Papuchis: Plenty of opportunity for young d-linemen

It’s no secret that Nebraska has plenty to work out on its defensive line this spring. The Huskers have two players back who saw significant time in 2012 in Jason Ankrah and Thad Randle, but Randle is out for the spring following knee surgery. That leaves plenty of question marks up front but defensive coordinator John Papuchis sees it another way — opportunity.

“We rep three groups every day in practice,” Papuchis said following the Huskers’ second practice of the spring on Monday. “Defensive line-wise, we’re at 12 guys. Doing the math on that, we don’t have any back-ups. All 12 of those guys get every rep their group takes.

“The opportunity for a guy to show himself couldn’t be any better. Each rep is evaluated and all a guy can ask for is an opportunity and he’s certainly going to get an opportunity this spring.”

As the only senior currently practicing on the d-line, Ankrah has been asked to step into more of a leadership role. Papuchis said it’s a role Ankrah has to fill this season and has so far this spring. As for the young linemen, Papuchis is expecting serious progression by the time spring is over.

“The attitude and the want-to is there,” Papuchis said. “We’re young with a big group of those guys whether you’re talking about Aaron Curry, Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen, Avery Moss, (or) Kevin Williams. I still consider (Williams) a young guy going into his sophomore year.

“Not only are they learning every day scheme-wise, they’re learning technique every single day they take the field. There’s going to be a big jump for them. The learning curve is pretty significant but by the time we get out of spring ball we’ll have a pretty good idea where we’re at.”

With so few veteran players in camp on the d-line, where do the young linemen turn when they have a question? Aaron Curry said the Huskers have a pretty good network of people ready to offer advice.

“I’ll call a former player and ask them ‘can you help me on this,'” Curry said. “I see a lot of the old guys like Baker (Stienkuhler) and Cameron (Meredith) come back so I just ask them for some pointers.”

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

–The other side of the experience coin is Nebraska’s offense, which returns starters at every position group other than tight end. That’s led some to ask if the Huskers will try to up the pace or get more creative offensively, but, for now, offensive coordinator Tim Beck isn’t looking to do too much, partly to help Nebraska’s young defense.

“I don’t know right now that we’ll be doing a lot of that,” Beck said. “We have some youth defensively and this is a time to help your football team in both areas. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing that.”

–The Huskers have to replace a pair of multi-year starters at tight end in Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton. Beck offered his early assessment of the race there:

“We lost some senior leadership and it shows right now. Those guys are swimming right now, Sam (Cotton) and Trey Foster are two guys that have some talent and have shown some really good things. I like what Jake Long is doing. He’s the veteran of the group and we have high expectations for them all, and we are going to coach them high. We have high expectations, they’ll catch up– I’m not worried about them.”

–At wide receiver, Nebraska is looking to build depth behind the veteran group of Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner.

“I’m really pleased with the way (the veterans) are working,” Beck said. “We’ve got some young talent in Alonzo (Moore), Jordan (Westerkamp) and Tyler (Evans) but they’ve got a lot of room to work. There’s a pretty good separation between the ones and the twos right now. We can’t have that. We’ve got to get those guys caught up.”

Nebraska returns to the practice field on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday this week to round out its first full week of spring practice.