Friday notebook: Offensive line takes major injury hits
At the end of yet another hectic week off the field, Nebraska was dealt with even more bad news on the field prior to Friday morning’s full-pads practice.
Sophomore starting left guard Jerald Foster suffered a knee injury during Thursday’s practice. While initial reports suggested Foster would only miss roughly four weeks to the injury, head coach Mike Riley revealed that the situation was much worse than originally thought.
Riley said Foster had torn his MCL and would have to undergo season-ending surgery.
“We’re really disappointed for a number of reasons,” Riley said. “First of all, Jerald, he just put in a ton of work. He was so invested into getting to where he was. We will miss him. The good news is that with what happened, they will repair it and he will be as good as new.”
As if that weren’t enough, Riley added that senior offensive guard Corey Whitaker, who had emerged as NU’s top backup at both guard and tackle, would be out for up to two weeks after getting arthroscopic knee surgery this week.
While Whitaker will be back eventually, Riley noted there was a chance he might not be ready to return to action for the season opener against Fresno State on Sept. 3.
If that happens, Riley said the Huskers would have to turn to redshirt freshman Jalin Barnett and true freshman Boe Wilson as the top options at left guard.
“That’s putting us right up against the first game, so after that we’re looking at a possibility of a Jalin Barnett and a Boe Wilson,” Riley said. “I like both those guys. Physically they can play. Now we’ve got to get them up to speed and fit in and know what they’re doing, because that group has to work in unison.”
With an offensive line that was already completely reshuffled from last season’s starting group, Nebraska must now try and get a number of backup plans in order after suffering its biggest loss yet of fall camp.
“We will make this thing work,” Riley said. “We’re disappointed for Jerald, that’s it. With Corey, we’re just thankful he’s going to be back. Corey plays every position, so we’ve got to get him back.”
- Robin Washut
Riley confirms Bush leaving Nebraska
As HuskerOnline.com reported on Thursday night, Riley confirmed that sophomore quarterback AJ Bush would be transferring from the program.
While Riley understood why the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Georgia native decided to move on - he hadn’t taken a meaningful snap in two years in Lincoln - Riley added that he didn’t want Bush to leave and was somewhat surprised by the timing of his transfer.
“I did not want him to leave,” Riley said. “We’ve had many talks about that, actually, over the course of the last few months. I get this at this position now, guys. When you’ve got five quarterbacks and you’re five deep, nowhere else on the team are we five deep.
“AJ wants to play. He was third right now, and he was going to be in a battle in the spring with two more guys that are here right now, too. It’s just looking at opportunity, and I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that. We wish him the best.”
As Riley mentioned, Bush was slated to be Nebraska’s No. 3 quarterback behind fifth-year seniors Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe. With him now out of the picture, Riley said true freshman Patrick O’Brien - who NU initially wanted to redshirt this season - would be elevated to the third spot.
O’Brien will prepare each week as the No. 3 quarterback and will travel with the team to road games, but Riley said the hope is the Huskers can get through the season without having to play him and be able to retain his redshirt eligibility.
“We obviously need a third quarterback who’s going to travel,” Riley said. “What we’ll probably do with Patrick is he will be prepared like our third and he will travel, and we’ll hope that we don’t have to play him.
“That is actually not bad. You’ve got a young guy who is getting used to traveling, game preparation, how it all works day to day. It’s really not a bad deal at all.”
- Robin Washut
Banker: Davis, Jackson making big jumps
Two positions where Nebraska desperately needs some young players to step up this season are defensive end and cornerback.
Based on defensive coordinator Mark Banker's comments on Friday, the Huskers may be getting guys doing just that at both spots.
Banker said he's been thoroughly impressed with the development of redshirt freshman defensive end Alex Davis and true freshman cornerback Lamar Jackson.
With Davis, Banker said he was nearly unblockable during Friday's practice, capping off an overall big week by the Florida native.
"Golly, he has come out of nowhere again," Banker said. "We talked about this week being a big week for us. Something went on with him this week. He had a couple pass rushes that were pretty outstanding.
"(David) Knevel, now the dude is 7-2 right? Long arms. Alex Davis had one hand on him as he’s coming off the edge and even Knevel was having a hard time his hands back on Alex’s body. That was crazy. But the thing that is pleasing about him - we know that the first thing he’s gonna do is shine as a pass rusher, but he’s played the run much better.
"This kid is learning right? One year of high school football and all together now this is his third year season of playing and this season hasn’t even started yet.
Banker made sure to preface his praise of Jackson by saying not to read too much into his comments. However, Banker couldn't deny that the former four-star standout had made a big jump over the past week of practice.
As of now, Banker said junior Boaz Joseph was the No. 3 cornerback behind starters Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones. But if Jackson continues to perform the way he has been recently, he could be primed to make a run up the depth chart.
"I think the one guy that made a big leap this week was Lamar Jackson," Banker said. "He really did. Now what has to happen he has to get up to Division I, Big Ten speed. I don’t mean 4.3, 4.4, 4.5 (40-yard dash times). I mean just how fast things come at you and then the physicality of play.
"I just mentioned Lamar’s name so that everybody here knows he’s made great progress this week."
- Robin Washut
Simpson earns scholarship
Though nothing was mentioned about it by Nebraska's coaches following Friday's practice, several teammates ended up breaking the news via Twitter that senior linebacker Brad Simpson has been awarded a scholarship for the 2016 season.
Simpson has played in 27 career games, including all 13 last year. The Ralston, Neb., native now becomes the ninth member of the Huskers' 2012 walk-on class to earn a scholarship.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Simpson has nine career tackles - all on special teams - with four of those coming in 2015.
A former Class B all-state selection, Simpson chose to walk-on at NU over scholarship offers from Central Missouri and Nebraska-Kearney.
- Robin Washut
***Riley said they "could" move senior Dylan Utter from his starting center spot back over to guard, where he started last year, but Riley "loves" Utter at center and likely wouldn't do it.
***Linebackers coach Trent Bray said he's been very pleased with the development of the first two linebacker units this fall. In particular, he praised the progress made by Tyrin Ferguson and Mohamed Barry.
***Secondary coach Brian Stewart added to the praise of Jackson, saying that the freshman has a very good chance to play this season in NU's sub-packages (nickel, dime, etc.) as well as on special teams.
“Lamar was a big get for us and he’s playing well," Stewart said. "If he continues to play well I think he will have a great season for us.”
***Jackson isn't the only freshman cornerback who has been impressing this fall. Stewart said DiCaprio Bootle and Marquel Dismuke have been had very good camps and have been picking up the defense quickly.
***While they likely won't factor in on defense this season, d-line coach John Parrella had some good things to say about what he's seen from true freshmen Collin Miller and Ben Stille this fall.
“They’re great kids, bright futures," Parrella said. "They came out of high school raw and didn’t know a whole lot, that’s typical for most kids. They’re great kids and they work hard and do everything right.”