The first week of fall practice is always a learning process for the players more than it is for the coaches. With the acclimation period the NCAA demands, the Huskers weren't able to hit full pads until Friday. But what that meant was, up until that time the coaches crammed in as much information into the players as they could. "We're throwing it at them at a pretty good rate. We are asking them to take a lot of stuff in right now," Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks' Coach Shawn Watson said.
On the defensive side the theme was similar, because until the team had a chance to put on pads, everything was up in the air. "For the new guys it's just trying to get in as much as we can as far as learning the system, the keys, the reads and all that. For the veteran guys, it's just about repetition and refining everything they have learned up to this point," Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers' Coach Kevin Cosgrove said.
Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan talked about that aspect before pads, as very important when it comes to hitting the mental part before the physical part begins. "During this time where it's a shorts-practice, we try to overload them a little bit with the mental side of football, because there's not much contact," He said. "So, what we've done is put in a little more of our system (and) team them a little bit more of what we are trying to get accomplished. We go out and walk through all those scenarios and then practice it. So, we are getting a lot of the mental side of the game done, so when contact comes we are ready to go."
When the pads finally went on, and the team was able to scrimmage on Saturday, the head coach was fairly pleased with it, though, it was for a very limited amount of reps. "I thought the tempo was good. I thought they competed hard for 20 plays, just trying to get back to conditioning them into scrimmage tempo," Callahan said. "A lot of guys flashed, but until we turn the film on and really look at and study it, we'll see. Overall, I thought the execution was good for normal down situations scrimmage. It was all first and 10. There was no blitz. We didn't mix in any pressures or anything like that. We just wanted our players to go out and execute against standard fronts and basic plays – core plays, so we could evaluate players."
OH, THOSE HAMMIES
The evaluation process is, of course, on-going, but one of the biggest issues during Fall camp is players simply staying healthy. The heat has taken its toll to a small degree, but it would appear the hamstring has been the biggest issue of late.
Before Fall camp even began, junior offensive guard Andy Christensen reportedly tweaked a hamstring, sidelining him until the first session of two-a-days Saturday morning, where he saw limited duty his first day back.
OG, Andy Christensen
Freshman corner Shawn Sullivan also tweaked his hamstring during Friday's first full-padded practice, sidelining him during the first full scrimmage, Sullivan saying himself that he thought he might be out a week.
Junior running back Cody Glenn continues to have health issues, but like the aforementioned duo, this time it was a hamstring tweak keeping him out of Saturday's practice, versus the chronic foot problems he's had dating back to last season.
Also on hamstring-rehabbing detail was sophomore wideout Chris Brooks and his status is day-to-day.
Junior wideout Todd Peterson was sidelined early during the week with a shoulder sprain, but returned on Saturday for practice.
During Saturday's 20-snap scrimmage, junior running back Marlon Lucky suffered a concussion, but it's not believed to be serious. Lucky also missed the afternoon practice along with Glenn.
Zack Bowman continues to rehab from the Patellar Tendon injury during the early part of Spring, but his progress is said to be good. It's unsure, but expected that he could see full padded work before fall camp concludes.
ON THE RISE?
There are always names which float about, even this early on during fall camp. Players that may have surprised either by their ability, mental acuity or simply their approach to the game.
Sophomore strong safety Larry Asante seems to be making big strides, continuing off the injury-hampered spring, where he wasn't able to compete throughout the session before summer break. He's proven quite quickly that all of the tendencies he showed at Coffeyville playing linebacker, he translates extremely well to safety at the Division 1-A level. Even before Fall camp arrived, Asante was gaining a reputation as a potential sledgehammer in pads when it came to how hard he hits. It would appear he's done nothing to quell that reputation from continuing through Fall.
Senior wide receiver Maurice Purify is back which is great news for the team. But he's got a ways to go before he's in shape to the degree, where he can play a full game. Following a seven-week suspension imposed by head coach Bill Callahan, Purify was literally on his own when it came to keeping his stamina and continuing his strength and conditioning. Purify had already shown up in Spring slightly overweight, but has since dropped those pounds and according to wide receiver's coach Ted Gilmore, he believed there was time enough to get Purify where he should be ready to play when the season-opener arrives.
Even though Garden City transfer, junior defensive tackle Kevin Dixon arrived on campus just the day before the team was to start fall camp, he showed up in surprisingly good shape. He's even been effective enough in limited situations where players like senior offensive tackle Carl Nicks has commented about how quick he is, how aggressive he is and how he believes he's "definitely" going to contribute his first year. That's not typical of junior college transfers coming into the fall, especially with linemen. But Dixon certainly seems to be breaking the mold.
Niles Paul seems to be making some noise, even though he admits himself that practice at this level, especially with all the running required, is the toughest thing he's had to endure. It's not stopped the coaches from working him in frequently and it seems that Paul is starting to make a name for himself in the return game. The return game has been up in the air, you could say since last season ended, the team desperately trying to find a combination which works for both punt and kickoff returns. Paul is one of those being worked, along with other players like Marcus Mendoza, Cortney Grixby, Andre Jones, Frantz Hardy, Terrence Nunn, Tierre Green, etc. Paul offers a real speed as he has an extensive track background, but he's bulked up noticeably and could be a more physical style of return man than they have had in some time. It's still up in the air as to what will work best for this unit, which dropped off considerably compared to its performance two years ago, and Paul could be just another facet to a unit which will hopefully be markedly better than in 2006.
While players seem to be making homes for themselves at certain positions on the offensive line, the shuffling continues at a frantic pace the first week of fall.
RB, Marcus Mendoza
The kicking game seems to still be a question mark, though, not much is expected to be learned of this group of kickers, especially freshman Adi Kunalic. The reports have been good about Kunalic and his leg strength, especially regarding kickoffs, but the coaches haven't been as forthcoming with praise, maintaining the expectedly vanilla stance in regard to who is where on the depth chart and which players are executing to their satisfaction. Junior kicker Jake Wesch handled much of the kickoff duties last year, but with the departure of Jordan Congdon, who has since transferred as a walk-on to USC, that field goal job is completely up in the air.
Zach Potter has definitely used the off-season to his advantage, putting on a little more size, but all reports indicate that he's approaching the game with a lot more intensity during the fall versus the spring, where it wasn't quite as evident. The base end position is critical for Nebraska , not only because someone has to replace first round draft pick Adam Carriker, but this is the position which has to hold down the strong side of the line, where they will often see the tight end/tackle double team.
On the other side, at the open end position, junior Barry Turner has put on a lot of size, now resembling Jay Moore, the person he's slated to replace. More a situational player in his first two years, the size wasn't that much of an issue. But to be an every down player, he's added the weight and now really looks the part. All reports indicate that even at his new and improved size, he still retains the jaw dropping quickness he illustrated as a freshman when he weighed right around 230 pounds versus the almost 270 he weighs now.
Safety, Eric Hagg
In the defensive backfield, there's enough jockeying going on, it's sometimes hard to figure out just who is where. As it stands right now, when it comes to the new arrivals, Eric Hagg is working at safety and Anthony Blue along with Shawn Sullivan are working at corner. Prince Amukamara is also working at corner, but has voiced his interest in potentially moving back to offense one day, and he's also being experimented with in the return game, which most expected based on just a portion of his jaw-dropping highlights from his prep career in Arizona .
There has been much talk about Quentin Castille moving to fullback, most of that stemming from the fact that the former Texas prep star came into fall camp weighing over 250 pounds. But while Castille has been utilized in a variety of roles over the fall camp, no mention has been made of even trying him at fullback or even in the H-back role, where he could be motioned out from the fullback spot.
Nebraska will continue its run of consecutive practices, taking to the field tomorrow afternoon. The team won't get a break until Photo Day, which takes place on the 18th of this month. The next two-a-day session will be Friday, August 17th.
(8-7/07) Bill Callahan Barry Turner on weight change: "We are looking to increase his reps, so he can endure the stamina for an entire 60, 70 or 75 play-game. Hopefully we are not on the field that long, but he's going to be a full time player as before, he was role playing and subbing in the game with Jay Moore. Now it's a little bit different. Taking that starter's position is going to require him to play a little bit more than he has in the past."
(8-7-07) Bill Callahan on Quentin Castille's size: "Looking at his body fat, he's right on schedule. He's a big man. We would like to get him down to (2)45, but he's a load. I had a lot of fun watching him today in practice. He carried the ball well. He's starting to learn the cuts and the footwork required in the running game. He's doing a very good job in the passing game, but that will all change here on Friday when we are in full pads."
(8-7-07) Bill Callahan on experience of offensive line: They are an experienced group. It's interesting that all these guys have been around each other for three and four years, so the communication is better. You expect that when guys have experience and have a lot of games under their belt. With (Brett) Byford up there – it's his second year as a starter and Slauson, and Murtha, and Huff and Picou – those guys have been around each other for years, so, so far so good. You can't have enough communication (on the line). It's the toughest aspect of any sport, amateur or professional when you have five guys that have to communicate at one time under 25 seconds and put their line in the right calls for the blocking calls, it's a pretty tough assignment. But we are making tremendous strides right now, but we still have a long ways to go."
(8-8-07) Shawn Watson on back up center position: "It's still up in the air a little bit. Jacob Hickman is working there. ( Jordan ) Picou is working there.
QB, Patrick Witt
(8-8-07) Shawn Watson on Patrick Witt not being a typical freshman: "No, he's not. He always amazes us at what he's able to retain (and) what he's able to do. He doesn't strike me as a freshman at all."
(8-8-07) Shawn Watson on how much a healthy Michael McNeil could help this offense: "He could be big for us, because he, like Hunter Teafatiller, gives us a threat down the field. He's a guy that can really run and catch. So, as a receiving tight end, he could help us initially. I think he's a really good run-blocker too, so he's exactly what you are looking for. "
(8-9-07) Bill Callahan on Zach Lee: "He's got a long ways to go, but he's a studious guy, he cares and loves the game and wants to be great. He wants to be a perfectionist and it's tough to do in this system, right off the bat, because there are things you have to spit out and, of course, communicate. But he's doing well. His progress is kind of where we thought it would be right now and every day is an opportunity for him to improve and get better. He's got the arm. Now it's just a matter of acquiring the experience within the system and learning the progression and reads to become more effective in the system."
(8-10-07) Kevin Cosgrove on the improvement of Zach Potter: "He did some good things in the spring, but he's playing much better right now than he did. His explosiveness, he's getting off on the ball. He's playing with his hands very well. He's showing more suddenness. You can see his strength and how he's developed that. So, I have been very impressed with Zach. He's big enough to play that position (Base End). Plenty big."
(8-10-07) Kevin Cosgrove on Larry Asante: "I think Larry had his best day today. I haven't seen his film yet, but just looking at the big picture today, I was pretty impressed with what he did today. He's always around the ball. He's showed suddenness. He was downhill. So, I don't know he was in the past, but I just noticed what he's done."
(8-10-07) Bill Busch on the potential impact of the rule change regarding moving kickoffs back to the 30-yard line: "I think it's one of the bigger ones
DT, Kevin Dixon
(8-11-07) Bill Callahan on how he divided quarterback reps for 20-play scrimmage: "We gave Joe and Sam their reps and we obviously let Pat Witt and Zach Lee get theirs also during practice. We can't play five quarterbacks in 20 reps – (It's) pretty difficult to do, so we gave the bulk of the work to Sam and Joe for that particular scrimmage."
(8-11-07) On how Kevin Dixon looks at this point: "He looks OK. It's just a matter of trying to get him really refined in terms of all his techniques. He's a good football player. He's natural. He's got the lowers – the lower part of his body where his power comes from. He's quick-twitched, he's got power, he's got strength. He can hold the point of attack and he's got that burst and that quickness to come off the ball, whether to create some type of penetration on a slant or to get up the field on a pass rush. So, those things have really flashed considerably in the last few days we've watched him."
ON THE SIDE
Former Husker commit, but on-going Husker recruit, Elkhorn offensive lineman Trevor Robinson was in attendance on Saturday as Nebraska went into the first half of two-a-days. Robinson remains uncommitted, his list of favorites still assumed to be Nebraska, Notre Dame and Michigan. With Notre Dame filling up quickly and the rumors persisting about Lloyd Carr retiring after this season, Nebraska would seem to be back in the front for one of the top offensive guard prospects in the country. There is no determined time as to when Robinson plans to make his decision.
Mater Dei standout defensive end Cameron Meredith was also in town for the last two days. Nebraska continues to try and address on-going needs at the defensive end position, and Meredith is being looked at to play the base end position, which was held by Adam Carriker last year, and is being fought for this season by junior Zach Potter and redshirt freshman Pierre Allen, amongst others. Make sure to check out Big Red Report's story on Meredith's visit as he talked about Nebraska and how it stacks up to the formidable list of other teams in contention for this standout DE.