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NCAA FOOTBALL: MAR 06 Nebraska Spring Practice

Blackshirts showing signs of growth

Slowly the word started to get out following Nebraska’s scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium last Saturday’s scrimmage — the defense played pretty well.

Yes, the young Husker defense that needs to replace at least eight starters reportedly held its own against the Nebraska offense that needs to replace only two. Head coach Bo Pelini cautions against reading too much into these practice results — and it must be noted that Taylor Martinez didn’t play in that scrimmage — but all signs of defensive progress this spring are welcome with so much youth on that side of the ball for the Huskers.

“We really made a big jump I thought last week in terms of our general understanding of the entire defense.” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said following Monday’s practice. “We’ve got to keep doing that this week. This is a big week.”

Nebraska has just one more practice before Saturday’s spring game, which is starting to feel almost like an unveiling for the Blackshirts. Some will focus on four freshmen linebackers making their “debuts,” others the veterans — Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson — who are taking the reins, for now, at safety.

One name that’s racing up the list of players to watch is that of defensive end Greg McMullen. The redshirt freshman was one of the stars of Saturday’s scrimmage.

“He is a big physical kid who is athletic and is hard to block,” Papuchis said, “I told Greg after the scrimmage ‘we have only coached you for 11 or 12 practices.’ In the big scheme of things that’s not very much. I thought he took a good step forward Saturday.”

Jackson said the Huskers’ defense was “dominant” at times last Saturday, which was a significant step forward from where the Blackshirts had been earlier this spring.

“I feel like the defense has come a long way,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to be a good group. I’m really excited about the spring game.

“This is the first step to show everybody what we’ve got. For the most part, the defense is getting better. The youngsters are getting better as well. I think everybody will have something good to see come the spring game.”

That type of progress is all Papuchis has asked of his young defensive unit over the past three-plus weeks.

“I want us to be better when we leave the practice field on Wednesday than we were today, and I want us to better when we leave the game field on Saturday than we were today.” Papuchis said, “If we keep taking strides, those little steps will add up come Aug. 31.”

A few other news and notes from Monday’s practice:

–Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said the staff has not decided on how much Taylor Martinez will play on Saturday or how the back-up quarterbacks will split reps.

–Beck singled out redshirt freshman walk-on King Frazier for the work he’s done at running back with Ameer Abdullah out with a knee injury. Sophomore fullback Andy Janovich, also a walk-on, has been taking some snaps at running back as well according to Beck.

–Temperatures in the 70s are forecast for Saturday, which makes linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Ross Els happy. The list of official visitors for the spring game is still somewhat fluid, but Els said the atmosphere on Saturday is a big part of what Nebraska is selling to recruits.

The spring game isn’t just good for replicating a game day atmosphere in Lincoln, Els said it’s also beneficial due to the amount of time the staff has to spend with recruits.

“We will have a little more time with them,” he said. “Not only before the game, because we’re all ready to go pretty much, but also after the game because we don’t have to get ready for another opponent.”