Huskers Going All-In on Special Teams
The picture on special teams may be getting clearer as Nebraska starts two-a-day practices – the second of which began Wednesday morning. Needing help in the punt return game, Nebraska may be turning to a guy who isn’t shy about his standing on the football team’s overall depth chart.
“I consider myself one of the better players on this team, so I want the best players out there at all times,” Said Ameer Abdullah. The senior took punt return reps along with Jordan Westerkamp, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Jordan Nelson. “Just because you play a pivotal role on the offense doesn’t mean you can’t contribute on special teams, because you want the best 11 out there at every phase of the game.”
Abdullah was then asked how he would respond to the thought of keeping a pivotal offensive player off special teams for injury prevention reasons.
“You don’t want to win,” he said. “That means your desire to win isn’t good enough. We have a fiery passion to win this year, and that’s how you do that; you put the best players out there.”
–While Jake Cotton called Nebraska’s top four defensive linemen “scary,” Bo Pelini said he’s happy with the progress among the rotation behind the front four. At defensive end, where depth is an area of concern for the Huskers, Pelini said there hasn’t been much separation, but that’s not a bad thing.
“There’s a lot of good competition going on there. Those guys are getting better.” He said. Pelini rattled off the names Joe Keels, A.J. Natter and Jack Gangwish as older guys, but also made sure to bring up the quick development of freshmen Sedrick King, Mick Stoltenberg and Peyton Newell.
“(Stoltenberg) hasn’t played a lot of D-end, so he’s probably a little ways behind, but I think he’s going to be really good. Newell’s done a really good job over the last couple days,” Pelini said.
Guard Jake Cotton is getting sense of just how good the defensive line could be come fall, he said Wednesday. Their toughness is what stands out the most.
“I mean, they’re hard-nosed players all across the board and even below the first four,” Cotton said. “I’d say our guys are scary. I think they have a chance to really be great this year.”
“They’ve got good motors. Inside, we’re big. I really like Maliek (Collins) and Big V. I’ll probably like them a little bit more on Saturday when they’re not against me.”
–As for the defensive tackles, Pelini was very complimentary of Kevin Williams, who was lost last season with a knee injury. Williams stood out Tuesday night in particular, he said.
“He’s getting better. He’s a better football player than he was (last year),” Pelini said. “I think he’s hungry. He’s a lot more mature. He’s playing pretty physical.”
“He’s showed a lot. A lot of of that is you realize how important football is too you and it helps you to grow up.”
–After practice Wednesday, Randy Gregory said he watches a little bit of film from other defensive ends, gravitating toward 3-4 rush linebacker like former UCLA end Anthony Barr and Clemson rush linebacker Vic Beasley.
“I think (Barr) does a nice job of getting under the pads and ending a lot better than some defensive ends do,” he said. “I watch a little bit of Vic Beasley, you know, the edge rushers, the guys that play a 3-4 defensive end/outside linebacker spot. That’s kind of where I see myself playing, so that’s kind of how I watch film.”
–Not surprisingly, Pelini didn’t have an update on the status of the quarterbacks separating themselves. Pelini said he wants the competition to last through fall camp, and has no timeline for naming a starter, but as it stands, Tommy Armstrong is on top with Ryker Fyfe in second, and Johnny Stanton in third.
“I think they’ve all kind of had their good days and their bad days. I think they’re all growing,” he said. “I think there’s a lot more that has to be done right now. We’re looking for the guy that can execute consistently in all phases of the game and run the offense, and I think all those guys have a little ways to go but they’re all making good progress.”
–The defensive back position figures to be a point of strength for Nebraska, with senior leaders Corey Cooper and Josh Mitchell returning and one of Nebraska’s mot talented young groups in years, according to Mitchell. The Husker secondary is “pretty close” to its high level of expectation, he said.
“We can always be better, as we know. Every day we’ve got to come out here and get better,” he said. “But for right now, we’re working hard, and that’s the most important thing. Guys are out here doing their job.”
Some of the young defenders are ahead of the game having played some last season, he said. On-field communication is an area where he sees room for improvement, however.
“Communication-wise we can always talk more, identify more formations and just know what we’re going to get before the play starts,” Mitchell said.