April 8, 2011

Friday notebook: Martin having a ‘huge spring'

Finally the light bulb is starting to come on for junior Eric Martin.

After struggling to get on the field at linebacker, Martin appears to be right at home this spring working at defensive end.

With junior Cameron Meredith out recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, players like Martin have gotten extra reps this spring and according to defensive coordinator Carl Pelini it's allowed him to take some big steps.

"Eric Martin is having a heck of a spring," Pelini said. "He's doing well as a defensive end and he's playing well in all the different roles we are asking him to play.

"It's been a great spring for Eric and he's really made that transition well. He's going to be a force for us next year. He's really taking it serious and playing well."

Earlier this spring defensive line coach John Papuchis praised Martin for how far he's come and said they still plan to utilize him on special teams as well.

Papuchis added that Martin is a guy that's more than just a pass rusher off the edge and feels like he could have a big role in the defense in 2011.

"I see him being an every down player for us," Papuchis said. "I don't see any reason to limit him to third down at this point. He's competing to start and he's right in the mix to be one of our starting defensive ends. To this point there's nothing he's done that tells me he can't do it."

When Pelini looks at Martin it's his quickness and speed off the edge that he feels has allowed him to emerge this spring.

"He gives us a little bit different of a look than some of the other guys give us with his speed and athleticism," Pelini said. "He's not quite the size (of a typical defensive end), but he's plenty strong enough."

-Sean Callahan

Moore battling back

Terrence Moore never expected he'd have to play catch-up with younger and less experienced players during the spring of his senior season, but that's exactly what the past three weeks have been for the Husker defensive tackle.

After breaking his foot during Nebraska's loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl last season, Moore missed all of the team's winter workouts and came into the spring admittedly not nearly in the type of shape he had been prior to the injury.

As a result, the New Orleans, La., native has been stuck working primarily with the second-team defense, as junior Baker Steinkuhler and sophomore Thaddeus Randle have been getting the bulk of the first-team reps this spring.

"Right now I'm just trying to work myself back into shape," Moore said. "I didn't go through the winter, so I'm not where I want to be right now. This is just kind of getting back to where I need to be going into fall."

Moore said his foot has completely healed, but now it was just a matter of getting back into proper playing shape so he can compete at the level that allowed him to crack the starting lineup for the Holiday Bowl after Steinkuhler was suspended least season.

Defensive line coach John Papuchis said he's definitely noticed an impact on Moore missing nearly three months of workouts due to his injury, but said he was confident Moore would work as hard as possible to get himself back into the starting mix by fall camp.

"The injury and the lack of an offseason for him certainly holds him back a little bit, but he's getting close," Papuchis. "We've had close to three full weeks of spring ball now, so I would think he's pretty close to being ready to go.

"Terrence is a hard worker and a prideful guy, so I think he's ready to come and regain some role within the room."

- Robin Washut

Jones feeling good

After suffering a major back injury in 2010, it's been an uphill climb for senior Marcel Jones to get back to 100 percent.

Jones though has been able to make it through all 10 practices this spring and feels like his old self again.

"Right after the season ended I was rehabbing and went into the training room and got all the treatment I could and my back feels fine now," Jones said. "I can go out there and do everything I should be able to do."

Jones said the biggest thing he has to do now is show the coaches he's the player he was before the injury.

"It's always tough when you have to sit out with injury," Jones said. "You feel like you're leaving your brothers out there all by themselves and you know you can go out there and you know you can lead them. It was pretty tough just to bite the bullet and just try and get healthy. I feel a lot better now and I feel like I can go out there and lead my team."

-Sean Callahan

Ward adjusting to life at tight end

Seeing how junior Lester Ward had never played a single snap at tight end before in his entire life, it's easy to see how moving from running back to tight end this spring has been a bit of an adjustment.

In what Ward called a mutual decision by him and the Nebraska coaching staff, he changed positions despite his unfamiliarity in an effort to try and get some more playing time this season.

With three weeks now under his belt at tight end, Ward said he's slowly but surely adjusting to his new role for the Huskers.

"It's going pretty smooth," Ward said. "It's one of those kinds of things you just got to get a feel for the thought process of it and the mentality of it. It's a big difference, but it's been a pretty smooth transition so far."

Ward said the biggest hurdle has been adjusting his thinking during the play from a running back's perspective to that of a tight end, saying things are a little different up on the line of scrimmage than they are coming out of the backfield.

"If it was a battle, at running back you're on a horse," he said. "On the front lines, you're on foot. So right now I'm on foot. It's just different. You've got to learn how to fight a little harder."

Considering Nebraska's seeming lack of depth at running back this spring, Ward was asked if he's regretted changing positions yet.

With junior Rex Burkhead limited this spring and the running back unit bringing over players like Ty Kildow and Curenski Gilleylen over from receiver to try and provide some depth, this could have been the spring when Ward finally separated himself from the rest of the pack heading into fall camp.

"It's nothing concrete, we're just trying different things," Ward said. "That's the beauty of spring ball, you can try different things and just see how things work out… The Lord specializes in time and chance, so if it's in His will, it is. If tight end is in his will, it will happen. So nothing happens without a reason.

"Every part of me says it's a team thing. Whether it's running back, tight end, safety or a lineman, right now it's just a team thing. It's spring ball, and right now you want to try different things and see if you can put your team in a better situation regardless of where you play."

- Robin Washut

Legate bringing back visions of classic fullbacks

It seems like ages ago when the likes of Corey Schlesinger and the Makovicka brothers were bruising their way up the middle for touchdowns during Nebraska's heydays in the mid-1990s.

Senior fullback Tyler Legate, however, could be the next in line for the Huskers.

With the change in offensive scheme under new offensive coordinator Tim Beck, there's a good chance that the fullback position could become much more involved this season, and Legate has been leading the charge so far this spring.

Running backs coach Ron Brown said he's been very impressed with Legate's physical and relentless play over the past three weeks.

"Tyler is a really good football player, man," Brown said. "I really love coaching the guy. He's a physically punishing guy. Some of our biggest hits this spring have come off of his blocks. He brings a level of energy and tenacity that's unparalleled. He's a real tough kid. He gets hurt, but he just keeps playing through it."

In fact, Brown said Legate's fearless play has evoked some memories of some of Nebraska's famous former fullbacks.

"I like what he's done this spring," Brown said. "He's a great leader. In the mold of the old fullbacks, I think he fits in very well. Those guys were unsung heroes. We didn't even hardly recruit Joel Makovicka. We didn't offer him a scholarship coming in, and he ended up being a great player, obviously.

"A lot of those guys were walk-on players like Tyler was, and they ended up being starters and very good players. I think Tyler is right in that mold."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Papuchis gave a rundown of the top four players rotating at two defensive end positions this spring, and one name stood out a bit more than the others. Papuchis said Martin, junior Josh Williams, sophomore Jason Ankrah and redhshirt freshman Walker Ashburn have been the top four ends so far. Ashburn was ranked one of the top-40 players in Louisiana by Rivals.com coming out of high school.

***Papuchis also gave the names of the top contenders to replace Niles Paul at kick returner this season. Since NU started working on its kickoff return unit this week, Papuchis said Tim Marlowe, Brandon Kinnie, Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, Jamal Turner, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Josh Mitchell have all been taking reps this spring.

"We've got a bunch of guys back there trying to get a feel for who's going to be the guy," Papuchis said. "We're kind of just rolling through and seeing who's going to step up and take the job."

***Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez said none of the quarterbacks have worn green "no contact" jerseys this spring and that's actually something he's enjoyed.

"I like lowering my shoulder and actually hitting someone," Martinez said. "Pretty much in practice though the defense doesn't hit us."

***Martinez said that wide receivers Bell, Jean-Baptiste, Kinnie, Turner and tight end Kyler Reed have really emerged in his eyes as the "top guys."

***Offensive line coach Barney Cotton said that both Jones and sophomore Jeremiah Sirles have the ability to play both left or right tackle in the fall.

"Jeremiah is flop-able and played both sides last year," Cotton said. "Marcel (Jones) has played both sides. The other guys we really haven't experimented much with. To have two that have played in games is probably more than most people have."

***Carl Pelini said that a lot of different young cornerbacks have stepped it up this spring behind Alfonzo Dennard and Ciante Evans.

"Andrew Green is really having a good spring," Pelini said. "Dijon Washington is playing well. Josh Mitchell is playing well. Those are the guys that come to mind, so we are really developing some depth there, which is important because eventually somebody is going to have to play nickel and somebody is going to have to play dime. It's important to get some depth at that position."

***Even though he's out with injury, Pelini is very excited about the development of freshman defensive tackle Kevin Williams.

"He had a great spring and really impressed all the coaches," Pelini said. "He looks like a veteran out there. It's shocking with all of our newcomers how quickly they adapted to college football."

***Nebraska will come back on Saturday for another 100-plus play scrimmage. In some ways, Saturday's scrimmage will be a bigger evaluation tool than the actual Red-White game next Saturday.

"We scrimmaged over 100 plays last Saturday and we'll probably do the same thing tomorrow," Pelini said. "This will be the last time we'll scrimmage as units. We'll divide those units up for the spring game probably."

***Asked how Nebraska's defensive team speed would match up with the teams of the Big Ten Conference next season, Pelini said the Huskers wouldn't be as much faster as some people might think.

"I think we can be as fast as anybody," Pelini said. "I don't know if we're just going to blow teams away with our speed, because I think people want to look at the Big Ten and see big and slow and the SEC as just speed. I've been looking at some of these Big Ten schools on tape, and there's a lot of speed on the field."

***Pelini also said NU has considered shuffling around the defensive line this season and moving defensive tackles like senior Jared Crick and Randle to the outside and bringing Meredith inside in certain packages.

"I would consider that," Pelini said. "I think Jared could play a little bit of end. I think Thad could play a little bit of end. I think Cameron is big and physical enough to play some inside… Our guys are very capable of moving around and playing different spots for us."

***Brown gave one other comparison of current players to former Husker greats when he was asked who Burkhead reminded him of.

"He's got a little bit of Kenny Clark to him in terms of balance and sturdiness," Brown said. "Kenny was a sturdy, strong back. They don't have great speed, but they have good speed, and they're very quick guys."

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