NCAA FOOTBALL: MAR 12 Spring Practice

Gregory: Blackshirts a ‘lot more confident’ in 2014

We all know what Randy Gregory can do. In just five short months last fall he developed into perhaps the best pure pass rusher in the Big Ten; a guy who figured to give Nebraska’s young offensive line fits this spring as it tried to replace four starters from 2013.

But watch spring practice and you’ll see that it hasn’t been quite the mismatch many would’ve thought thanks to the emergence of Alex Lewis. The Colorado transfer has entrenched himself at left tackle over the past few weeks, head-up against Gregory most of the time, and the newcomer brings plenty of fire to the daily competition.

“We’ve been going at it since day one,” Gregory said. “We’re making each other better. It’s nothing personal or anything like that. We talk every day in the locker room. He’s a great guy and he’s got a great motor. He pushes me and I thank him for that. As long as he brings that intensity every day in practice, we will be all right.”

It’s not just the one-on-one match ups with Lewis that have Gregory’s attention this spring, however. He says he’s been impressed with how the defensive line as a unit has gone about its work. In particular, Gregory cited the development of a good group of young defensive tackles like Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, Aaron Curry and Kevin Maurice.

“I think we knew what we had coming into this year,” Gregory said. “We have a lot of talent, especially with the defensive tackles. We have a lot of depth there. We’re still trying to figure things outside with the defensive ends, but as a unit, we have a great group.”

Collins, who has swung out to play defensive end in certain situations, also drew special recognition from Gregory with the junior saying Collins has made the biggest strides this spring.

Overall, the development up front along with a strong end to the 2013 season for the Blackshirts has led to a more comfortable unit defensively.

“We finished off [2013] pretty well defensively. We knew what we had coming back this year and then we came into this season a lot more confident and hopefully we can just carry that on to the beginning of the season,” Gregory said.

A few other notes from Wednesday’s practice:

–It seems the majority of drills are done in the nickel defense with Charles Jackson as the fifth defensive back. Less than half of the reps seem to happen in base defense with three linebackers. After spring break, junior college transfer corner Byerson Cockrell has been firmly with the 1’s opposite Josh Mitchell at corner during the time we’ve got to watch.

–The most rotations seem to happen at linebacker, with Trevor Roach moving among the 1’s, 2’s and 3’s. Zaire Anderson appears locked into a number 1 spot, with Josh Banderas spending the majority of snaps there and Michael Rose rotating in the middle. Roach, David Santos and freshman Courtney Love have also been in the outside linebacker cycle, with Roach taking what looks like the most snaps with the top unit.

–Maliek Collins has built his hype quite high with the praise he’s gotten this week, and spends most drills repping with the top defensive line unit. The rest of the top defensive line usually consists of Randy Gregory, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen at defensive end. The current 2’s appear to be Jack Gangwish and Joe Keels at defensive end with Aaron Curry, Kevin Maurice and Kevin Williams rotating in the middle. Keels returned to practice Wednesday after sitting out Monday for an undisclosed reason.

–With Drake Martinez missing another practice and Corey Cooper’s injury that has kept him out of spring ball, the second-team defensive backfield looks different with a pair of in-state safeties. Junior Anthony Ridder and redshirt freshman Zach Stovall have filled in with Omaha native Joey Felici playing nickel. Jonathan Rose and redshirt freshman Boaz Joseph are still playing corner with the 2’s.

–Nathan Gerry is literally making his voice heard and making the most of his snaps with the No. 1 defense in Corey Cooper’s absence and playing well. Gerry can be seen on nearly any successful defensive play running around and waving his arms and yelling like a mad man. I thought he might lose it today when he grabbed an interception.

–Linebacker Michael Rose mentioned Courtney Love as one of the linebackers on the Nebraska defense who can play in a three-point stance in linebacker rush plays. Love spent most of his time with the 2’s Wednesday, but played a few snaps in full-contact drills with the 1’s.