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Changes at Linebacker

Wednesday marked the third consecutive time out that Nebraska defenders practiced without their Blackshirts. The Blackshirts were stripped after Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota, a game in which defensive coordinator John Papuchis said the Huskers failed to live up to the lofty expectations the coaching staff has for them

“I think if you ask them man for man we have a standard that we want to live up to here,” Papuchis said. “Certainly what we put on the field on Saturday wasn’t up to that Blackshirt standard.”

Papuchis added that the decision came from the coaches, not the players.

“I don’t wear a Blackshirt but if wore a Blackshirt, I’d take mine off too. We didn’t do anything well enough to warrant them,” he said.

Linebacker coach Ross Els’ group suffered plenty of scrutiny after Saturday’s loss; coaches announced earlier in the week that changes would be made at the linebacker spot. Els said he has heard his linebackers talk about the Blackshirts.

“I know that’s a big part of Nebraska tradition, but these guys are such a team-oriented group that they know we weren’t playing well enough last week to earn anything,” he said. “So hey, ‘if my buddy next to me doesn’t have one, I don’t have one either, we can live with that, let’s go earn them again.’”

–Those changes you’ll see at linebacker will be a move by Michael Rose inside to the MIKE linebacker position. David Santos will move outside to the weakside (WILL) linebacker position. Papuchis said Rose’s “take charge” personality fits well in the linebacker spot where confidence and vocality is needed.

“I think the thing about Michael Rose – it’s the piece that I feel like we’ve been missing – is a leadership presence at the MIKE backer,” he said. “A guy that can take charge, make calls, set fronts; Michael has that.”

Papuchis said the movement shouldn’t be too detrimental to Nebraska’s defense, since the linebacker spots are interchangeable to a degree.

“We’re pretty flexible in what we’re able to do,” Papuchis said. “In some respects that’s a good problem to have. In other ways sometimes you have to be very very careful in how you rep guys.”

Since Northwestern runs 85 percent spread, Papuchis said, Nebraska will run mostly nickel and dime defenses. In nickel packages, you’ll see Rose and Josh Banderas or Santos and Nate Gerry. Santos will work as the dime linebacker, he said.

–Els said Wednesday the main difference between linebackers knowing reads and actually executing them on the field is as simple as experience. With the shifting at linebacker with Santos and Rose however, you might think the learning curve starts over when a players moves inside out or vice versa.

“In the meeting room I want to make sure they all understand that so that we can move guys around. It’s no different than we’ve done the last couple years,” Els said. “Lavonte (David) played some (middle) linebacker, Will Compton played some (weakside) linebacker, (Alonzo) Whaley played WILL and BUCK. We’ve switched guys around in the past. It’s really the type of player you have at linebacker and what you’re seeing offensively to find the right mix.”

Els said however that it’s not a goal of the Nebraska defense to have interchangeability at linebacker.

“I’d like to have it solid. I’d like to have it set…we’re just not at that level yet,” he said.

-Shortly after practice on “Sports Nightly” Bo Pelini announced that Tommy Armstrong will start at quarterback Saturday. Pelini also said linebacker Jared Afalava won’t see the field this weekend for reasons unspecified.

–Sadly it appears wide receiver Tyler Wullenwaber’s football career may be over at Nebraska. Coaches didn’t make any announcements after practice, but Wullenwaber sent out some discouraging tweets shortly after media left the practice facility.

“Well, it’s been a great ride! But my body doesn’t want me to play football anymore and it’s time to start a new chapter in my life,” the first tweet read.

Wullenwaber then tweeted “Love my teammates to death and they are like brothers to me now. Also want to thank husker nation for all of the support.”