Notebook: The defense

For the first time this spring, Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis talked with the media on Monday.

LINCOLN, Neb. - Check out a Nebraska practice recently and you are likely to at least once during the session see a defensive player getting pretty chippy.

The Blackshirts have a little swagger this spring.

"True confidence is only built when you have a great understanding of your role and responsibility," Nebraska defensive end John Papuchis said on Monday night. "It was hard to have that swagger a year ago because guys were just learning. Now that they feel confident and comfortable with what they do, and with all of the hard work they've put in this offseason, they've earned the right to go out there, have some fun and just play. We're going to play much better when we're loose, flying around and jumping around. That's the way I want us to play, and that's the way they want to play, but you have to earn the right to get there.

"With the amount of young guys we played a year ago, the long-term hope that we've always had has been that we wouldn't miss too many beats from the end of the season to now. We're probably even a little bit ahead knowledge-wise from where we've been the last couple years, as a defense."

The biggest difference is likely upfront.

"For the most part, guys like Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen and Randy Gregory had no experience going into last fall," Papuchis said. "Now, with Maliek and Randy having an offseason in the weight room, we're seeing them not only get better at understanding the scheme, but physically more explosive as well."

Gerry standing out:


Nate Gerry (Getty Images)
Call him the ultimate team player. Despite being recruited as a safety out of high school, South Dakota product Nathan Gerry moved to linebacker last season to provide depth at the position. The experience the true freshman got was invaluable.

Now back at safety, Papuchis is seeing a very confident Gerry as he gets first-team reps with Corey Cooper sidelined with turf toe.

"Nate is a guy that just the four or five yards of depth from being a backer to safety makes him feel more comfortable," said Papuchis. "He's done a nice job this spring and has put himself in a position to play a lot this fall."

Newby has his best day of practice yet:

After a solid scrimmage on Saturday, redshirt freshman linebacker Marcus Newby continued to show flashes of quickness and ability to get to the quarterback on Monday as a pass rushing defensive end.

Newby's biggest play came against the Huskers' first-team offensive line, where he bounced off tackle Zach Sterup, made one step to get by guard Givens Price and shot the hole to get to the quarterback for the sack.

"He's such a good athlete, he's probably a year away from really being able to help us at backer, it's a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but there is no reason to not have a guy like that on the field," said Papuchis. "We are trying to get the best guys on the field, and be as fast as we can.

"Today he was playing that hybrid end standup guy in passing situations. That's a role I think he could flourish in and embrace."

His teammates on the defensive line have taken notice as well.

"He actually has real good hands — a real good inside move," Vincent Valentine told the Lincoln Journal Star. "He got a couple sacks during the two-minute, move-the-ball drill. He's working it."

QUICK HITTERS:

* Papuchis admits the staff has been doing a lot of rotation at linebacker this spring, trying to find the right chemistry along with putting guys in certain situations.

* After being somewhat called out by his coaches last spring, Vincent Valentine's conditioning is "night and day" from where it was last year said Papuchis. "I don't know if he's in that much better physical shape, but he understands the expectations and what it takes to be successful now."

* Sophomore defensive tackle Kevin Maurice has had a good spring according to Pelini and really developed into a guy who could provide major depth in the fall.

* After being carted off on a stretcher in Saturday's scrimmage, defensive tackle Aaron Curry was on the sidelines in street clothes wearing a neck brace. Randy Gregory also missed practice due to a class.


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