Cotton Bowl Journal - Day 2

Dallas, TX - Finally in Texas, the team is practicing and the countdown to the game really begins. This is an interesting time and even a pivotal time. You can usually tell how a team feels about an upcoming game even if they don't put it into words. And you can tell that this game means a lot to this team.

It's been about 15 or so years since I was last inside Texas Stadium. I was in the nosebleed section, but there really isn't a bad seat in the entire place. Growing up a Dallas fan, I guess I was just in the moment enough that I really didn't look at Texas Stadium as a stadium, comparing it to others I have been in. Unfortunately, going back didn't rekindle the awe.

Texas Stadium is in some pretty bad shape.

Yeah, that's nothing new, and it's the obvious reason for the new stadium the Cowboys will one day call home. I guess I just never realized how amazingly run down the old stadium with the hole in the roof really was.

It was the first time that I was ever in the actual Stadium Club, where the press conferences are done, but where the more well off fans get to watch the game via an end zone view. It was pretty cool, actually, and I had to think that wherever I stood inside that clubhouse, there were some pretty big names in the world of professional football and just life, stood there as well.

BUSINESS, PLEASURE AND PAIN

Ok, enough with the waxing nostalgic and lamenting the rundown state of the facility, because this isn't about what was. It's about what is, and the Cornhuskers went inside of Texas Stadium for their first real organized practice as they prepare to face Auburn on January 1st in the 2007 Cotton Bowl.

Of course, even the players had to have their fun inside Texas Stadium. Senior defensive tackles Barry Cryer and Ola Dagunduro took turns doing their best impression of Terrell Owens, as they tried to recreate the now infamous pose by Owens during the 2000 season when he was a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

Terrell Owens, 2000

Barry Cryer, 2006



For freshman safety Rickey Thenarse, he had to give it a go himself, and for him it was even more personal as he grew up a diehard Cowboys fan.

To the actual reason the Huskers were everyone is down here, there's a lot of enthusiasm about the game. With bowl games, though, there's also plenty of other stuff going on. If it's not practice, it's press conferences. If it's not press conferences, it's conventions. If it's not conventions, it's events like the Lowry's "Beef Bowl." All that, and the players even have a little time to themselves. Sometimes the biggest challenge is just to keep everything straight.

"You have to separate everything so you can enjoy the whole experience," junior linebacker Corey McKeon said of trying to take everything in. "When it's practice time you hit the field focused. When you have some time to yourself, you go out and have some fun. When it's business, you get down to business. When it's fun, you try and have some fun. That's how you make the most out of something like this."

The players already got a head start on enjoying a little of the Dallas atmosphere, as an estimated 15 players rented a Cadillac Escalade Limousine and went for a little ride. One of those in attendance did want me to know, however, that it wasn't just 15 guys all packed in a car. "Matt Herian's wife was there, so let's get that straight," McKeon said laughing. "It wasn't just all guys. We don't roll that way."

For other players, they have been enjoying themselves, but there's seemingly just as much time thinking about how there isn't much time left at all. "This is it for me. After this I'm done playing for the big red," senior defensive tackle Ola Dagunduro said. "You can't help but get a little sentimental about it, because Nebraska has become like a home to me."

"Nobody likes leaving their home, but I graduated and after this game, that's just what I am going to do. It's hard. I've loved being a Cornhusker."

THE WALKING WOUNDED

While the health of the team on the whole is as good as it's been, perhaps the entire year, the backfield continues to be worrisome in that regard. Sophomore Cody Glenn was once again held out of practice, still suffering from that midfoot sprain. Junior running back Brandon Jackson finally got the cast off his hand, but the splint that is replacing it still makes ball handling and receiving an obvious issue. Sophomore running back Marlon Lucky appears much healthier now after dealing with back spasms for the last two to three weeks.

Helping the offense get all of their reps are sophomore running back Thomas Lawson along with freshman defensive back Major Culbert. Culbert was a 2,000 yard back his senior year in high school, but came to the big red as a safety/cornerback. He has been moved to the running back position to make sure the offense gets all of their reps without burning out the running backs who are actually going to play.

Don't expect to see Culbert on offense come the bowl game. One has to remember that it took both Lucky and Glenn over a year to get the blocking schemes down in regard to blitz pick up, and it's unrealistic to think that Culbert could pick all that up in basically a couple of weeks.

GETTING PHYSICAL

As receiver coach Ted Gilmore has trained and retrained his group of gifted wideouts, he's tried to find in them what he sees the team ultimately needs. Most of them have speed, they have size and all have talent which worked brilliantly for them when they excelled at the prep level.

Gilmore wants to see something else from his group, though, because the one aspect most if not all of his talented group don't really have a full grasp of, is what he believes they need to bring all of their intangibles together. "They have to be more physical than they have been," Gilmore said of his group of receivers, all of whom are coming back next year. "A lot of these guys have size, they have speed, but they really need to be more physical in
Ted Gilmore looking to develop
receivers who are both fleet and
physical
what they do."

The second year receiver coach does have one positive he really likes, though, and it points toward potential success against Auburn, but most certainly down the road. "We have depth. We recruit to get that kind of depth, and I have seen this year, like when Todd Peterson went in for Nathan Swift against Texas A&M, I can bring in one guy for another and we won't miss a beat. Now, if we can combine all that depth with a more physical style of play, we'd have something a lot closer to what we want."

One player who is actually sitting out this year, because of that physical factor is sophomore Chris Brooks. A standout from the state of Missouri two years ago, Brooks was one of those players many thought could have a huge impact right away.

That hasn't happened, but Gilmore said of this redshirt year Brooks is taking, this will be his time to get his body to match the gifts he already has. "He needs to get stronger and that's what he's worked on doing this year, and it's showed at times in practice," Gilmore said. "From his tape from high school, a lot of the kids he faced had a problem with his size, but he's facing guys at this level who are just as big as him, but maybe a lot stronger."

"I am hoping that with this development now and everything he's going to do before the spring, he'll be competing for a top spot with everyone else. That's what we expect out of him, and out of the rest of the guys."

CLOSING IT OUT

Nebraska will have another full day tomorrow, the team practicing from 11:30 A.M. to 2:00 P.M., followed by a news conference at three, featuring Offensive Coordinator Jay Norvell, junior center Brett Byford, senior tight end Matt Herian, junior running back Brandon Jackson, junior wide receiver Terrance Nunn and senior quarterback Zac Taylor.

That will be followed by the Nebraska players visiting the Children's Medical Center. And then the night will conclude as both Auburn and Nebraska players will attend the Dallas Mavericks/Phoenix Suns game, which will take place at the American Airlines Center.

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