August 8, 2011

Monday notebook: Newcomers impressing

One of the biggest storylines of fall practice has been the addition of three extremely talented freshmen to Nebraska's backfield. So far through the first three days of camp, the trio has failed to disappoint.

On Monday, offensive coordinator said freshmen Braylon Heard, Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah all still have a way to go before they fully learn the offense, but as far as being overall playmakers, Beck said he's never seen three freshman backs this good come in all at once.

"Not at one position, it's rare that that happens," Beck said. "It's a tribute to them. They work hard, they're very tentative, they are quick learners and they've been doing a great job. Even the older guys, they help them and they guide those guys and teach them. They're learning a lot of good habits from those guys."

What has stood out the most for Beck early on has just been the overall speed the three freshmen have added to the offense. So long as they can grasp the game plan well enough to learn the plays, Beck said he could see any or all three of the backs having immediate impacts this season.

"Those guys are all fast, they are all competing, I really love their work ethic and they are definitely going to have the opportunity to help our football team this year," Beck said. "There's no question about it. I've been real pleased with those guys."

While the debuts of Heard, Green and Abdullah have been nothing short of impressive through the first three days of camp, Beck said he would have to see how they handle the increased volume of the playbook as the season opener draws closer.

At this rate, though, the trio seems more than up to the challenge.

"We are throwing a lot more at them now," Beck said. "We were a little bit slower in the spring. Our expectations are obviously very high for these guys. We want them to go out there and execute. Some guys have retained it very well. I've been pleased for our first three practices offensively."

The running backs haven't been the only newcomers to make splash early on this fall. Junior college transfer Joseph Carter has been turning heads as well at defensive end since his first practice.

In fact, he might be the one newcomer who has as good of a shot as anyone to see the field right away this season.

"He's actually handled the defense really well," junior defensive end Cameron Meredith said. "As you know, our defense isn't easy to learn, but he's definitely come along with it. It just takes experience. Any new guy that comes in is not going to be perfect the first day. It takes weeks to get our technique down and stuff like that. But I think it's coming along pretty well for him through the first few days."

- Robin Washut

Evans seeing time at nickel

As if competing for the starting cornerback spot opposite senior Alfonzo Dennard wasn't enough pressure for sophomore Ciante Evans, he's also been handed the responsibility of learning a second position over the offseason.

Since spring practice, Evans has been splitting up his reps between cornerback and nickel back, and he's been working at nickel even more this fall. Evans said having to learn two spots on the field has definitely been challenging, but he knows it will only make him a better player in the long run.

"I've kind of had some missed assignments because I'm trying to learn two different positions," Evans said. "So I get confused sometimes, but my teammates and my coaches are trying to help me out as much as possible… I kind of worked on it in the spring, but nobody really knew about it. I did it in the summer, too, and right now in the fall I've been getting reps at it. So we're going to see how it goes."

When Evans does move inside to the nickel, he said sophomore Andrew Green usually replaces his as the other cornerback with the first-team defense. Coming out of spring, it was thought that Green might push for the starting nickel job, but apparently the coaching staff wants to see how Evans does at the position as well.

Evans said the main reasons for him working at the nickel was to both help make him a more versatile defensive back and also to help the Huskers match up better with certain opposing receivers.

"I don't know if the coaches are going to use me there or how they're going to use me," Evans said. "With the different teams and the different match-ups, it's all about game planning. It just depends on what the coaches want."

Having started a game last year as a true freshman, Evans came into fall camp as one of the frontrunners to join Dennard as a starting corner, but as long as he gets on the field, Evans said he's willing to play wherever his coaches ask him.

"I just know I've got to go out there and compete every day," Evans said. "We don't really know who is going to start where. The coaches might know who it is, but I'm just going out there playing and competing with my defense."

- Robin Washut

Qvale says move to tackle was perfect fit

Sophomore Brent Qvale always thought of himself as a tackle, but when he came to Nebraska in 2009, there was a bigger need inside on the offensive line at guard. Being the team player he is, Qvale didn't hesitate to give the new position a shot.

After a shoulder injury sidelined him for '09 season, Qvale saw some playing time behind Keith Williams and Ricky Henry during his redshirt freshman season last year.

This spring, however, it became clear that Nebraska would have more depth at the guard position with the rise of some more mature underclassmen and the addition of some talented newcomers. When the chance came for Qvale to move back to tackle at the end of spring ball, he jumped all over it.

"Your tackles are usually your taller guys, so we just thought it was more natural to switch out to tackle," Qvale said. "When I came in they needed guards, so I went there just wanting to get more playing time. Now that we have a few more guys inside, I can move out and hopefully transition to it well.

"So far it's a little different, but I'm adjusting to it OK. I think overall it will help the team more with where guys are playing now."

When Qvale first came to Lincoln, a lot of the talk was how his agility for a 6-foot-7, 330-pound freshman made him such a unique specimen up front. At Williston (N.D.) High School, he was twice named first-team all-state in basketball.

While he still has the same quick feet, Qvale admitted the transition from taking on interior defensive linemen to speedy rushers off the edge has been the biggest adjustment.

"Going from the squatty 300-pound guys to the 6-4, 6-5 speed guys," Qvale said. "Definitely the pass blocking aspect has been different. So far it's coming along. I'm only three days into it, so it's going OK."

The only problem with the move is Qvale is joining a heated competition for playing time at tackle. Whether or not he sees the field as much as he hopes this season, Qvale said he's more concerned about team success than anything else.

"I'm just trying to show that I can play tackle," Qvale said. "The o-line as a whole, we're just trying to show we can come off the ball and move people and be ready for the season. Playing time will come. As long as we're winning, it's fine with me."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Beck said freshman Jamal Turner has split his reps in practice 50/50 at wide receiver and quarterback. With the loss of Cody Green and the uncertain status of freshman Bibba Starling, Beck said he wants Turner to be able to run the offense just in case the worst case scenario comes about.

"You always have him there just in case," Beck said. "We'll kind of use him there a little bit here and there and make sure he's a guy that we ever had to go him we could."

***While head coach Bo Pelini didn't exactly go into much detail on Saturday when asked about the addition of playing music over the P.A. system during practice, receivers coach Rich Fisher said he is a big fan of the new twist.

"It's been great," Fisher said. "In a lot of ways, I think it's gone better than we anticipated. When you have the loud music, you've really got to focus in terms of hearing the quarterback, seeing the checks, understanding exactly what you're supposed to be doing. For the most part we haven't had a lot of offsides. I think the communication has been good. I think it's a great thing that we're doing it. Hopefully when we get in a situation in a pressure-packed, loud stadium, it's going to benefit us."

***Apparently first-year defensive backs coach Corey Raymond is not one for letting mistakes go very easily.

"Now, since it's about to get down to the season, he's more onto us," Evans said of Raymond. "We just did 200 belly-flops (also known as up-downs) for one missed assignment. You can tell how he wants us to play and how he wants us to live up to his standard. I know you might think like, 'One missed assignment?' But we have to live up to what he wants, and so we have to go out there and have no missed assignments."

***As for the newcomers on the offensive line, Qvale said freshman Ryne Reeves is starting out at center, Ryan Klachko is working at both guard and center, and Zach Sterup is starting out at tackle.

***Qvale said his personal conditioning was better than ever this summer, saying he's dropped roughly 13 pounds and is now down to 317.

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