August 25, 2011

Thursday notebook: NU starting to feel the jitters

After nearly three weeks of fall camp every team in the country is where Nebraska is at right now.


Husker offensive coordinator Tim Beck said on Thursday that it's gotten to the point where you are just ready to play a game.


"We are kind of winding it down with all of our guys and getting ready for the season," Beck said. "It's an exciting time for all of our guys. I think they are getting excited and I think they are ready to hit somebody else besides themselves."


Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said even as a coach you start to feel some stress at this point when you begin to think of the long road that is ahead.


Thursday the Huskers practiced in helmets only and used it as a mental review day and they will officially begin game install on Friday.


"This is that time every year where a coach is scared to death with a week away," Pelini said. "You just wish you were further. We're fine. Developmentally where we are is probably where we've been or ahead of where we've been.


"It's still scares you to death right now to think you are a week away from your first game. You just feel like you have so much you need to get to."


Starting tomorrow, Pelini said it becomes much easier to zone in when you are only worrying about preparing for one opponent.


"I think what happens is you feel overwhelmed when you start getting into that first game week and then once you get into that game week and you get into the rhythm of the opponent and work on them specifically and then everything starts to focus for you and focus for the guys," Pelini said. "Then you just get into that season long rhythm of week to week to week. We are just at that point where we aren't thinking big picture anymore. Starting tomorrow we'll start to think about our first opponent. All those things kind of go away at that point. This is tough.


"That third week of camp when you are thinking of the 'season-long things' and what you've got to do and how you've got to get this team developed or the things you want to become the fabric of your defense. Starting tomorrow it starts coming more little picture and that's when it starts to get easier as a coach and a lot easier as a player because you can kind of focus on one team and their tendencies."


- Sean Callahan


Jones ready to get back to action


One of the biggest question marks on the offensive line all fall, senior tackle Marcel Jones finally returned to action this week after sitting out all camp with a lingering back injury.


Now that he's finally made his way back onto the field, Jones has every intention of staying there for the rest of the season.


Through intense core work and regularly stretching his lower back and hamstrings, Jones was able to finally get his back loose enough to the point where he fully expects to be ready to play when the Huskers open the season against Tennessee-Chattanooga on Sept. 3.


"I expect to be ready to go the first game," Jones said. "My motto has always been if I can walk, I can practice, and if I can practice, I can play. I'm out there practicing right now, and I expect to be playing hopefully pretty soon. I've just got to show the coaches that I'm healthy again and I can go out there and perform to the best of my ability."


Jones said he stayed in fairly good condition despite not being able to practice by doing lots of cardio over the offseason, but he admitted he's noticed a big difference in being what he considered in shape and being in football shape.


"Football conditioned and running conditioned is a little different," Jones said. "These past couple days I'm getting right back into football shape. I've biked and ran as much as I could, and I'm pretty up there just getting back into football shape."


Offensive line coach Barney Cotton said he's been pleasantly surprised with how well Jones has picked up after missing so much time over the past year and a half.


"Marcel's been good," Cotton said. "He's knocking the rust off. Each day he looks a little bit better and a little bit quicker. I think the rust will come off pretty quickly. The biggest thing with him now is, you know, riding the bike is a lot different than practicing in pads. Even though he had a good summer up to a point, riding a bike is still a lot different than carrying around pads and practicing in the heat.


"You watch him move around now, you see a guy who looks like he's well on his way. He's already practiced more now than he did most of last year."


He's only been back in pads for a few days, but Jones said just being out there with his teammates again has made all the hard work worth it. With this being his final year as a Husker, Jones said he's determined not to watch this season from the sidelines.


"No senior wants to sit on the sidelines and watch his team go out there," Jones said. "It's a really important thing for me. I've had a fun career here. I've been riddled with injuries a little bit, but I just want to go out there on the field and play and show everybody that I can play. I feel like I've kind of hurt myself being injured. I want to show the world that I'm a pretty decent player. I just want to go out there and play."


- Robin Washut


Beck proud of the offense


After nearly three weeks of fall camp Beck said on Thursday he's proud of the steps his unit has taken this August.


Even with some injuries that have slowed the development at times, Beck feels like this group has come a long way in camp.


"I'm very pleased with our progress," Beck said. "Obviously we aren't a finished product. I hope our best game is our last game as long as we continue to improve and get better. That's a good thing.


"That's our goal and we realize that and I think our players understand that. They go out there every day and they go to work and they try to get better than the day before even if it's just one small thing. Today I thought we got better."


- Sean Callahan


It's now or never for Williams


Going into fall camp, junior defensive end Josh Williams was well aware of the intense competition that would go on at his position throughout camp and even on into the season.


A player who was on the cusp of being a fixture on Nebraska's defensive line all of last year, Williams knew things wouldn't get any easier for him to crack the starting lineup this season. Instead of being frustrated with his situation, though, the Denton, Texas, native has used the competition to help drive him every single practice.


In his mind, this season is now or never.


"This is my year," Williams said. "I'm a junior, man. I don't have much time left. That's just the reality of it. I feel like it's either now or it's not going to be."


After seeing time in 13 games last year, Williams came into the spring as one of the top contenders for the starting defensive end spot opposite Cameron Meredith. So far through spring and nearly three weeks of fall practice, Williams said he's confident about the progress he's made and where he stands in the going into the season opener.


That sentiment was validated when Carl Pelini said earlier in camp that Williams was having a great camp, even mentioning his name first when asked about the competition at defensive end.


"I think you just have to be a competitor at heart," Williams said. "You just got to know you've got to bring it everyday and you can't have a day off when the competition is high like that. All the guys I'm competing with are all good players, so when the competition level is that high you've just got to stay focused day in and day out and come in with the right mindset.


"Throughout camp I just take every day to work on something to get better. I feel like over these past couple weeks I've made big strides."


- Robin Washut


Santos off to good start


Like any true freshman, linebacker David Santos was a bit overwhelmed when he took the field for his first Nebraska practice at the start of fall camp.


While he still has a whole lot to learn, Santos has been doing all he can to get caught up to speed as quickly as possible.


"He's doing a great job," junior linebacker Will Compton said. "He's really coming along. He's just got to keep coming, keep studying the playbook and things like that. He's always asking questions. His want-to in learning has impressed me more than anything.


"When you get to this level, everybody has the ability. It's what you do with that ability mentally. It's about getting to that next step every day, and Santos is somebody who comes out every day and wants to be better than the person he was yesterday. That's what you have to be if you want to be successful at this level."


It will undoubtedly take Santos a while before he truly understands NU's complex defensive scheme, but with a drive to learn and get better every day and a wealth of pure athletic ability, linebackers coach Ross Els doesn't see the learning curve being quite as steep for Santos as it would be with other freshmen.


"He's very athletic," Els said. "He's got very good feet, which if you're going to start as a linebacker, other than toughness, he's got to be able to have good feet to get around blocks. Some people talk about pure speed, that's important, but if you can't get around a block it makes no difference whether you can go track a guy down or not.


"He's learning every day. He's a studious guy. He's quiet, but you ask him stuff in the meeting room and he shows it out on the field that he's learning something every day."


- Robin Washut


Quick hits


***Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said during his radio show on Thursday night that freshman offensive linemen Tyler Moore will see the field for the Huskers this year and right now he's been working as the No. 1 right tackle.


***Beck said he's very comfortable with playing all three freshmen running backs at this point.


"We are counting on those guys to play for us," Beck said. "Right now they've been working hard. You see improvement in them every day and that's all we can ask those guys to do. We can't simulate game experience or the crowd or what it's going to do, but our goal is to get them to play confident and to play fast."


***Beck said he does not know if a depth chart will be issued next week to the media and the public.


***Carl Pelini said that senior linebacker Mathew May returned to practice after being slowed by a hamstring injury. However, redshirt freshman Trevor Roach remains out with a hamstring injury of his own.


"We were really excited about Trevor (Roach)," Carl Pelini said. "We thought he was going to be a huge factor. He had a great couple of weeks of practice and then he tweaked his hamstring. Especially with him being so young, it kind of slows his development. We've got to get him back out there even if he's not 100 percent."


***With Roach out, Pelini said that junior Sean Fisher has been working as the back-up Mike linebacker to Will Compton and junior Alonzo Whaley moves over to Buck in his place.


***Carl Pelini said that redshirt freshman Chase Rome has had his up and down moments in camp this year, but they are really excited about his potential.


***Carl Pelini also said that freshman DT Kevin Williams got "dinged up" in a live drill earlier this week and has been backed down from practice since.


***Williams said he's been impressed with the way juco transfer defensive end Joseph Carter has picked up the defense this fall.


"He's new to the defense, and in this defense, it's not easy to play in," Williams said. "I feel like he's progressed a lot. He came in with the right mindset of learning the defense and wanting to work hard every day and get everything down. He's done that, and I respect him for that."


***Els said Bo and Carl Pelini have been great to work with since he came to Lincoln in the spring. Even though he coaches a position where the Pelini's have a ton of experience, Els said they have allowed him to coach the way he wants to coach and have embraced his input.


"As much success as they've had defensively, they could come in and just tell me to be quiet. They don't do that," Els said. "They've watched some film on a little bit of what we did at Ohio and things that I thought maybe could've helped the package a little bit, and we've implemented a couple of those. Technique wise, Bo and I were kind of on the same page anyway. That's why I'm here.


"When you get a chance to learn from a guy like Bo, you take it. He just gives those little suggestions that get you as a coach to the next level. It's been a good marriage, it really has."


***Els also said he felt the linebackers weren't far away from getting to the point where the coaching staff felt comfortable in the overall depth at the position.


"Very close. Very close," Els said. "In the last live action that we had, we played the twos a lot to get them more reps and reps and reps. They'll play. They'll play on Saturdays. You can't take every snap in this conference, so we need to have guys to be able to come in and pick up where the starters left off."

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