September 1, 2011

Thursday practice notebook: Almost game time

The day everyone has been waiting for is now a matter of hours away, as Nebraska wrapped up its final full practice of the week heading into Saturday's season opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga.


Head coach Bo Pelini gave a few final updates following Thursday's practice, the most notable of which concerning the release of the Huskers' first official depth chart of the season.


Pelini said he planned to release the depth chart sometime on Friday, but he would not go into any specifics regarding the remaining position battles on the roster. In particular, Pelini declined to give any updates on the kickoff and punt returner jobs, only saying he felt NU had a good group of players competing for the spots.


On Wednesday, special teams coordinator John Papuchis said the two positions would be manned by some combination of junior Tim Marlowe, redshirt freshman Kenny Bell and true freshmen Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah.


"We've got a bunch of options there," Pelini said. "You'll see a number of different guys back there."


Pelini did confirm that senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard would not be ready to play on Saturday, as he continues to recover from a leg muscle injury he suffered in the second week of fall camp.


That means redshirt freshman Andrew Green will officially make his first career start opposite sophomore Ciante Evans against the Mocs.


Pelini also said sophomore fullback Mike Marrow would be out for Saturday's game while Nebraska continues to wait on an official ruling on his eligibility for this season as per NCAA transfer rules. Marrow came to Lincoln via Eastern Washington and before that Alabama.


"We probably won't play Mike this weekend, and we're still waiting to hear on a couple things," he said. Pelini added that Marrow has been handling his situation well, all things considered. "He's doing great. He's a great kid."


Lastly, Pelini said the Huskers would hold a brief walk-thru session on Friday and then stay together in the team hotel that night. Because of Big Ten rules, only the 70 players on Nebraska's travel roster are allowed to stay in the hotel.


Pelini said NU has done the same Friday routine since before last year's win over Missouri, and the strategy was picked up to make it seem more like a road game and cut out as many outside distractions as possible.


"Everything's the same as kind of how we finished up from Missouri on last year," he said. "We're treating it a little bit more like a road game as far as our schedule, but that's really no different for these guys."


- Robin Washut


Pelini anxious to see how young players respond


If all goes as planned, Nebraska will have a large group of players appearing in their first ever collegiate game on Saturday.


With a number of young players, junior college transfers and possibly as many as six true freshmen in line to see the field against UTC, Pelini said he was looking forward to seeing how his young players responded in their Husker debuts.


"They need to be ready for what's being thrown at them, the atmosphere, the assignments, the effort that' required, the ability to go out there and play the way they've been coached to play," Pelini said. "Not being caught up in the moment or the atmosphere and all that' going on around them, being able to focus and play football the right way. That's what we're looking for."


For the freshmen and the juco transfers in particular, Pelini said he and the coaching staff felt comfortable enough in their player evaluations to pretty much know what to expect out of their cast of newcomers.


While there will almost certainly be a share of first-game mistakes, Pelini said he was most anxious to see how they responded to their first taste of a big time college football atmosphere.


"We feel like we have a pretty good handle on who they are," Pelini said. "You get to know them both as you're recruiting them and when you've been around them for a whole summer basically. But let me tell you, there's always going to be some growing pains going into that first game when you're a true freshman.


"Some guys it won't affect at all, other guys it might affect a little bit more. That's why everyone's a little bit different. We'll see how it all plays out on Saturday. That's why you play the game."


- Robin Washut


NU looks to defense for o-line talent


With sophomore Spencer Long making his way up the depth chart to possibly start at right guard on Saturday, he becomes the latest in a growing list of former defensive linemen to find a home on the other side of the ball.


Long, who moved from the d-line to center last year as a redshirt freshman, joins the likes Jake Cotton, Cole Pensick, Justin Jackson and Luke Lingenfelter as current Husker offensive linemen who started their collegiate careers on defense.


Offensive line coach Barney Cotton said Nebraska actively seeks out potential o-line talent from the defense because often times they are more athletically versatile then players who have spent their entire careers as offensive linemen.


"(Long is) another d-lineman who moved to offense, which is really a great way to get offensive linemen," Cotton said. "We recruited him and his brother (Jake) as a walk-on from Elkhorn three years ago as a d-lineman, and he gained about 40-50 pounds. We got him from the defense and he played guard and then played center and is now back to guard. He can play both sides too."


Cotton said finding linemen with diverse athletic backgrounds allows for them to do things other lineman might not be able to do, such as pull and block out smaller, faster defenders in the perimeter.


"They do more than play offensive line," Cotton said. "They're athletic, they generally play with their hands pretty well. You want o-linemen to play basketball, play defense, play tight end, wrestle, do something other than just be an o-lineman."


- Robin Washut


Quick hits


***With all of the youth likely set to play on Saturday, Barney Cotton said Nebraska's depth of front should be better than it's been in years by the end of the season.


"Youth is a good thing, because youth has brought competition and youth has brought enthusiasm," Cotton said. "Those are two nice byproducts of having some young guys mixed in with some old guys."


***Despite the inexperience on the o-line, the Huskers say the tight bond within the unit would help make up for any learning curve issues it might have early on.


"As an o-line, we know we're family, and we support each other no matter what," sophomore guard Andrew Rodriguez said. "We pick anybody up who's down, and we help them out no matter what. We're all brothers, so we just support each other."


***Senior Austin Cassidy has been named a starter at safety, but that doesn't mean he still doesn't want to contribute on special teams this season. Cassidy played on all four special teams units last year, and he's set to be the holder and play on punt team this season.


"I don't have any problems doing special teams," Cassidy said. "Special teams is probably the only reason why I ever set foot on the field in the first place. That's one of my favorite parts of the game."


***Saturday will mark the first time since 2008 that brothers Andrew Green and Aaron Green will have played a game together. Andrew will start at cornerback and Aaron is expected to make his Husker debut at running back and on special teams.


The last time they played a game together was back when Andrew was a senior and Aaron was a sophomore at Madison High School in San Antonio. The brothers helped guide Madison to a 9-3 record that season along with a trip to the second round of the Texas 5A state playoffs.


While Andrew and Aaron are obviously excited to take the field together once again, Andrew said playing on the same team wasn't the determining factor in Aaron's decision to join him at Nebraska.


"I just left it up to him," Andrew said. "I just told him, 'Don't pick Nebraska because of me, pick your school because of you.' That's what he did."

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