September 3, 2009

Thursday notebook: NU finally releases depth chart

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini finally broke down Thursday and released an official depth chart for Saturday's season opener against Florida Atlantic.

Rather than release the depth chart during the first weekly press conference on Tuesday, as has been done for decades before, Pelini decided to wait another two days before giving a hint as to who his starters would be come game day.

Even then, it's not exactly clear-cut. With 16 "or's" listed on both sides of the ball, including some starting positions, it's fairly obvious that even though the depth chart has been released, it's by no means permanent.

"The competition's good," Pelini said. "Our intention is to play a number of guys, especially in the areas where we don't have a lot of experience, and find out who the guys are, who's going to step up and who's going to play.

"I mean, we kind of rep guys equally, pretty much anyways, so it'll be fun to watch on Saturday."

Another interesting aspect about the depth chart was the number of first-year starters and newcomers listed throughout. Along with seven newcomers in line to see playing time, 10 players are either listed as starters or have an "or" by their names at No. 1 spots for the first time in their careers.

Pelini said he's anxious to see how the Huskers' wealth of fresh faces handle themselves in their first significant time under the lights on Saturday night.

"There's a lot of newcomers on the depth chart, isn't there?" Pelini said. "Yeah, I'm excited about the guys. As I said to the team, I think they're sick of hitting each other. I think they're ready to play a football game. It's about time to see how far we've come and where we are so we can move on from there."

- Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
Lots of "or's": Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini wasn't kidding when he said we may see a lot of the word "or" on the first depth chart released for the 2009 season. In all, "or" was used 16 different times on the depth chart, which should give a good idea of just how close some of these positions battles were, especially at spots like the 'X' wide receiver where the word is used three times alone.
Seven total newcomers: In all seven total newcomers were listed on Thursday's depth chart. On offense, wide receivers Brandon Kinnie and Antonio Bell are listed, as is running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Cody Green. Defensively, linebacker Eric Martin and defensive backs Dejon Gomes and Andrew Green all cracked the depth chart as newcomers. This should give a pretty good hint of which newcomers will potentially see the field on Saturday.
Injury update: Pelini said junior offensive lineman Keith Williams sat out of practice again on Thursday with the same undisclosed injury that has kept him out of practice all but one day this week. However, Pelini said he would assume Williams would still be in the starting lineup on Saturday.
What's on tap next: Nebraska held a 90 minute helmets only workout inside the Hawks Championship Indoor Facility on Thursday. NU is scheduled to come back for a short walk-thru practice inside Memorial Stadium on Friday.

Still no update on Williams

Starting left guard Keith Williams sat out again on Thursday, marking his third absence in the past four days.

As has been the case throughout the week, Pelini would not disclose what Williams' injury was, and was once again vague in his answer as to whether he expected the junior to play against Florida Atlantic.

"Maybe. Maybe not," Pelini said when asked if Williams was still going to be in Nebraska's starting lineup on Saturday. "I don't know. I think so. I would expect that he's going to be ready to go."

Should Williams not be able to play, senior Andy Christensen would start at left guard in his place.

- Robin Washut

FAU tight ends will attack NU

Very rarely will you find a team with the possible match-up problems Florida Atlantic will present Nebraska with their tight ends.

The Owls return a stable of tight end led by senior Jason Harmon who has a career 90 receptions for 1,096 yards and seven touchdowns. All together Florida Atlantic's top three tight ends have a combined 200 catches for 2,599 yards and 16 touchdowns over their career

"Their guys are probably two of the best skill tight ends that we'll probably face," secondary coach Marvin Sanders said. "From a skill level they'll be as good as anybody we face."

Last season Harmon did not play though for the Owls due to injury. In 2007 he had 63 catches for 825 yards and five touchdowns en route to a first team All Sun Belt season.

With Harmon out, both Jamari Grant and Rob Housler picked up the slack for FAU in 2008 at tight end. The trio has the ability to do just about anything.

"They've got really athletic tight ends that can get down the field in a hurry," NU defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "The good thing for us is so do we, so we've been facing that all camp. That's a dilemma that Mike McNeill and Ben Cotton give us every day. That's nothing new for us and I think our linebackers are used to facing athletic tight ends right now.

"These guys can run and they can catch the ball. They'll get deep in a hurry, so you have to be ready for that."

-Sean Callahan

Pelini chats with Rome

For those of you that missed it, Pelini made an appearance on the ESPN talk show "Rome Is Burning" with Jim Rome prior to Thursday's practice.

Pelini addressed a number of different topics, and here is some of what he had to say…

On how much the team has improved over the past two years:

"You look at the tradition here and all the championships, and we haven't done that yet. We have a long way to go. We were very inconsistent last year, and I understand that. The players understand that, and we're working every day to try and get better and get this program back on top to where we have a chance to win championships. That's what we base our performance on around here."

On how long he expects it to take before Nebraska reaches his goals:

"Well, I haven't put any time frame on it. I mean, there's no reason in my mind and in the staff's mind - and really on our football team's mind - that we can't compete this year. That we can't win a Big 12 championship this coming season. Some people say those are lofty expectations for your second year and bringing it back to where it was at the time, and I don't care about all that. We're going in every single game expecting to win, and it's going to start this weekend against Florida Atlantic.

"We're going to take it one week at a time. It's a cliché, but it's the only way you accomplish great things, is by focusing on the process, going day to day. We feel we have enough ingredients to compete with any football team on our schedule, and that's how we're approaching the season."

On his thoughts on junior quarterback Zac Lee:

"Obviously he's going to have some butterflies. It's his first start here at Nebraska. But I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him. Coach (Shawn Watson) has done a great job with Zac, and he's come along. He's very athletic, he's really, really talented, and he's a natural leader.

"I like his approach. I think he has a tremendous amount of confidence. Sometimes we have to temper that down to the point where we just want him to manage the football game and to do things the right way, play within the system, do the things he's been coached to do, and not try to win the football game by himself.

"Fortunately he has a lot of talent around him, and if he just does his job, plays within himself and does what he's been coached to do, then he'll be fine. That's what he's shown he's been able to do in practice, and that's why he's in that position."

On whether it was his goal to try and restore Nebraska's tradition:

"There's no doubt. The tradition here, the culture here, the fan base - people hold this program in high regard. It's very important to the people in this state. I understand that. I try to embrace the tradition, embrace the former players and everybody that makes this program so special. It's not just the University's football team, it's the state's team. It's the only show in the state. People hold if in high regard, and it's a tremendous responsibility.

"Fortunately I have and A.D. in Coach Osborne who, even though I had only been here for a year before he got here, he makes sure I do the right things. He helps me do the right things. He tells me about some of the traditions and makes sure that we're embracing the right things.

"I'm very fortunate to have Coach Osborne, who was here during the glory years and was a big part in building it. At the same time, Bill Callahan didn't have that. He had an A.D. (Steve Pederson) who didn't quite go about it that way, and I think it ultimately hurt him. I have strong support from the administration, who are helping me do the right things."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***In confirming that junior Alex Henery would be Nebraska's starting punter on Saturday, Pelini had a fairly humorous slip of the tounge.

"Yeah, Will Henry's going to… Will Henry. Alex Henery," Pelini said. "Will Henry, he can't punt. Maybe he can, I don't know. But Alex will be the guy to start the game."

***Pelini said he's expecting four official visitors on Saturday.

***Though Nebraska already has a number of night games on its schedule this season, including Saturday night, Pelini said he didn't have much of preference of when his team kicked off.

"It doesn't matter to me whether it's morning, afternoon or night," he said. "It doesn't matter. Those things are not in our control. I've been through all the schedules and played at all the different times, and it doesn't effect me much."

***While all coaches share the same pre-game fear of losing, Pelini admitted one concern most coaches don't really have to worry about too much.

"That I get kicked out of the game," he joked. "Then I'm in trouble at home."

***Pelini continued with the one-liners when asked if he ever wished he was still a player.

"I do," he said. "Glad I can't though, because we probably wouldn't win the game."

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