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Tuesday notebook: Westerkamp staying positive after injury

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Jordan Westerkamp stood on crutches with his left leg in a large brace as he watched Nebraska’s second on-site practice in preparation for the Music City Bowl against Tennessee.

Despite being known for his unwavering optimism and positivity, the senior wide receiver couldn’t help but show the pain and frustration over having to miss the final bowl game of his career due to injury.

Roughly two weeks ago Westerkamp was going through a normal practice in Lincoln when he took a reverse handoff and cut up the field. After about 10 steps he knew something wasn’t right with his knee, as it was locking up and “clicking” and had sharp pain whenever he put pressure on it.

An MRI test shortly after showed Westerkamp had partially torn his meniscus and also suffered chondral defect - a focal area of damage to the articular cartilage, the cartilage that lines the end of the bones in the knee.

While the meniscus tear alone would only be about a 2-3 week recovery timetable, the chondral defect was far more severe, extending his rehab to closer to 2-3 months.

There is still a good chance Westerkamp will be able to return to full health in time for Nebraska’s Pro Day and to get some evaluation before the 2017 NFL Draft, but that is merely a small consolation for having to miss his final game as a Husker.

“I’m feeling better,” Westerkamp said. “I got my stitches out today. The process is going along how it should be. Obviously I’m not happy with the circumstance. I would do anything to be out there practicing and playing in this game.

“It kills me not to be out there. But I’m just happy I got the surgery, got it done, and now recover as fast as I can.”

The knee injury marked Westerkamp’s second significant setback this season alone, as he missed two games to a back injury he suffered against Illinois.

Though this clearly hasn’t been the way that one of the most productive receivers in school history wanted his senior season to play out, Westerkamp knows he can only take the situation in stride and do whatever he can to help his team end 2016 on a high note.

“It’s just been a tough year injury wise,” Westerkamp said. “The freak back accident and breaking some bones in that. It’s just been tough. It’s just kind of how this year was with everybody on the team, injuries left and right.

“But this team is awesome. We’re strong and we’ve held it together. Like I said before, I would do anything to be out there right playing and practicing, because I love it. I love it. It kills me not to be out there, but I’m supporting these guys and I’m with them every chance I can. I’ll always be there for them.”

- Robin Washut

Bootle makes big impression during bowl month

Along with gearing up for one last game against Tennessee, one of the other biggest positives of Nebraska’s month of bowl preparation has been the opportunity to get a good, long look at some of the younger players.

For defensive backs coach Brian Stewart, one of those young guys who has stood out as much as anyone has been true freshman cornerback DiCaprio Bootle.

The former three-star prospect out of Miami (Fla.) Southridge nearly saw the field right away this season, and Stewart said Bootle has continued to impress with his work on NU’s scout team this season.

“The guy who I’ve really been watching because I’m expecting some things from is DiCaprio Bootle,” Stewart said. “I thought he had a good young-guys practice as far as attacking the ball, his approach to the ball carrier - just all those things I thought were clean. I’m excited about this spring and seeing him get a chance to play.”

Bootle was a unique addition to Nebraska’s 2016 recruiting class, as he earned an offer during the team’s Miami satellite camp in June of 2015 and verbally committed after a visit a month later.

The Huskers were immediately impressed with Bootle’s speed, as he ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (sub 4.4) out of more 400 participants at the satellite camp.

His play since arriving on campus has only furthered the staff’s excitement looking ahead to 2017 and beyond.

“He’s got short-area quickness, he has good ball skills, contact courage so he doesn’t mind tackling, all those things,” Stewart said. “So I’m excited about that.”

- Robin Washut

Former Husker QB Gdowski takes in practice

It’s been over 20 years since former Nebraska All-Big 8 quarterback Gerry Gdowski has seen a Husker practice in person, but Tuesday offered the perfect opportunity for the now Vanderbilt quarterback coach.

The Commodores are fresh off their bowl game loss the NC State on Monday, but since the Huskers are practicing at Vandy, Gdowski could stop in and watch.

Earlier this season Vanderbilt lit up Tennessee to the tune of 608 yards, including 416 yards through the air in a 45-34 win that kept the Vols from going to the Sugar Bowl and gave Vanderbilt their sixth of the season.

“We played well,” Gdowski said of their win over Tennessee. “Obviously, we put together a complete game together and played our best football at the end of the year in that game. That was fun, especially being Vanderbilt here in Nashville. If you are going to win one, that’s the one you want to win.”

As for what to watch, Gdowski said one player jumps out on Tennessee’s defense when he looks back at that game.

“Their defensive end (Derek Barnett) was probably if not the best guy we played against on that side of the ball, certainly in the top two or three,” Gdowski said. “He’s a great player and you have to scheme and account for him, especially when you get into third down situations, because he’s going to find a way to get to the quarterback.

"He’s a great player. They are solid. They’ve done a good job recruiting there and they have good players. They are solid everywhere else.”

- Sean Callahan

Tennessee's size, physicality at receiver jumps out to NU

When Stewart looks at the challenge Nebraska faces on Friday in the Music City Bowl, just the pure physical size and athletic ability of Tennessee’s receivers has his full attention.

Stewart said it may be as impressive of a group the Huskers have faced all season.

“SEC receivers look like thoroughbreds,” Stewart said. “The two that come to mind, they are long, they attack the ball and they do a good job of locking up the DB’s. Jennings is big at 6-3 and he has the opportunity to catch the ball and kind of body you off. They put him at the X position, and that’s where our boundary corner is.

"That’s going to be a good challenge for our boundary corner. We just have to see what they are going to do with (Josh Malone) – are they going to put him in the slot or on the edge?”

Stewart also was quick to point out they’ve faced a lot of good receivers this season in the Big Ten, but what’s different about this group is they pass the eye test more.

“I wouldn’t say Big Ten receivers are bad,” Stewart said. “I think there’s some solid receivers. I would say though these dudes, they can roll. When they jog out there, it’s going to be like ‘wow.’ You are going to see some nice sized guys and they are going to be running like deer, so I’m excited about that challenge.”

- Sean Callahan

Stewart a Nissan Stadium veteran

Nebraska has played in a different NFL stadium each of the last four seasons in bowl games.

Having already played in Jacksonville, San Diego and San Francisco for their last three bowl stops, they will add another one to that list on Friday when they take on Tennessee in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium.

Stewart is no stranger to Nissan Stadium, as he’s had extensive coaching experience there back in his former NFL days.

“When I was with the Houston Texans we were in their (division), so we played there,” Stewart said. “When I was in San Diego we played here twice, and then in Dallas we played here once. So, I’ve had the opportunity to coach in this stadium before. It’s a good stadium.

“I think I’ve only coached in this stadium once when it’s sunny. In fact, it’s usually raining, so hopefully it won’t rain.”

- Sean Callahan

Maurice enjoyed watching former Huskers on Monday Night Football

There were a lot of Nebraska players glued to the TV on Monday night watching former Husker defensive linemen Maliek Collins and Randy Gregory play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Collins has been a fixture this season as a rookie for the 13-2 Cowboys, while Gregory played in his first football game in over a year coming off a suspension.

“We were watching it a restaurant and Maliek got his sack and Randy got his TFL,” senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said. “It’s just real cool to see (Collins) do his thing.”

Maurice added that he is happy to see Gregory back on the field after battling substance abuse problems the last two years.

“I’m real happy for him,” Maurice said. “He’s obviously been through some trouble and stuff like that. But like everyone says, when you are on the field it’s a just a different area. It’s like a sanctuary. It’s really nice to see him back on the field.”

- Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, running back Tre Bryant and linebacker Marcus Newby all sat out of Tuesday’s practice with injuries.

***Stewart said he expects the Volunteers to go after freshman cornerback Lamar Jackson early and often, as Jackson is expected to play quite a bit in the bowl in NU’s nickel and dime packages.

***Linebackers coach Trent Bray said one of the more impressive traits of Mike Riley is how he’s always been able to get his teams ready and focused for bowl games. He said Riley’s 7-2 record in bowl games was all you needed to know about how good of a bowl coach Riley is.

***Bray said senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey is now weighing somewhere between 210-220 pounds. Bray said Rose-Ivey’s ideal playing weight is around 225, but the problem last year was he weighed a little too much, which resulted in several muscle injuries.

***Nebraska started off practice with special teams work, and the main returners on the kickoff return team were Mikale Wilbon, Brandon Reilly and Terrell Newby. Nebraska will likely have a new No. 1 returner for the bowl game since Bryant is doubtful to play.

***A scout from the Tennessee Titans was in attendance for Tuesday’s practice.

***Defensive coordinator Mark Banker praised defensive line coach John Parrella, saying he’s been a great addition to the staff because of credibility both as a NFL player and as a former walk-on who earned a Blackshirt.

***Jackson said he was excited about the challenge vs. Tennessee’s receivers, saying this game was a great opportunity for him to show what he can do on the national stage against a high-profile opponent.

***Some local Nashville media asked senior linebacker Josh Banderas how much he thinks about the bowl game being a battle between the Big Ten and SEC and a chance for conference bragging rights. Banderas wasn’t biting, saying he hasn’t thought about that at all and is only focused on winning the game for Nebraska.