September 18, 2008

Thursday notebook: Cotton juggling offensive line

If Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton plays his cards right, depth won't be much of an issue for the Huskers up front for the next few years.

In a juggling act of getting young linemen experience, preserving others' redshirt eligibility and at the same time playing his best players as much as possible, it's been quite the balancing act for Cotton.

While he obviously is focused on putting the best talent on the field this season, Cotton is also trying to prepare for the future at the same time.

Take junior Ricky Henry for example. Coaches and players alike raved about Henry's physical play and potential to come in and make an immediate impact this season. Through three games, though, Henry has yet to see the field because the coaching staff is set on saving him for the next to years and redshirting him this season.

"You go in thinking, he's a two-year guy," Cotton said. "If we play him this year and he plays some, then you only have him for one. We have some depth. We don't have great depth, but we have good depth. But if we can hold him, then we get a tough physical guy here for two years, and get him another spring football to learn his trade an go compete the following fall."

However, Cotton said if something drastic should happen concerning injuries or other factors, Henry might be called upon to help this season.

"We're trying to hold him, but I've also told him should something happen out of the ordinary, we've got to keep him ready to go," he said.

This season, the Huskers have 12 freshmen and sophomores on the offensive line, and that's not including Henry and senior Kansas State transfer Derek Meyer, who joined NU this fall.

Cotton said with the amount of inexperience on the line, it's sometimes tough to redshirt first-year players that could potentially play or even start this season. Another issue Cotton's been dealing with is making sure redshirt candidates are kept informed of their situation as the season progresses.

"It's tough to be patient, but on the other hand it's our job as coaches to communicate with them and keep them informed all the time," he said. "You do the kid a disservice if you kind of put him on hold and never include him in anything anymore. So we try to keep the line of communications open, and I try to talk to them about their situations as we go along.

"As long as a guy knows what's going on, you have a good chance at keeping him patient and working hard."

The Huskers got a huge boost to their depth on the offensive line when senior Lydon Murtha returned last week after missing the first two games because of injury. Though redshirt freshman Marcel Jones still played 40% of the snaps behind him, Murtha was able to provide NU with much needed experience up front.

"(Murtha) had two days of practice out of three weeks, and he came out and played a well above average game," Cotton said. "He made a couple mental mistakes, but he played with great energy and great physical abandon and really got after it."

Another possible boost for later in the year was the return of senior Andy Christensen to the team after legal issues forced him to miss the first three games and all of fall camp.

"It's good to have Andy back. Andy's got to be patient, and we've also got to be patient with Andy. He hasn't played for a year, so that's going to be the biggest thing with him, just kind of fitting himself back in and becoming comfortable with playing again."

Thursday's Practice Takes
Nighttime is the right time: Whether it's because of recruiting or that Bo Pelini became fond of them while at LSU, but Nebraska has become a night owl of sorts with three night games in its first four games. The trend is obviously mostly due to the prior, as Pelini said Thursday that night games provide better game day atmospheres for visiting recruits. "I think it helps," Pelini said. "If it's a mid-afternoon game, that's one thing. When it happens early in the morning sometimes the atmosphere isn't quite like you want it. I'm hoping the atmosphere for this Virginia Tech game is a couple notches up from what it's been. I think that'll help us get recruits in, and it kind of gives them the full experience during the day."
Enjoying the bye: The players aren't the only ones taking advantage of the bye week to kick back and relax this weekend. Pelini said he planned to do some work on Saturday, but that he was looking forward to spending some extra time with his family he doesn't normally get on fall weekends. For his players, Pelini said the by week comes at a perfect time to rest and heal some injuries.
Injury update: Junior safety Rickey Thenarse once again practiced in a green no-contact jersey and Pelini expects him to be doing full contact next week. Sophomore cornerback Anthony West was also wearing a green jersey. While he's still listed as day-to-day, it's encouraging that West is back in pads and taking reps again. Sophomore defensive end Pierre Allen won't practice at all this week, but Pelini said he'll be ready to go on Monday. When asked how his injured foot was, Allen said, "It's doing good."
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team held a one hour and 45 minute full-padded workout on the grass practice fields north of Memorial Stadium on Thursday. NU will return to practice on Friday before taking Saturday as an off day.

Young players get chance to step up

While some of Nebraska's veteran players might be looking at this week as a chance to step back and rest a little bit, some Husker newcomers are looking at it as a chance to show what they can do.

Pelini said he was impressed with the performances of several young players on Thursday, noting specifically freshman fullback Jordan Makovicka and freshman wide receiver Khiry Cooper as standouts on the day.

We got a lot accomplished, got the young guys a good go there at the end (of practice)," Pelini said. "I thought some guys made some plays. Young Makovicka did a couple good things, Khiry Cooper made a play. I thought it was good. A lot of those guys don't know, it's just about blocking and tackling.

"A lot of these guys, they've been running scout team cards for the last month or so. So it was good just seeing them out there competing and I like the effort."

Overall, Pelini said the Huskers' intensity in practice was good, but it was certainly not the same as a normal game week.

"I thought they did a nice job," he said. "Naturally, you're not going to see the same…I thought they came in with a good attitude, I thought the work ethic was there, but, you know, it's not the same intensity. At this point in the year you're sick of hitting each other."

Despite the drop off in intensity, Pelini said the Huskers were able to get back to fundamentals and basic techniques, and he was pleased with the team's performance in that regard.

"I thought we got a lot accomplished," he said. "I thought we got back to technique, back to fundamentals to a large extent. So from that, I thought we got a lot accomplished this week."

Quick hits

***While having next weekend's game against Virginia Tech is a nice boost to the game day atmosphere for recruits, Pelini couldn't give an exact total of how many official visits the Huskers would have for the game.

"Off the top of my head I'm not sure," he said. "I think it's a decent number though. It's a pretty good group coming in."

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