March 31, 2010

Wednesday notebook: West, Gomes adjusting

While Nebraska's coaches have said the new "Peso" defense hasn't been as drastic of a change as some may have originally thought, it has certainly mixed things up a bit for seniors DeJon Gomes and Anthony West.


As the Huskers have made it a point to better utilize their depth in the secondary, Gomes and West both moved from cornerback to safety during the team's winter 7-on-7 drills and have worked their since the start of spring practice.


After the loss of Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon to graduation, NU's depth at safety was one of the big question marks coming into the spring, as only one of the original safeties on the roster had ever started a game.


As a result, the coaches approached both Gomes and West about possibly moving to safety. Gomes had been an effective piece of the defense as the dime back last season, and West had played cornerback his first four years on campus.


Though it's been a transition for both players, they each welcomed the position change as a chance to help the team and also potentially see more playing time.


"I'm feeling real good," West said about the move. "The coaches have been breaking everything down and guiding me and throwing me in there and letting me learn everything. For the most part it's coming along real good."


West said it was actually a mutual decision to give safety a shot, as he played the position in high school before moving to cornerback when he came to Lincoln in 2006.


Considering that junior Alfonzo Dennard supplanted him as the starting cornerback opposite Prince Amukamara last year, the move simply made sense for him to get on the field as much as possible.


According to his coaches, he's well on his way towards working himself into the mix at safety this season.


"Anthony West is working at safety and having a heck of a spring," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "There's a learning curve for him, but it's coming along for him."


Things are a bit different for Gomes, though, as he made the move more to help the team than to try and get more playing time.


Because of how much Nebraska used its dime package with six defensive backs, Gomes saw the field quite a bit last season. The Huskers have yet to work on their dime this spring, but Pelini said Gomes would also continue to work as the sixth defensive back in the package.


However, it's not as if the move came as a total shock. Gomes said he actually started working some at safety during the Huskers' Holiday Bowl practices and continued through the winter and on into the spring.


For now, Gomes is doing his best to adjust to the move and all the increased responsibilities that go along with it.


"I've been picking up a lot of the defense, because I was usually down in the box," Gomes said. "I mean, growing up, I played safety on the defensive side of the ball until my senior year, so it's not really a big move in terms of learning a new position."


- Robin Washut





Wednesday spring takes
So why peso?: So why did Nebraska's defensive coaches decide to call their new base defensive package "the peso?" Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini got a good laugh about that when asked after Wednesday's practice. "It means five," Pelini said. "It doesn't have any meaning other than we were trying to think of another meaning for nickel. I think it means five? I took Latin. I don't really know?"

17,000 tickets remain: The Nebraska Sports information department said on Wednesday approximately 63,800 tickets have been sold already for the April 17 Red-White game. Around 17,000 tickets remain and they can be purchased online at Huskers.com or by calling 1-800-8-BIG RED.
Suh's jersey will be retired: The University of Nebraska Athletic Department announced on Wednesday that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will have his jersey retired this fall, like every other major NU award winner. However, just Suh's jersey and not the physical No. 93 itself will be retired. Suh will also be honored at the Red-White game on April 17.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two and half hour, full-padded practice inside the Hawks Championship Indoor Facility on Wednesday. The Huskers will return to the practice for their sixth official workout of the spring on Friday.


More on 'the peso'


In summary, Carl Pelini described Nebraska's shift to a "peso" defensive scheme as trying to get the best guys on the field at one time and doing less overall substituting in the process.


Pelini said on Wednesday the defensive staff felt that senior Eric Hagg was too valuable to this defense and they want him to be a full time starter. At 210 pounds, Pelini said Hagg has the ability to play in the box like a linebacker when NU is in their base peso scheme, but he still can flex out in coverage when they go to the nickel in one-back situations.


"We didn't make this move until we felt we could be just as physical with the nickel in the game as we are with three linebackers in the game," Pelini said. "Once we felt we were there, it was an easy transition to make.


"To us it's easier to teach Eric (Hagg) to play in the box than it is to teach a linebacker to cover, because one guy is learning a different position and the other guy is being asked to perform a skill set he may not have."


Last season Pelini said Nebraska's defense took a total of 1,080 snaps and actually were only in a base scheme with three linebackers for around 50 plays.


He said in all reality it's not a huge deal that the Buck linebacker has been cut out of the equation, because in Pelini's eyes it wasn't used enough as it was.


"I think they are pretty used to playing with just two guys out there," Pelini said of his linebackers. "It gives you great depth at linebacker is what (this move) does and we already had great depth in the secondary. I think it makes you a better football team."


Pelini also added that the peso is still a 4-3 base, even though Hagg is technically a defensive back. Since he comes up in the box in the peso, he basically becomes the third linebacker when they are in base.


"The big question was is it a 4-2-5, and to me it isn't," Pelini said. "It's still a 4-3. We just got a smaller Will linebacker in there. He just lines to the passing strength. We didn't change any of our calls, we just have a different guy doing it. To me it's still a 4-3 base defense in terms of philosophy."


-Sean Callahan


Cotton: O-line toughed out long season last year


The injury issues Nebraska's offensive line dealt with last season were definitely no secret, as seemingly every player on the line suffered one injury or another at some point.


In fact, some linemen like guard Ricky Henry played the entire season through injuries they suffered back in fall camp.


While it certainly had a negative impact on the continuity and overall performance of the offensive line, offensive line coach Barney Cotton said he couldn't have been more proud with the may his linemen toughed it out even though they were hurt.


"The best thing about it - I know people got down on it a little bit, but I was more pleased with them because nobody backed out," Cotton said. "Nobody put their hand up and said 'I can't go.' They were all willing. They might not have been as effective (if they played), but nobody put their hand up.


"Ricky played hurt for 14 games. He hurt his shoulder in August and played 14 games. That was a very pleasing thing for me, that guys were willing to play through things."


Junior right tackle Marcel Jones said he couldn't remember a point last season when all of Nebraska's linemen could be considered 100 percent. Jones dealt with injuries of his own, as he missed most of the final three games because of an injury (only because Cotton made him sit out) and also played through an injured AC joint in his shoulder all year.


"That was one of the biggest things last year - I had to learn how to play injured," Jones said. "I had never really went through that. Now that I have that under my belt, I know what can hold me back and what can't hold me back. It was actually kind of a blessing in disguise to know you can fight through certain things."


Despite the rash of injuries NU's offensive line endured, Cotton said the unit didn't back off its intensity in practice one bit. Should the same situation occur this year, Cotton said he'll handle it the exact same way.


Mostly because his players are more than capable of handling it.


"We didn't back off at all," Cotton said. "If anything, we put the pedal down harder. Our guys practiced hard, they practiced fast and they practiced physical. There was no making excuses or whining. They just got in there and did it."


- Robin Washut


Randle should be a factor


One player who figures to factor into the mix on the defensive line this season is redshirt freshman defensive tackleThaddeus Randle.


Pelini said Randle has added about 20 to 25 pounds of good muscle over the off-season and he's been really impressed with what he's seen from him through five spring practices.


"He's had a great spring, he really has," Pelini said of Randle. "He plays with great energy, he has a high motor, he's got a lot of learning to do, but he's strong. He's so strong in his lower body. He's got natural strength and he's got natural great feet, great speed, great quickness and great power steps.


"Again, he's a lot like Baker (Steinkuhler) was a year ago, he's going to continue to develop his upper body strength. He's going to play though. Thad is going to play."


Pelini also praised junior defensive tackle Terrence Moore and the improvements he's made over the off-season.


"He's healthy. He looks faster. He looks quicker, he looks more sudden," Pelini said. "All four of those guys look good. We are going to play four interior guys this spring and maybe five. If one of those younger kids comes in and makes us better, we'll play him."


-Sean Callahan


Quick hits


***Pelini expects redshirt freshman cornerback Andrew Green to compete for playing time once he fully recovers from his shoulder injury.


"He's going to have a lot to learn and a lot of catching up to do," Pelini said. "He's a guy you'd like to see play one of the nickel or dime spots too, but you are never going to ask a kid to double learn. You let them master one and then master the other."


***Even though sophomore defensive end Cameron Meredith plays on the edge, Pelini said he could move inside to defensive tackle "tomorrow" if they had to make the switch.


***Speaking of players on the interior defensive line, Pelini said true freshman Chase Rome is working at defensive tackle and not defensive end this spring.


"He's playing inside and doing well," Pelini said of Rome.


***Running backs coach Tim Beck talked about the decision to move Marcus Mendoza from running back to defensive back this spring. He said it was mainly to give Mendoza a better shot at seeing more playing time, but the move might not be permanent.


"It was kind of mutual," Beck said. "We had talked a little bit about it, and he I think he felt defensively there might be more opportunity for him. I mean, if you're a second string defensive back you're one of 12 sometimes. Knowing that we have seven guys (at running back) and four in this (2010) class, maybe he thought that would be a better move."


***While talking about moving to safety, Gomes was asked if it would put him in a better position to make plays on the ball because he could roam around a bit more. He said players should be able to make plays wherever they line up.


"With the scheme that we run, the whole back seven has a chance to make a lot of plays," Gomes said. "Either you're going to do it or you're not."


***Cotton had a nice description of the type of player junior center Mike Caputo has been over the past few years:


"Caputo is a relentless little pit bull," Cotton said. "He's a good technician. He's undersized, but he's very mentally savvy. He's physically a relentless-effort guy."

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