August 31, 2010

Tuesday notebook: NU has a plan for quarterbacks

Even though all of the lack of updates and tight-lipped responses about Nebraska's quarterback situation have left many media and fans completely in the dark about who will be the starter in Saturday's season opener against Western Kentucky, there is no reason to worry.

The coaching staff does in fact have a plan.

On Tuesday, both head coach Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson confirmed that they have a firm grasp of what the situation at quarterback is at the moment, though both continued to say the position is still anything but decided.

"We've discussed it every day," Watson said. "Don't think that we don't talk about it. We do. We discuss it, and Bo and I have a plan. We have a plan, but we're not going to tell you… We have a plan, though."

Following Tuesday's practice, Watson was bombarded with question after question about who would emerge as the starting quarterback. While he wouldn't go into any detail, he did point to some of the progress all three have made over the course of the offseason.

In fact, he said all of the improvements senior Zac Lee, sophomore Cody Green and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez have made in each of their respective weak points have been the biggest reason why the race has been so competitive.

"With Taylor, it was real clear to him being a younger quarterback that he had to develop himself as a passer. He's done that," Watson said. "With Cody, (it was) the management aspect of it. He's done that. With Zac, (it was) the running aspect, and he's done that. Along the way they've still had to strengthen other areas, but those are the main areas. So when they did that, everything really got close. Why? Because they had to compete with each other everyday."

One concern about delaying the announcement of the starter has been whether the rest of the offense would be prepared enough to work with one quarterback by the time game day rolls around. Through the spring and the fall, the staff as rotated the three QBs evenly with the first team, but Watson said the offense would be just fine no matter who lines up under center.

"We built our system to match the people that surround (the quarterbacks), so they're distributing the ball to those people," he said. "It doesn't affect what we do because we're committed to a balanced attack with our quarterback, the run aspect and the throwing aspect. We work on it every day."

Earlier at the press conference, Pelini said he "had an idea" who the starter would be if the team played on Tuesday. Watson said he shared the same thinking, but there was no way he was going to tell anyone what that thinking was.

"Bo and I talk," he said. "We coach on the same route. But you'd have to kill us to get it out of us."

Had Watson even told his wife who might start?

"No, I don't talk to her about it at all," he said. "Not that I don't trust her."

- Robin Washut

Tuesday practice takes
Position battles will continue: Even though the season opener against Western Kentucky is now only four days away, head coach Bo Pelini said he still wasn't ready to pencil in the rest his starting lineup outside of quarterback just yet. "The evaluation for who's going to line up as the starters, that's still to be determined (based) on who performs during the week," Pelini said on Tuesday. The means spots like defensive tackle, safety, linebacker, left and right tackle, and wide receiver just to name a few will continue to be up for grabs for the rest of the week.

Crick familiar with Suh's mean streak:
Apparently former Husker and now Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's now infamous mugging of Cleveland Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme Saturday night wasn't the first time he has gotten a little too physical on the field. Junior defensive tackle Jared Crick said he hadn't seen the play yet, but he definitely has heard about it. Had he ever seen Suh do anything like that Nebraska? "I think I've seen a couple things," Crick said. "Not too many though."

Injury update: Pelini said sophomore offensive lineman Brandon Thompson (ankle) would probably not be ready in time for Saturday's game against Western Kentucky. Other players who sat out of Tuesday's practice were defensive tackle Chase Rome, tight end Mychael McClure, wide receiver Kenny Bell and defensive back Adam Watson.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced for two hours in full pads on the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, as the Huskers continue to prepare for their season opener. The Huskers will return to the field on Wednesday for another full-padded session.

Freshmen could make debuts

Watson said a pair of true freshmen could make their collegiate debuts on Saturday, and even admitted that the coaching staff's thinking on playing freshmen has changed over the years.

Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and offensive lineman Andrew Rodriguez have both seen significant snaps with the first- and second-team offenses this fall, and Watson said he would have no concerns playing either of them right away against Western Kentucky.

It's little surprise about Enunwa, as his name has been thrown into the receiver mix for the past week.

"He's still doing good," Watson said. "Still having his freshman moments, and we're going to have to pick our spots with him. But when he makes plays, he makes big plays. Is he ready for the primetime every-down light? No, not yet. But he's a real talent, and because of that we're going to select places to play him."

As for Rodriguez, the ankle injury suffered by sophomore Brandon Thompson just might bump him high enough up the rotation to allow him to make his Husker debut in the opener.

"He could (play)," Watson said. "We'll see what happens. It depends on the game, it depends on what's happening with the guys up front. I think we're pretty committed to playing him today, but we'll see what happens."

Watson went on to say that the idea of redshirting talented freshman to let them sit back and learn the system is becoming a thing of the past. Today, he said you play your best players no matter what, regardless of their age.

"You try to save those guys, but in today's game, I don't think it's wise to save freshmen anymore," he said. "You have a need to develop that talent and play them, and they're going to be better guys next year and you're going to be better a year from now. You might need them this season, so we're moving forward and getting him ready like he's going to take downs."

- Robin Washut

Crick sees bright future for David

Several Nebraska defensive players have said it didn't take long for them to notice the emergence of junior college transfer linebacker Lavonte David.

You can add senior defensive tackle Jared Crick to that list.

"The first thing I saw out of Lavonte was that he was a great athlete," Crick said. "He's fast, and that's great to see, especially at the linebacker position who can cover wide receivers. Then you look at the mental part of the game; he knows the so well. He's still learning what we want to do defensively, but it's easy now because we're starting to break down our defense into specifically what we want to do for Western Kentucky.

"If he can keep coming along and learn what we want to do specifically and essentially learn what every position is doing on the defense like Phil (Dillard) did last year, I think he can be a tremendous player."

With the injury to Sean Fisher, David went from a possible candidate to see immediate playing time to a legitimate contender for a starting job. Considering where he was since his first practice a little less than a month ago, the progress David has made in such a short time has been one of the more impressive storylines of the fall.

"It took a week for him just to get the speed of things," Crick said. "His head was kind of spinning when he first got here just because our defense is so different from others. Once he got the grasp of what we want to do defensively he started getting better and improving every single day from then on."

- Robin Washut

Smith still unsure of his starting status

In sophomore P.J. Smith's mind, he's done everything he's needed to do this offseason to put himself in position to win a starting spot at safety this season. However, just like many other positions on the roster, he still has no idea if that's the case.

Smith and senior Anthony West have been battling for the starting spot next to senior DeJon Gomes since West moved over from cornerback this spring.

"I think I put myself in position (to start), but the other safeties have also," Smith said. "So like I said, we just have to wait and see. I don't even think the coaches know (who is going to start) yet."

Though Smith, West and Gomes look to be the top candidates to start, Smith said the coaching staff has rotated five or even six safeties in with the first-team defense through fall camp.

In the end, there's little doubt that NU will play multiple players at the position in various packages and personnel groups. Still, Smith said winning the starting job on Saturday is the ultimate goal.

"I think everybody expects (to start), but who knows?" Smith said. "We just have to go out there and compete and get better. Whatever happens, whatever they decide, they decide, and we'll just go from there."

- Robin Washut

Bigger, stronger Williams ready to make impact

Sophomore defensive end Josh Williams has never been one to talk himself up. Fortunately, he has plenty of teammates and coaches more than willing to do his bragging for him.

Since senior Pierre Allen first raved about Williams' progress this summer at Big 12 Media Days, several other defensive linemen and NU coaches have followed up with even more praise about how far the Denton, Texas, native has come this offseason.

On Tuesday, Williams said he had no idea what his role on the defense would be in Saturday's opener, but Allen and fellow end Cameron Meredith both said they expected him to be the third guy in the rotation and would see time at both end spots.

Williams did attribute the gains he's made the past few months to an increased dedication in the weight room. Now listed at 255, he said he put on roughly 10 pounds of muscle this summer, which has allowed him to hold his own better on the field.

"The biggest jumps I think would be strength and just knowledge of the game, (and) I think my size was a really big thing for me," Williams said. "I think it's helped a lot putting in the hard work over the offseason to contribute this season."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***While talking about fellow defensive back Austin Cassidy earning a scholarship on Friday, Smith said Cassidy was a perfect example of the hard work Nebraska's walk-ons put in each day in practice.

"I have a lot of respect for (the walk-ons), because they work hard every single day," Smith said. "At times, I think they work harder than some of the guys on scholarship. They go hard no matter what. It's tough because a lot of them know they're not going to se the field, but they still come everyday wanting to get better and help this team get better. That's what it's all about, helping this team get better. Everybody does something so that we can be successful."

***This past spring, Crick was named to the 2010 Brook Berringer Citizenship Team for his efforts in the community service. Though he was just a five-year old when Berringer helped lead NU to the 1994 national title, Crick said he has always had a great respect for what Berringer did both on and off the field.

"It's a very prestigious award in my eyes," Crick said. "It was a little emotional for me just knowing what it represents… I don't remember watching him, but I know his story and I know what he did for his team and just how unselfish he was. That's kind of how I like to think of myself, as being an unselfish guy and team comes first.

"He was a great person, and it's a great feeling to have a scholarship named after him."

***Crick also talked about his relationship with Ndamukong Suh, saying he still keeps in contact with this year's No. 2 overall NFL draft pick.

"We're still pretty close," Crick said. "He's in Detroit now, so I don't get to see him every day. But we still test each other now and then, and we don't even talk about football. We just talk about other things, whatever it may be. Suh and I have been close these past couple years, and our relationship has grown since I was redshirt freshman all the way up until now. I have Suh's back on anything, and I know he has mine."

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