August 4, 2008

Notebook: DT Dixon dismissed from team

The Nebraska defensive line took a big blow on Monday when head coach Bo Pelini announced that senior defensive tackle Kevin Dixon was kicked off the team for violation of team rules.

Dixon was picked up by University of Nebraska-Lincoln police for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana on July 13. This was Dixon's second incident of the summer, as he was also ticketed for urinating in public on July 4. According to Lancaster County Court records, that case was sent to pre-trial diversion on July 25.

Pelini would not elaborate on what exactly Dixon did, but he said the team would move forward this month without him.

"We move on, we move forward," Pelini said. "We want guys that do things the right way."

Dixon was expected to be a key backup to both junior Ndamukong Suh and senior Ty Steinkuhler, as he was listed No. 2 on the most recent depth chart behind both players.

With Dixon gone, senior defensive end Zach Potter said finding a capable replacement for him will be important for the defense's success in 2008.

"We have to find that backup now, because obviously Dixon was backing up Suh and Steinkuhler on the depth chart," Potter said. "We've basically got to find that eighth player, because (Shukree Barfield) will step in behind Suh, we just have to find that eighth player. It opens a lot of doors now for young guys coming in like Baker Steinkuhler."

The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Steinkuhler will more than likely be expected to compete for immediate playing time with Dixon's departure, and Potter said he likes everything he's seen from him so far.

"He's definitely a physical specimen," Potter said. "He's got those Steinkuhler genes, so we are looking for big things out of Baker. Hopefully he'll show everything on the field that he did in high school. He should be a pretty good player."

- Sean Callahan

Blue bound to redshirt?

It appears Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini] is in no rush to get sophomore cornerback [db]Anthony Blue back on the field before his injured knee fully healed.

Pelini was asked about Blue's status during Monday's press conference, and the coach said Blue was progressing but was far from ready to participate in the start of fall practice. A first-team All-Big 12 selection last year, Blue is still not listed on NU's 105-man roster after injuring his knee during winter conditioning.

"He's not quite ready to go," Pelini said. "He had a tough injury. It takes time, you can't rush those things. He's progressing, but he's not ready to go out and compete and do what he needs to do to play."

Pelini didn't rule out the possibility of a redshirt for Blue, even saying that it might be "good for him" to do so. With three years of eligibility, Pelini said he wouldn't mind giving Blue time to fully heal before officially returning to the field.

"When you're talking about knees, you have to be careful," Pelini said. "He's got a bright future and a lot of potential ahead of him."

- Robin Washut

Keeping things simple

Roughly an hour before Monday's press conference, senior wide receiver Todd Peterson said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson pulled him aside and asked if he thought the playbook was too complicated for the Huskers' stable of young receivers to handle.

Peterson said he told Watson it wasn't, but it was just another example of how Nebraska's new coaching staff is trying to simplify its offensive playbook to help ease the transition from the previous staff. Peterson said the efforts to make things less complicated has helped NU's younger receivers focus more on their play on after the snap and less on trying to figure out what to do in the huddle.

"(The coaches) don't want it to be a situation where we have guys who can play physically, but mentally they can't keep up," Peterson said. "They don't want the playbook to be the reason for guys not playing well."

- Robin Washut

Huskers seeing double

Of all the new faces the Huskers have heading into the first day of fall camp, two have been the cause of some confusion already. Freshmen twin brothers Courtney and Steven Osborne have apparently had both their coaches and teammates seeing double during summer workouts.

Peterson pointed to one specific example where the team was running timed 55-yard sprints, and players were required to finish their runs within a specific time. After the runs, one of the NU coaches read off the names of players who missed their times, and among the names was one of the Osbornes.

"A coach said Osborne had to run, and we said, 'Which one?'" Peterson said. "The coaches were like, 'I don't know.' So they made both of them run. I still can't tell them a part. We all just call them 'Twin', and usually one of them will look back."

- Robin Washut

Turnovers a priority for NU's offense

After committing 28 turnovers last season, it was obvious why several Huskers said ball security was a point of emphasis for the offense this offseason. Nebraska ranked second to last in both fumbles lost (11) and interceptions thrown (17), finishing just in front of Baylor in both categories.

Senior quarterback Joe Ganz only started the final three games of the season, but he ended the year with seven interceptions on the way to a 1-2 record as a starter. Ganz said he's personally made it a top priority to keep his turnovers at an absolute minimum.

"Obviously the one game we did win (Kansas State) we didn't have any turnovers," Ganz said. "Then we were on our way to win against Colorado and we had those two big turnovers to start out the second half and we ended up losing that. Obviously they're big, and that's something I've been trying to work out in the spring and summer because I know how costly they are."

Fumbles were also a major factor in NU's offensive woes, as the Huskers' 11 fumbles ranked 63rd nationally. Senior running back Marlon Lucky didn't have an exact solution for the problem, aside from the obvious.

"We just got to hold on to the ball," Lucky said. "That's been an emphasis for us every year during the summer. We just got to do a better job of holding on to it."

- Robin Washut

"I'd kill to go 10-2 right now."

Later on towards the end of the press conference, Peterson found himself in the somewhat awkward position of trying to explain the changed perception of Nebraska's football program from fans during the past 10 years.

Trying to be as politically correct as possible, Peterson came up with this answer:

"In a lot of ways I think we got very spoiled in the 90s, when one loss you were out of the race for a national championship and essentially your season was over,
the Grand Island native said. "I'd kill to go 10-2 right now. I guess it kind of puts things back in perspective after a couple of tough years. Hopefully we can get back to that. It's a swinging pendulum, and we're trying to get it to swing back the other way."

- Robin Washut

Pass rush taking a backseat…for now

The Huskers had a severe deficiency in their pass rush last season, ranking 112th nationally with 13 sacks. Even so, getting to the quarterback isn't at the top of the defensive line's fall to-do list at the moment.

Right now, the Huskers' front four are focused almost primarily on stopping the run, something they struggled equally as much with last season. Nebraska allowed 232 yards per game last year to rank 116th nationally.

"As of right now, (sacks) are not a huge emphasis for us," junior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "For me personally, they're a big thing for every defense because you always want to put the quarterback out of his element and not let him dictate the game. But stopping the run is our emphasis. If you want to be a great team you have to be able to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense. We want to make sure we do our part."

- Robin Washut

O-line eager to get physical

All the talk of a physical offense based on a power running game makes offensive linemen, like center Jacob Hickman, very excited.

"I mean as a lineman, that's what you want to hear," Hickman said. "You want to hear you're going to run the ball. As an offensive lineman, or an offensive player in general, you want to run the ball - because you know that' s how you win games. You control the clock and gain yards by forcing it down their throats."

- John Talman

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