September 1, 2009

Tuesday notebook: Green getting rave reviews

Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson walked off the practice field Tuesday with true freshman quarterback Cody Green, discussing a number of topics about the day's session.

Before Watson went off to address the media group, though, he made sure to give his quarterback the highest possible compliment he could give.

"I just told him as we were walking off the field, I told him he's done more than any freshman I've ever had," Watson said. "He really has. We've put more on him, and he's really done well. He's where he should be as far as knowledge-wise. He's got to perfect the other things, but he's done a nice job."

While Watson wasn't ready to discuss how much he actually plans to play Green - who has worked his way up to No. 2 on the depth chart this fall - he did talk in detail about just how well Green has performed over the course of his first offseason at Nebraska.

For example, Watson described a play during Monday's practice where Green was able to manipulate his audibles at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of a weakness in a blitz package shown by the defense.

"Cody's really football smart," he said. "The defense gave us a blitz look, and he was able to get in his audible game and ease us back into the original play and take advantage of the defense. That was really brilliant on his part. A really poised guy did that."

Watson said he's intentionally put extra pressure on Green during practice to get him ready to handle actual game situations.

The reason for it was because Watson said he saw signs of Green's poise and maturity from the first time he watched him in action when he came to the Huskers' quarterback camp prior to Green's senior year of high school.

When Green enrolled early and participated in spring practice, the original plan appeared to be to redshirt Green to let him ease into the program. However, following the transfer of Patrick Witt and the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Kody Spano, Green was suddenly thrust into the forefront of NU's quarterback picture.

Rather than back down from the challenge, Green appears to have taken it perfectly in stride - just as Watson expected.

"He's football smart," Watson said. "He gets it."

Tuesday practice takes
Williams should play: Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said he expected junior guard Keith Williams to play during Saturday's season opener against Florida Atlantic. Williams was held out of Monday's practice for undisclosed reasons, but rejoined the team on Tuesday, though he was held back a bit by the coaching staff. "I think he will (play)," Watson said. "No one's told me anything any different. That's been my expectation since the beginning."
FAU quarterback one of the best?: Apparently the Nebraska coaching staff has a pretty high opinion of Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith. In fact, sophomore cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said head coach Bo Pelini told the defense that Smith might be the third-best QB the team would face this season behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor. "Coach Pelini and Coach (Marvin Sanders) told us about Rusty Smith and how he's going to be, like, one of the best quarterbacks we face besides Sam Bradford and Tyrod Taylor," Dennard said. "We've got to keep our eyes on out keys."
Injury update: Junior offensive lineman Keith Williams returned to practice after sitting out Monday. Head coach Bo Pelini did not address the media following Tuesday's practice, so no other injury updates were given.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour full-padded practice on the outdoor practice fields North of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. The Huskers will take the field again on Wednesday from 3:45-6 p.m.

Huskers will keep it simple offensively

Because of the large number of first-year starters and other newcomers on Nebraska's roster, Watson said the Huskers would likely start off with a relatively simple approach in Saturday's season opener against Florida Atlantic.

That's not to say they'll be overly conservative against the Owls, but Watson and head coach Bo Pelini don't want to throw too much at their young players to the point where they can't execute it correctly on the field.

"We're keeping things fairly simple," Watson said. "We've got a lot of young players all over the place. We want to do the right things and not put a lot of burdens on them. We want them to play fast and play confident and within the system that they know, so we'll gear everything towards that at all positions."

Watson said the primary goal on Saturday would be to find out exactly where Nebraska's strengths are offensively. While the running game seems like the obvious foundation of the offense, the Huskers want to see jut how deep into the playbook they can get without sacrificing performance and execution.

"We need to develop an identity," Watson said. "That's the first thing a team needs to do. It usually evolves during the season, and we're letting that take shape right now."

Helu moving on without Castille

Possibly no other Husker took the dismissal of junior running back Quentin Castille harder than fellow junior back Roy Helu.

One of his closest friends on the team, Helu and Castille were poised to make up one of the best backfield tandems in the Big 12 Conference heading into the season. But after Castille was suddenly taken out of the picture, Helu was left to carry the load along with a cast of young and inexperienced running backs.

Though he was obviously upset with Castille's dismissal, Helu said he's done his best not to let the situation effect his play in practice or his focus heading into Saturday's season opener.

"I have thought about it, but I don't allow myself to dwell on it," Helu said. "It makes me miss him a whole lot and makes me think about what could have been. But this is what it is now. It's the situation that we're in. I'm not letting things like that make us stumble as a running back crew."

Helu said he has kept in touch with Castille since his dismissal, and while he wouldn't go into much detail about their conversations, he said Castille is settling into his new home at Northwestern (La.) State.

"From what I know, he's doing well," Helu said. "He's taking classes at his new school. They're playing (the University of Houston) this weekend."

- Robin Washut

Dennard not holding back on kick returns

There was a reason Alfonzo Dennard was only one of two true freshmen to see playing time last season. Unfortunately, he never quite showed it on game day.

Nebraska's coaching staff decided not to redshirt Dennard in order to have him serve as one of the two kickoff returners along side Niles Paul because of his explosive quickness and elusiveness in the open field.

However, Dennard said Tuesday that he was hesitant last season because he was afraid of making a mistake if he went all out while returning kicks. This season, he has no plans of holding back.

"I was holding back a little excitement," Dennard said. "I just wanted to do my role and just do what I have to do. This year, I've got some stuff I want to try out. I think the fans will like it."

- Robin Washut

Not much of an advantage

One would think that facing an opponent with just two returning defensive starters would be considered a least a little bit of an advantage.

Not for some Nebraska offensive players.

Despite Florida Atlantic boasting just two returning starters on defense, several NU players said they don't see the inexperience as much of an advantage at all.

In fact, they see it as more of an inconvenience.

"You think about that as an advantage, but at the same time, for guys like myself who really like to prepare and watch a lot of film, it's kind of more of a hassle because I have no idea what to expect," senior center Jacob Hickman said. "Once we're in the game and once we figure it out a little bit, it could be an advantage or it could be a problem. It depends on how they start playing. I don't like uncertainty. I like knowing who I'm playing against, what I'm going to do and what their tendencies."

Helu echoed Hickman's sentiments, saying he hasn't been able to get a good feel for what the Owls defense brings to the table because there simply isn't much film on nine of their 11 starters.

"I don't see it as an advantage, because you can't really get an idea of what you're going up against because you can't watch film on them," Helu said. "You don't really know what to expect."

- Robin Washut

FAU's Burning 'N' not taken well by Huskers

In an attempt to stir up some excitement for its trip to Lincoln to take on the Huskers on Saturday, Florida Atlantic put on a pep rally last week that was highlighted by the torching of a giant red 'N'.

Apparently Pelini and his team got wind of the stunt, and they weren't all that pleased about it.

"Coach came in and he gave us a little speech that I can't really go into, but I mean, what they're doing down there, I don't think it's football," senior safety Larry Asante said. "It's not football. You should just show up and play, and let all the other stuff take care of itself."

For the most part, the Huskers seemed to take the 'N' burning for what it was - a way for FAU fans to get excited with their season opener a week away.

The method in which they did it, however, came off as questionable at best.

"I guess whatever it takes to get you fired up," junior tight end Mike McNeill said. "I don't know. We didn't burn any Florida Atlantic flags. I don't know, maybe they're more ready than us? I'm not sure. I guess it's just something they're trying to do to get hyped up before the game, so we'll see.'

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Watson gave a hint as to at least four true and redshirt freshman that would see playing time on Saturday. Off the top of his head, Watson named players like receivers Antonio Bell and Khiry Cooper and tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton as freshmen he expected to play in the opener.

***With just three days left before game day, Watson said the Huskers have the majority of their base offense and defense installed. Now the team is working more on perfecting plays and schemes rather than processing new information.

***Not only did Helu say that his once injured hamstring was back to 100 percent, he also said he's never felt more prepared for a game than he is for Florida Atlantic.

"I'm the best prepared that I've been mentally and physically going into a game," he said. "So we'll see how that plays out on the field, but I'm not anxious about anything. Just ready to get out there and play against somebody different."

***Helu said he's been trying to gather some inspiration by watching old film of current NFL stars from back in their college days. In particular, he said he's watched a lot of film on former Arkansas and now Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden.

He said he admired McFadden's ability to stay so explosive, productive and healthy while carrying the ball 20-25 times a game, and the biggest attribute he wants to emulate is McFadden's mental toughness.

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