August 24, 2008

Breaking down week three of fall camp

Nebraska officially wrapped up its third and final week of fall camp with a two-and-a-half hour practice inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday. If you haven't visited on a daily basis in the past week, you've probably missed a lot.

Here is a quick summary and breakdown of NU's practices since Monday. The Huskers will hit the field for their first game week preparation on Monday for next week's season opener against Western Michigan.


***Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said that just because senior Marlon Lucky and sophomore Roy Helu are listed as the co-No. 1 running backs heading to next week's season opener, they won't be the only running backs to see significant playing time. Sophomore Quentin Castille and redshirt freshman Marcus Mendoza have both had excellent fall camps, and should see their share of carries during the early part of the season.

***Speaking of running backs, Mendoza has been one of the biggest surprises to come out of fall camp. With all of the discussion of who would carry the load for the Huskers at running back this season, Mendoza's name was essentially left out of all discussion. But according to Watson and running backs coach , Mendoza has been as good as anyone with the ball out of backfield. With his emergence, the Huskers now have the luxury of four capable backs at their disposal.

***It appears sophomore [db]Niles Paul is the big winner in the competition for NU's kickoff and punt return duties. Paul is currently listed as the Huskers' No. 1 return man on both kicks and punts. Paul will join junior safety Larry Asante on kickoff returns and will be part of a two-man punt return crew with senior receiver Nate Swift.

***Several true freshmen on both sides of the ball could make an immediate impact for the Huskers this season. Offensively, wide receiver Khiry Cooper has a great impression on his coaches and teammates, while tight end Ben Cotton could provide depth at a relatively thin position. On defense, linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher seemed poised to see plenty of playing time after strong fall camps, and cornerbacks John Levorson and Alfonzo Dennard have caught their coaches' attention. No official word has been made yet on any of the freshmen's exact status for this season, and it's still possible some or all could redshirt. However, just from what's been heard at fall camp, all of these guys should have an impact in one way or another.

***Two freshmen whose redshirt statuses are known are receivers Steven Osborne and Tim Marlowe. With the amount of competition going on at NU's receiver position, the moves don't really come as much of surprise.

***Continuing with receivers, NU receivers coach Ted Gilmore said the Huskers pretty much have their top four wide outs in place for the start of the season, but there are still two more spots open in the receiver rotation. Behind Swift and senior Todd Peterson are Paul and junior Menelik Holt. After that, players like juniors Will Henry and Chris Brooks, redshirt freshman Curenski Gilleylen and even Cooper are in the mix for the fifth and six spots. Gilmore said in any given game the Huskers would use at least six different receivers.

***Sophomore tackle Jaivorio Burkes completed his first full week of practice Saturday after missing the first two weeks of fall camp while battling high blood pressure. Burkes entered camp listed as the starter at right tackle, but redshirt freshman Marcel Jones filled in and flourished in Burkes' absence. The two will likely battle all through next week for the starting job against Western Michigan.

***A week for the season starts, Nebraska still has yet to determine who will manage the bulk of its kicking duties. Like last year, sit appears sophomores Alex Henry and Adi Kunalic will share the job, with Henry handling field goals and extra points and Kunalic kicking off.


***Things have been relatively quiet on the injury front, with the biggest news probably being Helu continuing to rehab his bruised shoulder he suffered in Thursday's scrimmage. Head coach Bo Pelini said he wasn't worried about Helu's availability for the start of the season, but the Huskers have been cautious, keeping him in a green, no-contact jersey through the bulk of the week.

***Sophomore linebacker LaTravis Washington remains out after injuring his knee during the first week of camp. Washington suffered an MCL sprain and a minor tear of his meniscus in his left knee, but Pelini said he expects him to return to practice as early as Monday.

***Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Terrence Moore's unknown injury was expected to keep him out of practice for as many as two weeks, and his status remains uncertain as the Huskers prepare for Week 1. Moore's injury could prove more costly than most, as NU is already stretched fairly thin in its interior defensive line.

***Defensive backs Anthony West and Major Culbert both missed a couple practices while healing minor leg injuries. West suffered a bruised knee, which forced him to miss practice Thursday through Monday. Culbert sat out three practices early in the week with an ankle sprain, but he also returned to action midway through the week.

***Senior defensive end Clayton Sievers is currently out with a bone bruise, and his return remains unknown.


Sean Fisher LB (6-6, 225)
It didn't take long for Fisher to move his way up the Huskers' depth chart, as he quietly bumped himself up to the No. 2 spot at BUCK linebacker. Because of the injury to Washington, sophomore Blake Lawrence has moved from BUCK to WILL linebacker. Fisher has taken full advantage of his opportunity, and he should definitely see the field early and often this season.

Will Compton LB (6-2, 230)
Like Fisher, Compton made his presence known from the start of fall camp, as both his teammates and coaches have marveled at his grasp of the defense and how quickly he learns on the field. With the Huskers needing to add more depth at linebacker, there seems to be little doubt that Compton will rotate in behind senior starter Phillip Dillard at MIKE linebacker right away.

Khiry Cooper WR (6-2, 180)
After finally putting his potential baseball career to rest, Cooper has done nothing but shine through all three weeks of fall camp. His natural athletic ability in undeniable, and the more he continues to learn the Huskers' offense the more of a weapon he becomes. He has also shown flashes as a standout in the return game, and may figure into that rotation by the end of the season.

Ben Cotton TE (6-6, 230)
The son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton, Ben Cotton joined the mix at tight end already a couple steps ahead of most everyone else. Along with his impressive understanding of the game, tight ends coach Ron Brown said Cotton is athletically as good as any tight end of NU's roster. With that combination, there's no reason Cotton won't play immediately at a position lacking much of a veteran presence.

John Levorson CB (6-3, 190)
Defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders said he wishes he could call Levorson a pleasant surprise, but he knows he can't. The Huskers knew full well what they were getting in the Crete, Neb., native, and his intelligence and natural ability in coverage have been undeniable. It's looking more and more like Levorson will play immediately, as Sanders said his mental and physical makeup are too good to keep on the sideline.


"We've been wanting to hit them (the quarterbacks) all fall camp, but they had them green jerseys on. Patrick, he wants to always try stiff arm somebody, and you can't tackle him, so you just gotta push him. Once I saw him yesterday, I didn't care if he was 10 feet out of bounds, I was going to hit him. I told him that. So we had to lay him out." - Senior linebacker Cody Glenn detailing his big hit on redshirt freshman Patrick Witt during Thursday's scrimmage.


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