August 30, 2011

Tuesday notebook: Ankrah honored by starting role

One of the most highly contested position battles throughout the spring and on into fall camp was for the starting defensive spot opposite Cameron Meredith.


With the first game now just days away, Jason Ankrah emerged from the pack as the winner of the job on Monday.


It was a well-deserved honor for the sophomore from Gaithersburg, Md., even if he didn't know about his promotions until reporters asked him about it following Monday's practice.


"Actually you're the one who told me that," Ankrah said when asked when he learned he would be the starter. "I didn't really know all the details. I just went along with practice, going in just going with the flow basically… It means a lot. I've worked hard for it. I'm excited for this weekend and I'm excited for the season. I'm just excited."


Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini announced Ankrah would be the starter during Monday's press conference, saying Ankrah had a great spring and even better fall camp.


"He's gotten really physical," Pelini said. "He reminds me of Pierre (Allen) in terms of how he plays the run. He plays with good pad level, he's got a lot of lower body strength, he's gotten a lot stronger in his upper body. He allows himself to play very physical against the run, but he's still got the athleticism on third-down situations to rush the quarterback like a pure pass rusher does."


Ankrah beat out juniors Josh Williams, Eric Martin and Joseph Carter for the starting job, but Pelini said all four would get plenty of playing time in different game situations.


With so much defensive end depth at their disposal, Pelini said the coaching staff would continue to evaluate the position throughout the season, saying the starting spots were anything but set in stone at this point.


"The competition goes on," Carl Pelini said. "I could call (Ankrah) a starter, but I don't know if they're fighting for who's starting. They're fighting for snaps. In my mind, I look at every position on the field, and to me it doesn't matter who's starting, it's how I want to use guys in each situation. Those are the snaps they're fighting for.


"My two top pass rushers are going to be on the field on third-and-long, and my run guys are going to get on the field on second-and-8 and third-and-short. So it really doesn't matter who's on the field the first snap, it's how I envision rotating those guys. If they want to play in those situations, they've got to prove themselves effective in those situations."


With that being said, Ankrah said he has no plans of letting up on the gas pedal for the rest of the season.


"I'm not going to let my guard down," Ankrah said. "Every day is the same thing as camp - just go out and compete, make sure I get everything right and be perfect. Then just carry it onto the field."


- Robin Washut


Long pushing for starting job


One of the biggest surprises heading into the start of the season has been the emergence of sophomore Spencer Long as a legitimate contender for the starting right guard spot.


On Tuesday, Long was taking reps with the first-team offense, and even if he doesn't get the start on Saturday there's no question that he'll play a big role in Nebraska's offensive line rotation.


"I think he followed up a really good spring with a good camp," Pelini said. "I anticipate him playing a lot of football for us. He's one guy who you want to see how he reacts out there for the first time. I think there are a number of guys in that boat. But I think he's talented, he plays hard, and I think he's earned the right to be out there."


Long said he's known he would see the field against Tennessee-Chattanooga in some fashion for a while now, and admitted the reality of the situation is starting the set in as first game draws closer.


"There's a ton of emotions," Long said. "I've been thinking about it every single second. Just a lot of anxiety. I'm pumped for it. Nervousness, obviously. But I've just got to keep focused and trust in my training assignments."


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- Robin Washut


Santos climbing up the depth chart


With all the talk about the lack of depth at linebacker for Nebraska, the chances of true freshman David Santos coming in and playing an immediate role seem to get better by the day.


Especially when head coach Bo Pelini and the rest of the Husker defensive coaches keep dishing out praise for the Spring, Texas, native. When asked whether Santos could see the field right away this season, Pelini didn't rule it out as a possibility.


"David Santos is a guy who's young and really green and obviously inexperienced, but has some talent," Pelini said. "He's kind of a work in progress… A lot of it depends on his progress. He's made significant progress, especially over the last five, six days.


"I think he's getting more confident and more comfortable, but there's a lot of factors that play into it - injuries and obviously depth at a particular position. A lot of it depends on whether we think he's ready to play championship football."


Should he end up working his way onto the field, Santos would be one of a handful of true freshmen to potentially contribute right off the bat this year. Tyler Moore is the frontrunner for the starting right tackle spot, and receiver Jamal Turner is expected to be one of NU's most explosive offensive weapons.


Then you have the running back trio of Braylon Heard, Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah, who have all had great camps and could each factor into the offense in some manner.


Overall, Pelini said the 2011 freshman class has the potential to be one of the better classes he's had since taking over at Nebraska four years ago.


"I think the incoming class is good," Pelini said. "There are even some guys you probably won't see on Saturday who have progressed and have played good football and really have shown the ability to play and showed that they could come in and help us, but they're in a position where we might have a little more depth right now.


"So we might hold a few of those guys back, but there are a couple guys who could have a real impact. I think it's going to be a good class, not only with guys who will help us this year, but down the line. I like what I've seen out of that group."


- Robin Washut


Quick hits


***Junior offensive lineman Brandon Thompson was back in pads on Tuesday after missing most of the past week with an injury.



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