, it was sophomore Austin Jones who finished with more carries (12) than anyone.

Now five days into fall camp, the picture hasn't gotten any clearer. Running backs coach Tim Beck said there is no depth chart of any sort at the moment, but if there were, it would likely be changed daily.

"It varies every day," Beck said. "I've been pleased with their progress. They're all getting better. They're all learning little nuances and playing with better detail. The young guys are still a little bit swamped, but I saw some good things today out of those guys, so they're getting there."

Things got even more cluttered with the arrival of true freshmen Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson this fall. Beck said both players have started as well as he could've hoped for, and he's currently preparing both as if they were going to play immediately this season.

"They're guys, I mean, we're getting them ready," he said. "You're at a position where those guys get hit every play, so you're an injury or two away from playing… If you watch, you'll see. I mean there's times they're with the ones. I just throw them in there and see how they do against some of the older guys."

Beck said both Burkhead and Robinson took significant strides during Wednesday's practice, which was the first full-padded session of the fall.

Tuesday fall camp takes
Spano's injury in perspective: So what exactly does the injury to redshirt freshman Kody Spano do to the quarterback position? Well, for starters it puts NU in a situation where they have to make a decision that either junior Latravis Washington or freshman Cody Green won't be able to redshirt the 2009 season. It's hard to say what direction offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will go with this one.
Punt return talk: Special teams coach John Papuchis said on Wednesday that senior Niles Paul, sophomore Alfonzo Dennard and redshirt freshman Tim Marlowe along with a handful of different true freshmen are getting looks to be the starting punt return specialist this year. Paul returned punts last year, but I would like to see them go in a different direction this year and try somebody like freshman Rex Burkhead or Dennard.
Injury update: Junior offensive lineman Ricky Henrey, freshman Dijon Washington and Dennard all sat out Wednesday's practice with minor bumps and bruises. Head coach Bo Pelini said none of the injuries are serious.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team held a 2 full-padded practice on the grass practice fields North of Memorial Stadium on Wednesday. The Huskers will come back for another full-padded workout on Thursday from 3:45 to 6:00 p.m. NU's first two-a-day session is on Friday at 9 a.m.

"Today was a good jump for both of them," he said. "I think today was a day you really saw them get a little more comfortable. Yesterday I think they imploded a little bit. They're both coming along. They're kind of like Roy and Q in that they each bring a little something different to the game."

There likely won't be anything settled any time soon, but Beck said he hoped to at least start getting an idea of how things might end up by the end of the week as the players get some more reps in full pads under their belts. Until then, the No. 3 spot will remain up for the taking.

- Robin Washut

No NFL plans yet for Allen

In the wake of Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini's claim that junior defensive end Pierre Allen had the potential to be a "superstar", it at least appears that Allen hasn't let the praise get to his head.

With the potential to put up some big individual numbers this season with the bulk of the blocking attention geared towards senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Allen could be lured to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft if his stats are good enough.

However, Allen said his focus is solely on the task at hand in Lincoln.

"I don't know, probably not," Allen said when asked if he's thought about jumping to the NFL following this season. "I've got a great coaching staff here that's been preparing me, and I've still got a lot to learn. I mean, we'll see what happens, but right now I'm just trying to stay focused on getting better.

"Right now I'm focused on graduating, so I don't see myself leaving any time soon."

For now, it appears Allen is taking the same approach Suh did last season when many thought he would leave early for NFL millions. Suh stood firm in staying for his senior year, stating his determination to help Nebraska continue to get better and attain his degree as his primary motivations.

Allen said considering how much he's gained from one year under Carl Pelini and head coach Bo Pelini's staff, another year at NU might be the difference of several million dollars.

"I'm a totally different player from last year," Allen said, "so I can only imagine if I stay one more year what that could do for my future."

- Robin Washut

Feeling the competition

One of the deeper position groups in fall camp for Nebraska is in the secondary. The Huskers literally have 10 or more people vying for playing time this August.

Senior safety Rickey Thenarse is one of those players and he said the competition has been fierce each day.

"It's real competitive," Thenarse said. "Dudes are getting moved in and moved out. Coach says every day we can't make those mental errors or you'll get pulled out and somebody new will come in. It's real heated and real tense and I can tell just everybody is on their job."

Thenarse said that secondary coach Marvin Sanders has seniors Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon working with the No. 1 defense and junior Eric Hagg, redshirt freshman P.J. Smith and himself are rotating in with them. Thenarse added that two safety spots are interchangeable and Sanders plays everyone on both the left and ride sides.

"There's not a lot of messing around," Thenarse said. "People are just watching film and recovering for the next day. We are talking to each other more on the field now and on the sideline we are talking to each other more and we are taking more mental reps. We mean business."

-Sean Callahan

Rules of the fumble game

Junior linebacker Blake Lawrence gave a better clarification of what exactly the rules of the fumble game are that Pelini put in place for fall camp.

Lawrence said there is actually only one live football in the game and it goes back and forth between the freshmen and the upperclassmen. On Tuesday, freshman offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles was carrying the ball, but he had it stripped from him by redshirt freshman Courtney Osborne.

Sirles sure did do his best to protect the football though. Lawrence said he surrounded himself with lineman like freshman Brent Qvale to help protect the football.

"We got the ball out last night from Jeremiah Sirles," Lawrence said. "Those big old linemen don't have the hands like the running backs, so we got it out from him. So far we are hoping they don't get it back from us before the team meetings tonight."

Lawrence said the coaches even added three decoy balls that don't count if they get stripped or taken away. He said it's been pretty fun over the last few days playing Pelini's fall camp game.

"They gave it back to the freshman last night and they said it's your job to take care of it and make sure the upperclassmen don't strip it," Lawrence said. "We got it back from them, so we aren't (grass) rolling tomorrow.

"Almost everywhere is fair game. They are trying not to get us to do a dog pile in the Hewitt Center when we are all eating. There's been no dog piles on top of dinner tables, but other than that it's been pretty much fair game."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***The competition for the starting job at right guard might be one of the more intriguing storylines of fall camp, but for the guy who will like be playing next to the eventually winner, it really is merely a technicality.

"We don't want to just have definite starters," starting right tackle Marcel Jones said. "Guys go down, and you have to have other guys ready plug in… There's no set, definite starter on our o-line, because the guy behind him is just as good if we plug him in and give him a chance."

***He didn't really say a whole lot, but Wednesday marked the first time senior linebacker Colton Koehler held a group interview after practice since he stepped onto the scene last season.

One of the things Koehler did talk about was how well he and the rest of NU's walk-on defensive players performed when called upon after starters were forced to miss time due to injury/suspension.

"I think we stepped in and did what we had to do," Koehler said. "We tried to step in and make it so there wasn't much transition in there at all, and I think for the most part we accomplished that. I think it went pretty well. It was definitely unfortunate with everything that took place, but I think we adapted pretty well for the circumstances."

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