August 15, 2009

Saturday notebook: Huskers hold first scrimmage

In its ninth practice in the past eight days, Nebraska capped off the week with is first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Head coach Bo Pelini said the Huskers scrimmaged for close to an hour, running roughly 50 to 60 plays. Pelini said his team was far from perfect in its first live action of the fall, but he did see some positive things throughout the day.

"We got a lot accomplished," Pelini said. "It was obvious to me after watching them that we have a lot of work to do. We have a long way to go as a football team, but we're seeing some good things too. We're coming along. We're well on our way, but we have a long journey ahead of us.

"I saw some good things. I thought the effort was good. I thought we were sloppy at times. We had too many penalties on both sides. There's some things we need to get cleaned up, but it's about where you'd expect to be at this time."

Pelini wouldn't specify on any players in particular that really stood out during Saturday's scrimmage, but did say that he noticed a number of solid performances on both sides of the ball.

Of course, he ended by saying that nobody played perfect, and that everyone on the team has plenty of room to improve.

One player he did talk about specifically was junior quarterback Zac Lee. Leading the offense against the No. 1 defense for the first time this fall, Pelini said Lee showed good poise and leadership.

Pelini also said he's noticed the rest of the team really starting to accept Lee as the leader of the offense and the team.

"That's something you learn over time, but I think he is starting to earn that," Pelini said. "I think his confidence is growing every day. As that happens, you see the confidence around him growing. I think everybody feels the way I do - I think the offensive guys have a sense that he's ready to step in and lead this team. I think everyone would agree that they're seeing the right things from him."

The Huskers will finally get a day off tomorrow before kicking off next week's string of nine practices in just six days.

Saturday fall camp takes
Long day's work: Nebraska didn't finally wrap up its practice Saturday until 2 p.m., which was 45 minutes later than it was scheduled to finish. That means the Huskers went at it for a full three hours. It's obvious head coach Bo Pelini wanted to get as much out of his team as possible before its first day off of fall camp on Sunday. After practice, Pelini admitted it was probably time to give the players a break. "It's about time we gave them some rest," he said. "They need to get their legs back, and mentally get out of here too and relax a little bit. Next week is where we're going to need to take a big jump as a football team."
A passing grade: Pelini was asked to evaluate the job of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and the rest of Nebraska's offensive coaching staff so far heading into its second season. Pelini didn't hesitate to give his staff plenty of praise for the job they've in a little more than year working together. "I think Wats does a phenomenal job, and really the whole staff," Pelini said. "Everybody brings something to the table. They get along well, and they work together well. I like what I'm seeing out of what we're doing offensively."
Injury update: Junior offensive lineman Ricky Henry and sophomore cornerback Alfonzo Dennard both remain out with minor injuries, while freshman safety Dijon Washington sat out again just one day after returning to action yesterday after missing two days with an injury. Also, redshirt freshman linebacker Sean Fisher sat out of today's scrimmage with what Pelini called a "tweaked" ankle.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced in full pads in its first day inside Memorial Stadium this fall. The Huskers will finally get their first day off tomorrow before returning Monday for two-a-day practices.

Henery in lead for punter job

Junior Alex Henery hasn't exactly been shy about his desire to be Nebraska's kicker and punter this season, and apparently his tune hasn't changed much through fall camp.

Pelini said that while the competition is still on for the Huskers' starting punter job, Henery is the clear frontrunner ahead of redshirt freshmen Brett Maher and Jon Damkroger.

"Alex has looked good," Pelini said. "I think he's really confident back there, and I think he wants the job. I think it's going to be a good battle as we go through camp."

Pelini went on to say that Nebraska's punt team overall has looked significantly better that it did at this time a year ago, despite losing both its starting punter and long snapper from last season.

"It's on going competition," he said. "(Henery's) doing well. Maher's doing well. They're working with new snappers, and those guys have done well. We're further ahead as far as our punt team than we were a year ago. We're more sound. I think our steps are better, I think our protection is better."

Cotton not worried about Henry missing time

Redshirt freshman Ricky Henry was supposed to challenge for the starting right guard spot this fall, but an undisclosed injury has kept him watching practice from the sidelines for the majority of the opening week.

However, NU offensive line coach Barney Cotton doesn't seem too worried about Henry's status or the fact that he's been missing out on crucial practice reps while nursing his injury.

Cotton said that Henry has still been able to gain from watching practices and taking in mental reps to help build his knowledge of the Huskers' schemes and playbook.

"Certainly it puts him a little bit behind, but he gets every mental rep," Cotton said. "He's out here. He gets a script. He has everything happen in front of him. He's in every meeting, and Ricky's the kind of guy who spends a lot of time off the field. He'll be in the meeting room watching film by himself and things like that.

"So hopefully when we get him back out here it will be a lot faster for him since he's been getting all those mental reps."

Cotton said that one of the biggest setbacks from not having Henry on the field has been not having his intensity set the tone for the rest of the offensive line.

"He's got the killer instinct," Cotton said. "He has 'it' as far as being the ultimate finisher. So having him around and actually doing things is kind of contagious to the other guys."

Qvale continues to impress

Continuing with the offensive line, Cotton went on to talk about the play of true freshman Brent Qvale through his first nine practices as a Husker.

As we reported yesterday, Qvale has already started getting reps with Nebraska's second string offense. Listening to Cotton talk about him, it's obvious that the jump up the depth chart was only the start of things to come.

"He's been a great surprise to us," Cotton said. "I mean here's a guy who came from a small state with not very many people, but the thing that he has going for him is he was player of the year in basketball up there. So pass protection, for a guy that you would think would be the absolute hardest thing for him to do, he's got really good feet."

Cotton said Qvale's rare blend of massive size (6-7, 330) and surprisingly quick feet make him nearly impossible for defensive players to get around, especially in pass protection. Because of his basketball background, Cotton said Qvale simply blocks defenders as if he were guarding them one-on-one.

"There are times when he's so big, you can't see the defensive guy on the other side of him" Cotton said. "It's like he kind of just blocks out the sun. He's just so tall and so wide and so long, and he's got a lot of want-to in him as well."

Quick hits

***Pelini said he has been working several different players at punt returner this fall, though he wouldn't specify exactly who he has working back there. He did say that none have emerged as the clear choice so far.

"We're working a number of different guys," he said. "We like our options there. We have a lot of talented guys and guys who can catch the ball that we feel we can depend on."

***In talking about Nebraska's depth at defensive end behind starters Pierre Allen and Barry Turner, Pelini said the position is loaded with depth compared to where it was a year ago.

"We're probably deeper at end than we ever have been," Pelini said. "We moved (David Harvey) back outside, and he brings some things that we think he can help our football team with, and Jason Ankrah is really having a good camp. He's a young guy who's learning, and he's really talented.

"It's a good group. We have more depth there than we did a year ago, I can tell you that."

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