Experience is key for the spring

You lose experience and you don't have a ton coming back, it's a concern. Perhaps it's no bigger concern than it is at the defensive tackle position, where LeKevin Smith and Titus Adams were mainstays as starters, now off to the NFL. Ola Dagunduro and Barry Cryer are just two that will have to fill in and as defensive line coach John Blake said, they have some experience, but you can never have enough.

Two years ago it was all LeKevin Smith and Titus Adams. They would be the first to tell you that, too. Hardly anyone to take the reps, they got all the snaps they could ever want.

 

Too many, actually.

 

That's where junior college transfers Ola Dagunduro helped so much last season, bringing in not just experience from having played a higher level than high school, but they were guys that were going to give both Smith and Adams valuable minutes to rest.

 

During that action, both Dagunduro and Cryer proved effective in their consistent, albeit limited opportunities. Out of all the players from last year, who didn't start a single game, Dagunduro was tops in tackles, posting 22 tackles, including four for loss, two of which were sacks. Cryer finished the season with just six tackles, but he matched Dagunduro in tackles for loss with four, which included one and a half sacks of his own.

 

With everything these players were able to contribute, what defensive line coach John Blake sees as the greatest benefit to them was the experience, which propels them into this year. "I don't think you can ever beat experience," Blake said. "Thank God Ola and Barry played some last year."

 

If it wasn't for that experience, Blake might be back at square one, even though he has obviously more bodies than he had at his disposal two years ago. More bodies mean more potential, but even the most potential doesn't mean much without experience. "(Ndamukong) Suh has as much ability as all of them, but it's that experience," Blake said of the difference between talent and one's ability to contribute. "Suh might be bigger and stronger than all of them, but it comes down to that experience."

 

The experience is good for obvious reasons in that if you are a player with experience, it means you have knowledge of what to do in certain situations. Until you get into those situations, what you will do is still up in the air. Blake talked about a situation, where that could be a question and it doesn't come down to technique, but the experience of handling a situation when the going gets extra hard. "In that third quarter, when you are tired, you don't know if you are going to give up or quit, but you've got to go out there, fight and dig down deep," he said.

 

"It's almost like you have to go to a spot of straining and competing to even understand how you are going to react when you get there," Blake continued. "That's what experience does and those guys (Smith and Adams) played in those situations for three or four years."

 

Cryer and Dagunduro obviously didn't get a full taste of that last year, but they got enough to prepare them for this season, according to Blake – to the point that he's feeling good as they continue spring practices, but he's feeling better that they have time to get better and unlike what Smith and Adams didn't have two years ago, these guys will. "I feel really good with those two guys inside – they just have to get better," Blake said of Cryer and Dagunduro. "But with the way we roll those guys out to keep everyone fresh, they don't have to play like 70 or 80 plays, so that's going to help them a lot."

 

Along with Dagunduro and Cryer, who will be going into their final year, Ndamukong Suh will be a true sophomore and he's been practicing at both defensive tackle and nose tackle. And new on the line is Ty Steinkuhler, who goes into his sophomore year, moving from defensive end, now to the defensive tackle position, playing primarily behind Cryer.

 

Joining this group will be Brandon Johnson, a defensive tackle, who played at Compton Community College in Compton, California, the former stomping grounds of Dagunduro. He's projected to play the nose position once he arrives.

 

It's not the kind of experience the team had last year and at times, that will definitely be missed. But Blake looks at what some of this group has already done and how that will help what they have to do. Experience is what all these players will eventually have. Through spring, it's just a matter of getting them as close to that before the actual situation arrives and tomorrow, the "real" experience, at least for the spring, is something Blake is personally looking forward to. "I always want the pads on," Blake said of getting a real feel for the intensity of his team. "We are so big, we are getting in collisions all of the time. It's hard to get things done."

 

The pads will go on officially tomorrow as the Huskers skipped the half-padded practices and go from shorts straight to full gear. And as running backs coach Randy Jordan said after today's practice, he didn't just hope there would be live scrimmaging at some point this spring, he knew there would be.

 

Practice gears up in the morning and will finish around noon. The Huskers will then engage in the second annual Youth Experience, a camp which will consist of hundreds of young kids from around the state and region, all trying to enjoy their own little version of the Husker experience. Coaches and players will be in attendance, working with the kids in various mock drills, showing them a little of what it's like to feel what it's like to be a Husker.

 

The Huskers are actually using part of their 20-hour practice time allotment to put on the camp and it is open to kids from age 8 through eighth grade. 61 pairs of brothers and four sets of three brothers have already registered for the clinic. Five sets of brother/sister pairs are also registered. In all, 84 cities are represented by the youths registered this year.

 

Practice Notes:

 

With the depth chart always of interest to the fans, even this early in the spring, this is a tentative look at how the top two units look for the Huskers:

 

FIRST STRING (offense)

Pos

No.

Player

Yr

QB

13

Zac Taylor

Sr

RB

20

Marlon Lucky

So

FB

41

Dane Todd

Sr

TE

85

J.B. Phillips

Jr

C

65

Greg Austin

Sr

LT

54

Chris Patrick

Jr

RT

70

Matt Slauson

So

LG

61

Andy Christensen

So

RG

62

Mike Huff

So

WR

83

Terrence Nunn

Jr

WR

87

Nathan Swift

So

FIRST STRING (defense)

DB

2

Cortney Grixby

Jr

DB

1

Zack Bowman

Sr

FS

30

Tierre Green

Jr

SS

8

Andrew Shanle

Sr

MLB

13

Corey McKeon

Jr

SLB

40

Lance Brandenburgh

Jr

OLB

15

Steve Octavien

Jr

DT

94

Barry Cryer

Sr

NT

54

Ola Dagunduro

Sr

DE (base)

90

Adam Carriker

Sr

DE (open)

44

Jay Moore

Sr

SECOND STRING (offense)

Pos

No

Player

Yr

QB

3

Harrison Beck

So

RB

34

Cody Glenn

So

FB

45

Will Otto

Sr

TE

81

Josh Mueller

Jr

C

59

Brett Byford

Jr

LT

76

Lydon Murtha

So

RT

75

Victory Haines

Jr

LG

72

Rodney Picou

RsFr

RG

78

Brock Pasteur

Jr

WR

23

Chris Brooks

So

WR

80

Tyrell Spain

Jr

SECOND STRING (defense)

DB

21

Titus Brothers

Jr

DB

35

Chris LeFlore

Jr

FS

28

Bryan Wilson

Jr

SS

46

Ben Eisenhart

Jr

MLB

38

Phillip Dillard

So

SLB

58

Dontrell Moore

Sr

OLB

47

Andy Kadavy

Sr

DT

43

Ty Steinkuhler

So

NT

77

Ndamukong Suh

So

DE (base)

98

Zach Potter

So

DE (open)

99

Barry Turner

So

 

 

-                      The race for who gets to replace punter Sam Koch is heating up, but it looks like two are starting to take over the race. Between sophomores Dan Titchener and Jake Wesch, they have separated themselves from the rest of the pack for now, consistently booming their punts, both high and very long. While still not appearing to have quite the consistent leg of their predecessor, both are making solid arguments as to their ability to take over for Koch. Wesch was the person chosen to do kickoffs the majority of games last season.

-                      Between the wide receivers and tight ends there seems to be a variety of combinations being used. Depending on the formation, you really can't know for certain who will line up when. Sophomore Nathan Swift has stood out, though, showing even better hands than last year, which is impressive, considering that was one of his best attributes, which helped him to the team lead in receptions for the Huskers in 2005. Junior Terrence Nunn and sophomore Chris Brooks have also been impressive as has the junior college transfer Tyrell Spain.

At tight end, it's almost a mish-mosh of players, literally every tight end getting reps over the first two days. Juniors J.B. Phillips and Josh Mueller have the early advantage, but sophomore Clayton Sievers has been getting some good reps as well. This is one position, which should be wide open all the way into fall and incomer Michael McNeil is expected to contribute if not compete for a starting job right away.

 

If you want to hear interviews with the coaches, see video interviews with the players and even ask players your own questions, straight from the message boards of Big Red Report, you need to get in there and be a part of it as we bring you all that and more, all of the stuff to get you as close to the game as you might have ever been.

 

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