August 8, 2010

NU's receivers holding their own vs secondary

As is the case with any football team, Nebraska's wide receivers and defensive backs love to talk a little when they're out on the field, especially to each other.

However, the friendly verbal back-and-forth may have reached an all-time high over the course of this past offseason. The reason? The Huskers' receivers are finally backing up their talk with their play.

After a relatively quiet season from the unit last year, something seems to have lit a fire under NU's wide outs, and their top targets are their teammates lined up across the line of scrimmage.

"Now, we've got a little swagger about ourselves and we like being physical," senior receiver Brandon Kinnie said. "It used to be just (senior Niles Paul) being physical, but now they've got somebody else who's running down (the field) wanting to touch somebody and grab them and put their hands on them. It's kind of different than how it was before, and (the defensive backs) don't really like it. It's funny. I like it a lot."

Looking down the line of Nebraska's receivers, it's easy to see why they've gained so much confidence during the past few months. Not only are they all a year more experienced, but they've also shown significant gains in the weight room.

Of the 21 receivers on NU's roster, 11 entered fall camp listed at 205 pounds or more. Of those 11, five weigh in at 220 or higher.

As a result, the receiving corps no longer lets the defensive backs have their way in practice without a fight.

"You know, I brought (that attitude) to the receivers," said senior Mike McNeill, a tight end-turned-receiver this offseason who knows a thing or two about physical football. "I'm just kidding. But yeah, Coach (Ted Gilmore) always stresses that one of our biggest advantages is our size. Obviously we've got big receivers, and we're learning to play with that a little more.

"We're learning to be more physical and use our big bodies, and I think that has naturally brought on a kind of more of a swagger and a little cockiness, a little more confidence."

Nebraska's defensive backs have definitely taken notice of the change in their offensive counterparts. Senior cornerback Prince Amukamara said the heated competition every day in practice will only make both sides the best they can be come game day.

"I think it definitely raises both of us to a whole new level of play," Amukamara said. "Niles is definitely one of the best receivers that I go against, and it's good to go against him every day in camp."

The increased competitiveness actually reached its boiling point earlier this summer, as all the jawing, bumping and shoving could only be settled in one way - a good old-fashioned boxing match.

Following one especially heated practice, someone on the team brought out two pairs of boxing gloves, and the two sides had to pick their representatives for a friendly sparring session.

"It's just friendly competition," Kinnie said. "We were always just playing around and play fighting, and then finally when somebody brought the gloves in, all the colors come out. It was fun."

There were only a few different matches, but the highlight was undoubtedly a showdown between each of the units' stars - Paul versus Amukamara.

No one would say who won, and they'll likely keep it that way. Either way, it's obvious both sides can't wait to start hitting someone in a different colored jersey.

"It happened behind closed doors," Amukamara said. "You can ask Niles who won."

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