NCAA FOOTBALL: AUG 26 Nebraska Practice

Owls Offer Plenty of Unknowns

If the anticipation hasn’t almost killed you just yet, you’re one of the strong ones.

Nebraska coordinators Tim Beck and John Papuchis met for the media Tuesday for the final time before the season kicks off, happy with the the pace of Nebraska’s preparation in the final days of the preseason.

“Today was probably the highest tempo, the highest energy day in terms of just getting the most work in for Florida Atlantic,” Papuchis said. “I thought they came out focused and ready to roll today.”

Papuchis and some defenders said they’ve got more unknowns than usual in a season opener against Florida Atlantic and its revamped coaching staff after Carl Pelini’s ouster from the Owls. Up front on offense, the Huskers expect newcomers across the board, as well as a dual-threat passer in Jaquez Johnson.

Offensively, Papuchis said he expects the Owls to come out with an up-tempo offense; not unlike the one he sees in practice every day.

“I think our offense prepares us for a lot of different things. They’re multiple enough that during the course of fall camp, you see a ton of stuff, whether its formation, passing game-wise or in the run game,” Papuchis said. “First games are hard because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, but I feel like we’re prepared to see just about anything.”

“I feel good about where we’re at. We’ve still got a lot of cleaning up to do before Saturday, but that’s not different than any other game week.”

“More than anything in an opener, you hope that we can apply our rules that we’ve built since day one, because they are going to give a few formations, a few plays that we haven’t necessarily practiced, and when those things happen, you have rules and fundamentals to fall back on. You can’t just give up big plays because it’s a play you’ve never seen before.”

–It’s getting down the to the wire for selecting which newcomers will redshirt and which won’t. Papuchis said defensively, safety Kieron Williams, cornerbacks Josh Kalu and Chris Jones are likely candidates to play right away. Interestingly enough, Papuchis brought up D.J. Foster as a true freshman likely to play, despite switching from offensive line to defensive line just last week.

“For a guy that’s been a defensive lineman for just over a week or so, he’s done a nice job,” he said. “Like I told him the first day he moved over, we’re not going to put him in a position where he’s not going to be successful, so if we feel like for whatever reason he’s not ready, then we won’t play him, but as long as he stays on track, we’ll see what happens.”

Alongside him in the trenches, Vincent Valentine likes what he sees.

“He’s acclimated very well. He needs time obviously,” Valentine said “But you can see improvement. You can see that he’s going to be a pretty good player here. I’m pretty excited to see what he has. I’m pretty sure he’ll be in the game this weekend…(H)e can definitely help us.”

Nickel back Byerson Cockrell, a junior college transfer, will also play, he said.

“Byerson is a mature guy,” Papuchis said. “He’s been locked in since the day he walked on this campus, so he’s progressed as we hoped. In my opinion he’s ready to roll.”

–On the perimeter of the secondary, Papuchis said Daniel Davie is the No. 1 corner opposite Josh Mitchell…for now.

“Right now it’s Daniel, but that doesn’t meant that’s what it’s going to be on Saturday,” he said. “We’re going to let them compete and battle it out the rest of this week and see what happens, and let it be determined on the field.”

-When it comes to Nebraska’s highly-touted defensive line, Papuchis said he’s not ready just yet to hand out accolades. However, he was willing to say that Nebraska’s front four on defense in 2014 should as least be as fast as the vaunted group from 2009 with Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick.

That athleticism, he said, opens up the possibilities on the back end of the defense in ways that aren’t always highlighted.

“When you have a good front, it makes everything that happens behind them a little bit easier,” he said “Whether it’s those guys getting off blocks in the run game, those guys pushing the pocket in the pass game, it makes your DBs have to cover for a less amount of time and it makes your backers’ fits a lot more clean.”

During he and Bo Pelini’s time at Nebraska, the front four has been the heart and soul of a great unit, he said.

“When we’re good on defense, it’s typically been when we have a good front four,” Papuchis said.

–Over on the other side of the ball, Tim Beck’s not sure what to expect from Florida Atlantic’s first-year defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni either, but he does know the Owls’ defense is dangerous.

“I know they’re athletic. They’ve got two good defensive tackles, good linebacker and two good corners. They get to the ball and had a lot of interceptions and turnovers last year.”

In 2013, Florida Atlantic finished with the 11th-ranked defense in the country and the second-ranked pass defense. The Owls return six starters on defense from last season.

–In addition to playing significant snaps at safety, Nate Gerry said he also expects to handle long snapping duties on punts this Saturday. And that’s no big deal to him.

“Just throw a ball back there, I guess. Why not, right?”

Well, there has to be more to it than that, right?

“I just do it,” Gerry said. “I’m the type of kid if I can see how things are done, like food – I’m not a very good at cooking – but if I know what it looks like, how it’s cooked, then I can kind of cook it.”

Freshman Josh Faulkenberry, who joined the program in January, will likely handle the cooking on extra points and field goals.