December 27, 2011

Tuesday bowl notebook: Huskers get back at it

ORLANDO, Fla. - After preaching the mentality of the Capital One Bowl being a business trip for Nebraska, the Huskers finally got back to work on Tuesday with their first on-site bowl practice at Freedom High School.

While the team had to knock a little bit of rust off and get used to its new surroundings, the overall feeling coming out of the hour-and-a-half long session was that things picked up right where they left off as preparations for South Carolina continue.

"I thought it was a good practice today," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I thought the focus was good. I thought there was a lot of retention from our earlier practices before the holiday. I thought it was a good day. A good start to the week."

Nebraska practiced in half pads Tuesday and is scheduled to go full pads on Wednesday. Depending on how things go, the Huskers might go full pads again on Thursday before backing things down a bit as the bowl game draws closer.

New defensive coordinator John Papuchis said despite a somewhat slow start to the day he was happy with the way the players came back ready to work after the holiday break.

"It was pretty good," Papuchis said. "Anytime it's the first bowl practice, you know, the guys have to get acclimated to a new setting. Anytime there's a little bit of change, it takes a minute or two to get adjusted. But I thought as practice went on the energy and effort was pretty good."

The players gave a similar review of their first Orlando practice, saying everyone was excited to put the pads back on and get back on the football field.

"There was great energy," junior running back Rex Burkhead said. "That was the biggest thing I think the coaches wanted to see and that is guys flying around out there having fun. We had a long trip yesterday with the flight and an early morning today, but guys were still flying around having some fun today."

In all, Nebraska will hold five practices over a total of eight days in Orlando. With an additional practice compared to previous bowl trips, the Huskers hope to be as zeroed in as ever when the Capital One Bowl finally does roll around on Jan. 2.

"I just think us being here for eight days is going to help," junior defensive end Cameron Meredith said. "We have an extra practice on our hands and I think it's really going to help us understand and get that simulation of what South Carolina is going to be."

Following Tuesday's practice, Nebraska's players and coaches headed out for an afternoon at the four Disney theme parks. As much as the team is preaching a business-like mentality this week, the Huskers are still trying to mix in a little fun during their bowl experience.

As long as the focus remains high when it comes to getting ready to win a football game, Nebraska feels it has a perfect balance of business and pleasure.

"We want them to come down here and have fun on the trip, but at the end of the day - and this was something we talked about (Monday) night - their greatest memories from this trip are going to have more to do with the game than anything else," Papuchis said. "They want to make sure the put their best foot forward, and I thought today was a good start in that direction."

- Robin Washut

Pelini updates staff movement

With defensive coordinator Carl Pelini's departure to Florida Atlantic, it allowed defensive line coach John Papuchis to be promoted into that role, which meant he will have to give up both his special teams and recruiting coordinator titles in 2012.

Following Tuesday's bowl practice in Orlando, Pelini said that Papuchis will still man the special teams duties for the bowl game and finish out the recruiting cycle before giving up those duties in February.

Pelini added that linebackers coach Ross Els will become NU's new special teams coordinator in 2012.

"Ross Els is going to be the special teams coordinator for sure, but not for this game," Pelini said. "Like I said though we are pretty far along in it and he's pretty heavily involved in special teams any way."

Pelini said he still hasn't decided who is recruiting coordinator will be for next season.

"We are not changing much right now for this class and how it's worked," Pelini said. "We've kind of had our plan and how it's worked and we are just finishing out the plan for this year. We're going to evaluate it.

"We've got a couple of guys on staff I'm considering using on it. I haven't quite figured it all out how we are going to do it. I didn't really want to do much with it right now because we are so far into this year. Going forward we'll sit down and figure out what we want to do."

-Sean Callahan

Cotton returns, Rodriguez absent

There was both good and bad injury news to come out of Nebraska's first Orlando practice on Tuesday.

The good news was junior tight end Ben Cotton was back in pads for the first time since injuring his shoulder against Penn State on Nov. 12.

Cotton wore a protective brace on his left arm, and said he felt pretty good after Tuesday's practice wrapped up. Both he and Pelini said they were hopeful Cotton would ready to return to the lineup in time to play in the bowl game.

"We're easing him into it," Pelini said. "I think he's going to be ready to go come Monday. I thought he had a good day today and felt good out there, and no setbacks, which is always a key when he's trying to come back."

Cotton said having to stand on the sidelines and watch Nebraska try and keep its season goals alive without him was extremely difficult, which is why he's determined to get back to action along side his teammates.

"Just like a lot of competitors out there, it's really hard to sit out a game and watch the guys go through the battles, the hard times and the good times, without you," Cotton said. "I've been happy to help the guys every way that I could, but I'm happy the most to be able to get back out there this week."

The bad news for the Huskers, however, was sophomore offensive lineman Andrew Rodriguez was nowhere to be found during the practice. Pelini said the team decided to keep Rodriguez back in Nebraska in order to avoid re-aggravating the foot injury that has been bothering him much of the season.

"I sent A-Rod home," Pelini said. "He's kind of stayed around for most of the holiday rehabbing and such, and we just didn't want to chance it. A-Rod's at home, and he could possibly come on the late plane, but we decide it wasn't in his best interest to kind of push it through this week."

Luckily, there was a bit more good news for Nebraska as far as the offensive line is concerned. While Rodriguez will be out of the mix for the bowl, the Huskers recently got back guards Brent Qvale and Brandon Thompson, both of which have been out with injury issues of their own.

With their return and the way Nebraska's offensive line has been playing the past couple of weeks, Pelini said he was fully confident in the depth up front.

"We feel good," Pelini said. "We've worked a lot of guys at the guard spot. We have a lot of options there… We've had a lot of different guys. Like I said, we have a lot of options there now. Obviously Qvale's back. Brandon Thompson's back. Cole Pensick has worked some at the guard spot. So we feel like we have a lot of options."

- Robin Washut

Players ready for Best Buy shopping spree

Later this week Nebraska's players will be treated to a Best Buy shopping spree courtesy of the Capital One Bowl.

Each player will receive a $420 Best Buy gift card as one of their bowl gifts and they must use all of it this week. Burkhead said everybody is real excited to go on their shopping spree.

"I know guys are already making lists, searching things out because we have to spend it all while we are there," Burkhead said. "I don't even know what I'm going to buy? I'll probably buy 100 movies are something like that."

So what are some of the most popular items the players are looking at?

"I think TV's are a big item, the Dr. Dre Beat Headphones are a big item and some video games too," Burkhead said. "I was looking at a little Norelco shaving and grooming kit. I thought that may me a good investment. There are also some good video games like FIFA World Cup Soccer. I may have to get that."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***After some much needed rest time, Burkhead said he's back at 100 percent health wise.

"It's really well," Burkhead said of ankle. "I've had plenty of time to heal up and it's feeling really good."

***Another player who's used the bowl month to heal up is sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez.

"For the past two weeks (my ankle) has been really good and right now I feel 100 percent," Martinez said. "I should be good for the game."

***Nebraska will host a chalk talk session for Florida High School coaches following Wednesday's practice.

***Pelini said he was looking forward to visiting Disney World with his family on Tuesday afternoon.

"My kids will be fired up," Pelini said. "I'll be chasing my kids around at Disney Parks and having some fun."

***Papuchis said it would be a bit of an adjustment for him coaching from the sidelines this week versus the press box where's he's been for the last seven years.

"It's going to obviously be a little bit different," Papuchis said. "Ever since I've been with Bo for seven years I've always been in the box communicating to him. It's going to be a little bit of a transition there, but I'm excited about it and I'm looking forward to it. My mom can see me on TV now, so that will be good."

***In the end, Pelini said his relationship with Papuchis and the trust they've developed played as big of a role in Papuchis' promotion as anything.

"It was a pretty obvious choice to me," Pelini said. "He's a guy who's been around me for a long time now, seven years or something like that. He knows how I like to work. He's a bright young guy."

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