August 16, 2008

Saturday notebook: Burkes back in action

The big news following Saturday's practice was the return of sophomore offensive lineman Jaivorio Burkes.

After missing the fall's first 13 practices while battling high blood pressure, Burkes was able to return to the practice field and participate in full pads for the first time this season. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said Burkes was eased into the mix, but he was pleased to get his starting right tackle from the spring back in action.

"He didn't get a ton of work, but he got out there and started getting his feet wet," Pelini said. "He's a quality football player and he's getting better."

Pelini said Burkes, who was unavailable for comment following Saturday's practice, was finally cleared by team doctors to practice, and that his blood pressure continues to show steady improvement.

"The doctors cleared him and said he's doing well and everything's headed in the right direction as far as that's concerned," Pelini said. "Really, I bow to the doctors on that."

Burkes' teammates on the offensive line said they felt his impact immediately. At 6-foot-5, 325 pounds, it's easy to see why.

"Getting Jaivario back is huge," senior guard Matt Slauson said. "He's a force to be reckoned with. He's such a big, strong physical guy, it's hard to not have him on the field. It adds more depth to our line and will create more competition between him and Marcel Jones."

While Pelini said Burkes didn't get much work in, Slauson apparently saw things a little differently.

"I don't want to go against what coach said, but I think I saw him in every drill," Slauson said. "He looked good, strong."

Heading into fall camp, Burkes was listed as the Huskers' starting right tackle. In his absence, though, the redshirt freshman Jones has emerged as a more than capable replacement.

With Burkes now back in the mix, the competition for the No. 1 spot at right tackle should get pretty interesting during the final two weeks of fall camp.

Fall Camp Takes
More love for Castille: Sophomore running back Quentin Castille continued to garner praise from his coaches and teammates on Saturday for his recent performance in fall camp. Castille is quickly emerging as a potential difference maker in the Huskers' backfield, and head coach Bo Pelini said he's been extremely pleased with what he's seen from Castille thus far. "I think Quentin's playing really good football," he said. "I think he's doing a heck of a job." With sophomore Roy Helu - who's listed ahead of Castille at No. 2 on the depth chart - missing the past two practices to injury, Castille might just have a golden opportunity to further make an impression on Pelini and significantly increase his playing time.
Safe returns: Pelini said senior Nate Swift is the leading candidate to man the punt return duties because of his experience and consistency catching the football. However, I don't see that lasting very long into the season. From the sound of things, freshman Khiry Cooper is a natural playmaker in the return game, and as soon as he shows some consistency in catching punts and earns Pelini's trust, he'll be the guy when all is said and done.
Injury report: Helu was held out of practice for the second straight day. Pelini said he suffered a bruise, but mostly he's just recovering from the normal grind of fall camp. Had it been a game, Pelini said Helu would've played. Along with Burkes, the Huskers had a few other players return to practice after missing time with injuries. Tight ends Mike McNeill and Kyler Reed and offensive lineman Lydon Murtha all made it back onto the field on Saturday.

What's on tap next: Nebraska practiced in full pads from 1 to 3:35 p.m. on Saturday. The Huskers will be off on Sunday, but will partake in the team's annual fan photo day, which runs from 2 to 3:30 p.m. inside Memorial Stadium.

Huskers dealing with bumps and bruises

Nebraska hasn't exactly escaped the injury bug so far through fall camp, but all things considered, it could be much worse.

Pelini touched on how while the Huskers have had several players miss practice with injuries, they have been lucky enough to avoid an serious season- or career-ending injuries that some other programs have already been plagued with.

"I tell ya, for as much banging as we've done and work that we've done, everything's been ones on ones," Pelini said. "It's been pretty physical, and - knock on wood - we've been pretty healthy. You're going to have your bumps and bruises, that's to be expected. But we've had nothing career ending or season ending, so we're OK there."

Pelini was never worried about Cooper

While there was speculation up until 11 p.m. last night of whether freshman receiver Khiry Cooper would leave Lincoln and sign with the Anaheim Angels, Pelini said he always knew Cooper wasn't going anywhere.

Pelini said Cooper had been honest and up front with him about his potential switch to play major league baseball, and that Cooper had always given him the impression that he would stay at Nebraska.

When asked if he was relieved now that Cooper's deadline to accept an offer from the Angels this season had officially passed, Pelini essentially said there was never a doubt in his mind Cooper would stay.

"It's good that it's all past, but one thing I know about Khiry from when I recruited him, he's a young man of character and a man of his word.," Pelini said. "When he came here, he told me he was done, and he was done.

"I said, 'Did they try to contact you?' And he said, 'They contacted me and wished me luck.' Once he came here, his mind was full into football. He wasn't trying to play one against the other. He and his mom made the decision that best thing for him was to be at Nebraska, and at that point they were shut down. So I felt fine about it."

Osborne offering new staff advice

Nebraska athletic director and former head coach Tom Osborne was in attendance at Saturday's practice. According to Pelini, Osborne has been a familiar face at Husker practices since the start of fall camp.

"Coach comes out there for at least part of the practice when he's here," Pelini said. "He gives suggestions and observations, and obviously I listen to them. He has a different perspective, and a perspective of somebody who really knows what's going on. Obviously I appreciate that."

Position battles aplenty along offensive line

With the return of Burkes on Saturday, things got even more heated along Nebraska's offensive line, as there are close battles for playing time at four of the five positions. Along with Burkes and Jones, sophomore Mike Smith is pushing senior Lydon Murtha at left tackle, and freshman Ricky Henry is right on senior Mike Huff's heels at left guard. Junior Jacob Hickman is also being pushed by redshirt freshman Mike Caputo at center.

"There are battles going on everywhere, even at my spot," senior right guard Matt Slauson said. "It's great for us to have a second and third string line that are coming to play every day. They want to play, and they're going to come and fight as hard as anyone else. That's all you could want."

Quick hits

***Possibly the biggest news of the day came when Slauson revealed something that most every Nebraska fan never would have dreamed. When asked to name one thing that most fans don't know about him, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Slauson said that his favorite movie was - brace yourself - "The Notebook."

"Let's try and keep that under wraps," Slauson joked.

Sorry, Matt. That cat's out of the bag.

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