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  1. 2010 May 04

    Husker Heartbeat 5/4: Brooks, JerryWorld, Bo, Palin, Bryce Brown and Wooo Pig Sooie!


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    Cool? Cool!

    *Receiver Chris Brooks, who barely sniffed the field at Nebraska, signed a free agent contract with Tampa Bay Monday. Make of it what you wish. Our readers already have.

    *Bo Pelini’s charity golf tournament appears to have been a hit. He’s also slated to speaking a Omaha business motivation seminar that features Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes and Sarah Palin. Don’t worry - it appears this seminar requests an athlete/coach at every stop it makes.

    *Tom Osborne wants the Big 12 Championship to rotate back north before 2013, but it would appear he’s in the minority. I’d prefer it stay south, in Cowboys Stadium, where Nebraska can put on an annual recruiting clinic every year it reaches the big game.

    *ESPN’s Mark Schlabach ranks Nebraska No. 7 in his post-spring rankings.

    *Would the Big 12 pursue Arkansas if the Big Ten picks off Missouri? The Ol’ Ball Coach thinks maybe so.

    *Bryce Brown isn’t going to be playing at Tennessee next year. Where to?

    Tags: husker heartbeat, chris brooks, tom osborne, ol ball coach, bryce brown, big 12 championship, bo pelini, sarah palin

  2. 2010 Jan 18

    50 Huskers in Review: Nos. 20-16


    By HuskerLocker

    In the summer and fall, Husker Locker created its “50 Huskers to Know” list for the 2009 season. We now review our list by examining production, injuries and depth chart position.

    We’ll present these in five-player increments. Here we go!

    No. 20 Mike Smith: Battled all kinds of injuries after left, struggled with false start penalties for a second straight year, but generally protected Zac Lee’s backside through the last half of the year. Smith isn’t an elite left tackle right now. But he’s the best Nebraska’s got.

    No. 19 Terrence Moore: A bust in 2009 because of a turf toe injury, Moore better step up quickly in 2010, because his frame and speed is NU’s best fit for the nose tackle position. Moore cannot waste any more time on poor technique and fundamentals. He’ll be pushed fiercely in the spring.

    No. 18 Chris Brooks: Got hurt midway through the season late in the Texas Tech game, which derailed a promising year. Brooks probably had the best hands among NU’s receivers. He rarely got to show them off in five years. Chalk that up to whatever you want.

    No. 17 Will Compton: A little too much too soon for Compton, who started through the Texas Tech game, suffered some lumps and then watched Phillip Dillard take over in the dime defense and excel. Compton stuck his nose in there pretty well between the tackles; he could have been better on sideline-to-sideline pursuit. Compton has a bright future at NU, but there will be no Dillard in 2010.

    No. 16 Cody Green: A maddening season for fans, to some extent. And a maddening season for Green, to be sure. From the highs of terrific running plays in the Florida Atlantic and Lafayette games to the lows of bad passes thrown in Baylor, Oklahoma and Arizona games, Green was the epitome of a roller coaster on the field. Off it, he was humble, smart and humorous. He handled every press situation with intelligence and grace.

    Tags: 50 huskers in review, cody green, will compton, mike smith, terrence moore, chris brooks

  3. 2009 Oct 06

    Coming Home


    By HuskerLocker

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    Nebraska tight end Mike McNeill isn’t getting Facebook messages anymore telling him how much better Missouri’s Chase Coffman is. So there’s that.

    Of course, Coffman graduated, having finished 3-1 in his career vs. NU.

    And McNeill? The junior from Kirkwood, Mo., is still looking for victory No. 1 against the Tigers. He’d sure love one, especially in Columbia, in front 70,000 gold-clad crazies who cursed out his parents in 2007.

    “It’d be big, obviously,” McNeill said. “I can’t lie and say it wouldn’t. The last two years, they’ve really stuck it to us. So that’s been really tough, going home the last two years, having to hear about that. It’d be nice.”

    Maybe then the have-you-talked-with-Jeremy Maclin questions can die down. Or the Blaine Gabbert queries. Yes, McNeill is buddies with MU’s starting quarterback, too. Hosted him on his recruiting trip to Nebraska, in fact. Went to a baseball game with him this summer.

    This week, the Missouri connection is a big story, and McNeill, always a smiling, reliable quote, is right in the center of it. He trudged over reporters Monday in the press box, wearing a smirk that said “here we go.”

    “Well, it’s the Missouri game now,” one reporter said.

    “I guess,” McNeill said, not exactly enjoying his role as “official Missouri correspondent.”

    Said senior receiver Chris Brooks, who’s from St. Louis: “We just want to win. Whether it’s by one point or 30 points, a win is a win. Playing Missouri – most people, when it comes around, look at me and say ‘You’ve got a chip on your shoulder.’ But I try to approach the game like that each and every day.”

    McNeill and Brooks are two of four players from Missouri who could start in Thursday’s 8:15 p.m. game. Junior left guard Keith Williams is from Florissant in the St. Louis metro. Redshirt freshman Will Compton lives about an hour away, in Bonne Terre.

    “I’d like to play in Columbia every year,” Compton said. “I’d like to play in front of everybody I know.”

    Every one of them, not surprisingly, has some connection to the Missouri roster.

    Brooks is friends with Mizzou defenders Jaron Baston and Hardy Ricks, and expects to “chop it up” before the game with some good-natured trash talk.

    Compton is another of Gabbert’s friends; they committed around the same time in 2007 to NU, in fact, and were in competition to see who could help lure more players to Nebraska.

    “We’d hang out, spend time with each other’s families, and, at the time, talk about Husker football,” Compton said.

    Gabbert pulled his commitment when it became clear that Bill Callahan was going to be fired. But Compton stuck with Nebraska.

    “He knew I’d make the right decision and do what I wanted to do,” Compton said. “I needed to have that patience. I committed here. Nebraska deserved patience like that. I just needed to wait to see who came in here and give them the chance.”

    Days before Bo Pelini was hired, Compton said, athletic director Tom Osborne told the kid he would like who Nebraska was about to select. Roughly two months after that conversation, Compton stuck with his original decision despite a full-court press from Missouri and Illinois.

    But it didn’t mean he severed ties with Gabbert, who didn’t pressure Compton to change his mind. After Mizzou hammered Illinois in its season-opener, Compton texted him. Good game. Gabbert texted back the same.

    One might think Gabbert’s decommitment from NU would be a sore point with the Huskers. But emotions seem defused now that he’s Missouri’s quarterback, and not Chase Daniel, who relished needling the Huskers with his arm and his mouth.

    For his part, Brooks isn’t too worried about any ill feelings –or lack thereof.

    “At the end of the day, who really cares?” Brooks said. “Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert, whoever’s under center – it really doesn’t matter. We’ve still got to come out and make plays. Whether someone’s talking or not talking, I don’t think that makes a difference because they have to get between those white lines and back it up.”

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    Tags: chris brooks, mike mcneill, will compton, blaine gabbert, bo pelini

  4. 2009 Oct 05

    Readying for the 'Zou'


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Two years ago, Mike McNeill’s parents thought they might get a hometown discount in the bleachers of Faurot Field.

    Sure, McNeill was a Nebraska tight end traveling into a hostile Missouri den. But he was also a native son, a friend and former teammate of Mizzou receiver Jeremy Maclin. McNeill even hosted current Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

    “My parents got a rude awakening,” McNeill said. They were called names and heckled.

    They called it the “Zou” for a reason. It certainly played a role in the Tigers’ 41-6 victory in 2007, when NU quarterback Sam Keller seemed rattled from the opening snap, and the Cornhuskers’ defense walked around in a fog, casting a net so wide that Missouri frequently – and happily – attacked the middle of the field.

    “They were jacked up,” McNeill recalled. “They had their special uniforms for our game. And extra seats. I’m sure the fans will be pretty rowdy.”

    A record crowd is expected for Thursday night’s ESPN-televised game. The Tigers are 32-7 at home since 2003 - 17-6 vs. the Big 12 - and has won nine straight games over Big 12 North opponent, including three straight over Nebraska. Because of the 8:00 p.m. start – tip your cap to the start of the baseball playoffs for that – Mizzou partisans will have the bulk of the day to, ahem, prepare, while NU bangs around their hotel.

    “We’ll probably play a lot of Playstation,” senior wide receiver Chris Brooks said. “A lot of Nebraska vs. Missouri.”

    Brooks is arguably most excited Husker for the trip. He’ll get to see his 5-year-old son, Chris Brooks, Jr., who lives in St. Louis, where Brooks starred in high school. It’ll be a late bedtime for Junior that night.

    He’s also trying to wrangle up enough tickets for family members. Missouri is enjoying a rare sellout for Thursday.

    “Cousins that I didn’t know I had,” Brooks joked, “and uncles. But it’ll all get worked out.”

    Brooks’ prediction for the atmosphere of gold-clad Tiger fans?

    “Real crazy,” he said. “I think we need to answer the bell, compete and match their intensity from the opening kickoff. I think if we do that, we’ll be in good shape.”

    Head coach Bo Pelini pointed to NU’s experience at Virginia Tech as useful prep for Missouri. Though Nebraska’s offense pulled a grilled-cheese meltdown late in the third quarter, the Huskers generally kept their pose in Blacksburg, and snuffed out the Hokies’ early momentum after a long kickoff return.

    “All your experiences help you,” Pelini said. “Both good and bad.”

    Running back Roy Helu said the Tech game – plus Pelini’s love-it-on-the-road approach – converted him into a guy who wouldn’t mind playing “12 games on the road.”

    “Never really bought into that ‘road mentality’ stuff until we went to Virginia Tech,” said Helu, who gained 169 yards in Blacksburg. “The best football experience of my life. The environment. They were loud, they were jingling their keys. We were loving it on offense. The louder they got, the more focused they got.”

    Tags: mike mcneill, chris brooks, roy helu, bo pelini, ten days of tiger

  5. 2009 Jul 14

    10 "Prove It" Huskers for 2009


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    A couple of them will have a chip on their shoulder. A couple more are being thrown into the fire. Others see the sands of time running out on their NU career.

    The ten Husker football players who arguably have the most to prove in 2009 are on the list for various reasons. And each one of them could have standout seasons. Here's our take on the guys NU fans will be watching come fall:

    Senior wide receiver Menelik Holt: You can’t create a more prototypically sized receiver – 6-foot-4, 220 pounds – but Holt hasn’t been the heir apparent to Maurice Purify that many expected him to be. At least not yet. His hands haven’t been the problem – sans a fumble at Iowa State – but Holt doesn’t easily get open, and hasn’t much been sent on those deep routes that were previously reserved for Nate Swift. Holt had an average spring camp, and needs to turn up the voltage in the fall.

    Senior wide receiver Chris Brooks: Does “Brooksie,” as some call him, finally make good on his lauded high school potential? Time to find out. He had a solid spring, but receivers coach Ted Gilmore has typically been reluctant to play him. He won’t have much choice in 2009; Brooks should be the team’s No. 3 or No. 4 option, at worst. He’s well-liked, and seems to have the right attitude, and no lingering frustration over his lack of playing time.

    Senior linebacker Phillip Dillard: Just two years ago, Dillard was seen as the answer to Nebraska’s flailing, failing linebacking corps, specifically the suddenly-average Corey McKeon. Today, Dillard tries to fight out of the doghouse after plummeting to the bottom of the depth chart in spring practice. If healthy, and at the proper weight, Dillard is probably an upgrade over Colton Koehler, who started over the last half of 2008. But he’s got to earn the trust of position coach Mike Ekeler and head coach Bo Pelini, and that should take the balance of fall camp.

    Senior defensive end Barry Turner: We’re not questioning Turner’s previous production; he’s been a solid rush end at Nebraska. But he does have to fully recover from a nasty break in 2008 in order to give the Huskers that speed rusher they were lacking last year. With Ndamukong Suh attracting more double teams this year, Turner will have his shots at the quarterback. As the spring game showed, his first step is still there. But can he get around the Big 12’s best tackles? That remains to be seen.

    Junior cornerback Prince Amukamara: He’s fast, he’s got huge hands and, by every account, dude can practically jump out of the gym. Now it’s time for Amukamara, a “hot one play, cold the next” cover corner last year, to make the leap that position coach Marvin Sanders knows he can. Sanders revamped his coaching installation this spring, beginning with basics and core principles, in an effort to get all of his defensive backs on the same page. When the light goes all the way on for Amukamara, he could be one of the Big 12’s best. Question is: Does it happen?

    Junior quarterback Zac Lee: For it’s worth, we think Lee’s up to the considerable challenge in front of him, which is to sustain the success of 2008 with a tougher schedule, new receivers and a talented true freshman (Cody Green) waiting in the wings. Joe Ganz got to spend the first month in the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium; Lee gets no such luxury, with two vicious road games at Virginia Tech and Missouri on an ESPN Thursday night. The kid’s got to be sharp, fast. And the final exam – games at Kansas and Colorado – will determine the Big 12 North title. Lee has a lot of pressure to bear on that No. 5 jersey.

    Redshirt freshman linebacker Sean Fisher: Really, all of the linebackers have something to prove, but Fisher is a perfect microcosm of the position in the fall of 2009: Lots of talent, little experience. Fisher has been the best of the young studs so far, settling into a BUCK linebacker spot nicely in spring camp and looking decent, in the spring game. The first month of the football season, he’ll face all kinds of different offenses - pro-style, spread, whatever Virginia Tech decides to trot out – and he’ll have to keep head above water in all instances. Fisher has earned the spotlight thus far. But his mistakes, should he make them, will be the most quickly exposed, too.

    Sophomore cornerback Anthony Blue: He had the ugliest of ugly knee injuries – the dreaded MCL tear – and he’s just now rounding back into game shape and trusting his leg to do what it once did so easily. Before his injury, Blue was slated as a starting cornerback. Now, he might be the No. 5 guy on the board. Another talent, Willie Amos, never really came back from his devastating tear. Neither did wingback/cornerback Isaiah Fluellen. Husker fans don’t want to go down this road again.

    Junior guard Ricky Henry: Nearly every Nebraska offensive and defensive lineman have professed an admiration for this kid. Mostly because his motor is on Autobahn speed most of the time, and he loves battling in the trenches with a zeal some haven’t seen since the Milt Tenopir days. That’s fine with us, of course, but, to paraphrase position coach Barney Cotton, it might be good if Henry turned it down a notch every so often, and realized there is such a thing as a holding penalty. If Henry can learn the offense, and be more than a toughman, Nebraska’s running game may be in even better shape.

    Senior safety Rickey Thenarse: It would help if Thenarse would get a break on the health front, but he’s still a guy who was healthy enough last year in the Gator Bowl, only to get outplayed and replaced by Matt O’Hanlon. Thenarse is a special teams dynamo, and he’s pretty good in run coverage. But he still tends to get turned around in pass coverage. Does that finally end in 2009?

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    Tags: zac lee, phillip dillard, menelik holt, chris brooks, barry turner, prince amukamara, sean fisher, anthony blue, ricky henry, rickey thenarse

  6. 2009 Apr 21

    SPRING GAME: Husker Monday Review


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Close the book on the 2009 spring season for Nebraska football. Smile at the positives NU took out of these four weeks, while being mindful of all the Cornhuskers must do before the Sept. 5 game vs. Florida Atlantic.

    The Red/White Spring Game was a kind of final exam for spring, but not one of those final exams that was worth, say, 50 percent of a player’s grade. Head coach Bo Pelini and his staff had already completed most of their evaluations by Saturday, and had done so by conducting some of the longest – and reportedly toughest – this side of Kansas State’s Bill Snyder. And we all know what kind of workaholic that guy is.

    “Let me tell you, it was a long, physical spring,” Pelini said. “The practices were long; the practices were physical. The competition was there. I think we’re a deeper football team because we have more guys that know what’s being asked of them. We’re nowhere near being a finished product and we’re nowhere near being game-ready. But we made a lot of strides in a lot of areas."

    Why’d Pelini do it? Well, mental toughness and stamina is part of the man’s signature. It’s why the Huskers got better in the second half of games last year. It’s why NU busted wide open a close Kansas game, survived an upset-minded Colorado and came back on Clemson, Baylor and Texas Tech. Those second-half performances were forged in the heat of practice, when players wanted to give less, and Pelini wouldn’t allow it.

    He still didn’t allow it this spring. And his assistants – even a mild-mannered bloke like Shawn Watson – got in on the act, too.

    What did we learn? That Zac Lee says the right things, and he throws a decent ball, too. That Roy Helu is such a valuable commodity that he can sit out the final two weeks of spring because he’s already dazzled the coaches enough. That Ndamukong Suh has a great motor. That NU might have some great young talent on defense, but not all of those guys are quite ready.

    We learned that smart kids, like Niles Paul, make poor decisions just like smart adults. We learned that former starters like Phillip Dillard sometimes have to begin again, at the back of the line. We learned that Alex Henery just might have the most golden foot in the Big 12 – and maybe college football.

    And we learned, once more, that while it’s only practice, it’s a nice little fix of Husker football to tide us over for May, June, July and half of August. On with the review.

    Five Guys We Loved

    Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh: Suh didn’t take off the spring game. Didn’t take off a single play, for that matter. He fought center Jacob Hickman and right guard Ricky Henry, got across their faces a couple of times and even made a spectacular tackle of formidable Quentin Castille for a loss.

    “Suh’s the kind of guy where, if you don’t do the right thing, he’ll beat you,” center Jacob Hickman said. “And guys were a little overanxious, not doing the right footwork, attacking him the wrong way.”

    Suh looked every bit of the nation’s best defensive tackle.

    Wide receiver Chris Brooks: Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson didn’t want to make too much out of “just a couple of catches” in the game, even though several of them were quite good, and caught off of the rocket arm of Latravis Washington.

    What impressed us more about Brooks was his hustle on a punt that he and Lester Ward downed at the one-yard line. Brooks has been in the program for five years, and he’s still willing to make that kind of effort on a punt in the middle of a glorified scrimmage, you at least know that, next year, he can be a locker room guy and a dependable third or fourth option. And maybe more than that.

    Left guard Keith Williams: The junior big man battled No. 1 defensive tackle Jared Crick most of the day, and won more scrums than he lost. A quiet guy who occasionally flashes immense talent, Williams, according to coaches and teammates, seems to have pulled alongside Jacob Hickman as the best offensive lineman.

    “You want to be playing on their side of the line of scrimmage, and you want to keep the quarterback clean,” offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. “I saw some good things from him out there. He put in an honest day’s worth of work. It was great to see when the white team came out with an eight-minute drive.”

    Running back Collins Okafor: A good day, really, from all of the NU running backs, as Castille looked faster and more agile, Lester Ward showed off wiggle and hustle, and Austin Jones looks like a Cory Ross guy, a change-of-pace option. But Watson was happiest for Okafor, a player who had struggled to pick up the offense this spring, but made it click over the last week, and especially on Saturday.

    It’s not hard to see Okafor’s natural talent. Just like he did at Omaha Westside, Okafor has a real gift in the open field, able to shift directions and accelerate at the same time. For him, it’s about seeing the hole, picking up his feet and finding the second level. When he does it, look out. If it sounds a lot like Marlon Lucky, well, there’s some of that. Lucky had pretty great hands, but Okafor is faster.

    Overall, though, you have to like NU’s running back situation. Ward was better than I thought, and Jones wasn’t bad. Castille, already a threat, just keeps adding to his game. Throw the best of the bunch, Roy Helu, into the mix, and NU can give Oklahoma and Oklahoma State a run for their money in the backfield.

    All of the tight ends: OK, OK, this is clearly about six or seven guys, including Mike McNeill, Dreu Young, Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed and Mychael McClure, but they collectively deserve the honor, as Ron Brown’s group flashed potential and production in equal measure. Husker fans already knew what McNeill and Young brought to the table, and they didn’t disappoint. But the young pups made the future of this position look bright until, oh, the next presidential election. We’ll take it.

    Three Concerns We Have

    Inconsistency at linebacker: Part of what makes him such a skilled recruiter and communicator is that linebackers coach Mike Ekeler wears his heart on his sleeve. On Saturday, he might have been a little too hard on himself by labeling his unit’s play “poor” – we saw some pretty good flashes out of Sean Fisher, Matt May, Will Compton and Colton Koehler – but he knows the unit is a work in progress.

    Too many tight ends were open underneath coverage, and Watson exploited it over and over to give his quarterbacks confidence. Yeah, sometimes a tight end be might a check down guy who’s the last option remaining. But some of those tight ends were 10, 15 yards down the field. It’s either a safety or a linebacker with responsibility there.

    The wild card remains Phillip Dillard. He played OK Saturday. Whiffed on one Lester Ward run, but stuck a few backs in the hole a couple times, too. Dillard isn’t going to climb the depth chart until he turns in a strong summer of conditioning and leadership. If he does that, and comes into fall camp at the right weight, Ekeler will likely give Dillard a long, good look.

    Lingering doubt on the offensive line: Both the Red and White offensive lines opened holes and protected their respective quarterback – at times. On other occasions, especially with the Red unit early in the game, we were left scratching our heads a little. Nebraska’s going to face some solid defensive ends and tackles this year.

    Mediocre Meno: Menelik Holt was supposed to be the heir apparent to Mo Purify and Nate Swift. But, by his own admission, Holt could have had a better spring and, on Saturday, Brooks Bell and even Wes Cammack stole the spotlight. Holt was a non-factor, and he was well covered. Was that NU’s defense, or Holt’s inability to get open? Holt is still a good blocker and leader and all that. But is he dynamic?

    Reviewing the Five Keys

    Why Safe May = Sorry: We thought it’d be best if NU’s offensive playcalling, while vanilla, still took advantage of some personnel advantages. After playing a little too safe with Zac Lee to start the game, Watson dialed up some nice zone-busting pass plays and Lee responded nicely. We also liked that wide counter sweep Castille ran midway through the second quarter. The White defense didn’t see it coming.

    Clean and efficient: A whistle-happy officiating crew didn’t exactly help things on Saturday – two pass interference penalties were either called on the wrong players, or simply bogus – but NU was a bit sloppy as the game wore on. A number of false starts, an illegal substation penalty, several holding calls on punt returns. Well, hey, it’s a practice.

    Busting the defensive advantage: Just from this eye, it seemed like the top White defense was only entirely intact for the first two or three drives. Probably a good thing for the Red offense.

    At any rate, NU coaches did a nice job of balancing out the process. The offense got some plays, and the defense did, too. And Lee’s touchdown toss to Wes Cammack was against Anthony West and Larry Asante. Cammack got inside West and Asante was too late getting to the over-the-top spot.

    Young pups and unknowns: As we reviewed above, many of the young pups on offense looked a little better than the young pups on defense. They were put in better position to look good, mind you, but guys like Bell, Cotton, Reed, Brandon Thompson and others made me more optimistic about the young offensive talent than what I saw of the defensive guys, many of whom – save Fisher and P.J. Smith, who looked pretty comfortable – need work.

    The Specials: Alex Henery looks like a good punter to us. Sign him up to start. On punt returns, Bell and speedy Tim Marlowe will give Pelini a lot to think about this summer. Both were fearless and fast.

    Three Questions We Still Have for the Summer

    How daring can Lee be in the fall? And we mean running the ball on zone read plays. That’s one thing it would have been hard for Watson and Lee to gauge this spring.

    How much – if any – attrition and addition is there over the summer? It’s possible – although not necessarily certain – that Nebraska could drop a couple more players before the beginning of fall camp. NU could also be adding a guy like Robert Marve or now, apparently Greg Paulus, the former Duke point guard who wants to play one year of college football.

    Does every nose stay clean, and which new leaders emerge? A two-for-one deal here, but both pertain to the same issue: Team chemistry. The Huskers need to stay way off the police blotter – and that’s not easy to do with a team of this size, but Pelini runs a fairly tight ship – while key guys develop as leaders. The offense especially needs somebody to stand alongside Jacob Hickman. Arrest and all, our money is still on the likable, smart Niles Paul. But Lee has to become “the guy” this summer in arranging workouts and conducting film study. It’s his team, and his time.

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    Tags: 2009 spring game, springtime with bo, ndamukong suh, collins okafor, chris brooks, keith williams

  7. 2009 Apr 18

    SPRING GAME: White Team Standouts


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    After the Red's 31-17 victory over the White team, seven Huskers who impressed us on the white team:

    Chris Brooks, wide receiver: Brooks made a number of difficult catches in the first half off of the arm of Latravis Washington, and hustled down on a Brett Maher punt to help down it at the one-yard line. Brooks finally looked ready Saturday to break the two-deep and be a capable backup to Menelik Holt. He hustled, ran good routes, and made tough catches.

    "He played like senior today," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "Really played big, which is good to see."

    Latravis Washington, quarterback: By no means is Washington ready to lead the Cornhuskers. But, in a mop-up or limited role, he showed Saturday he can make a play or two. Washington played quite well against the red’s top defense.

    "For where he started as a linebacker about a month ago, he came a long way," head coach Bo Pelini said.

    Antonio Bell, wide receiver: Bell’s going to be a stud, Husker fans. He made an incredible catch to help set up the white team’s only touchdown, and he showed impressive burst on punt and kickoff returns. Bell’s ready. Now.

    "He made a very competitive catch today, which was awesome to see," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "He's really talented kid."

    Keith Williams, left guard: Punishing performance from Williams. He helped open a lot of holes for the white offense early in the game.

    "I always was going against Keith today," defensive tackle Jared Crick said. "Every play was just a battle. It's been a battle all spring inside. He's 330 and strong as an ox. So he's really taught me to play great technique."

    Will Compton, linebacker: Compton got burned a few times in pass coverage, yeah, when Zac Lee threw right over his head. But Compton was very active against the run, and generally around the ball quite a bit.

    Austin Jones, running back: It was Jones, and not Lester Ward, who received more carries Saturday and looked like the team’s No. 3 guy. Jones showed wiggle, toughness and good hands.

    Baker Steinkuhler, defensive tackle: Obviously Ndamukong Suh was more dominating – pretty much unblockable for the first quarter – but Steinkuhler showed good technique and push, as well. He’ll challenge Jared Crick throughout the fall.

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    Tags: 2009 spring game, springtime with bo, latravis washington, chris brooks, antonio bell, baker steinkuhler, keith williams, austin jones, will compton

  8. 2009 Apr 18

    SPRING GAME: Red Wakes Up, Beats White


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By the time Zac Lee finally got the play, the route and the read he had been looking for, he had to deal with something that’s typical of just about any Red/White Spring Game: A player slightly off assignment, out of position. Only this time it was linebacker Will Compton, right in front Lee’s perfectly lofted ball to receiver Marcus Mendoza near the goal line.

    For Lee, it figured. The first two drives of his debut as NU’s top quarterback had been unceremonious three-and-outs, punctuated with a “phantom sack.” Seems a ref thought somebody touched Lee’s emerald green jersey for a half second while Lee stood in the pocket.

    Meanwhile, White team quarterback Latravis Washington had already spearheaded two scoring drives – helped greatly by good hands of receivers Chris Brooks and Antonio Bell - leading his bunch to a 10-0 lead. The White looked surprisingly in control.

    Finally, the junior from San Francisco got some breathing room on the third drive. And as he watched his pass float toward Mendoza, he wondered, why was Compton so close to it? Mendoza wasn’t his man.

    “Will was a lot deeper than I would have liked,” Lee said. “The ball was close to being tipped.”

    But it wasn’t, as it landed right over Compton’s hands and into Mendoza’s waiting arms. It was first of three Lee touchdown passes, and the first six of the Red’s 31 consecutive points in a 31-17 victory over White Saturday in front of more than 77,000 fans who enjoyed a sunny, warm day at Memorial Stadium.

    For the game, Lee completed 15 of 18 passes for 214 yards. He also threw touchdowns to tight end Ben Cotton (24 yards, on a similar route over the middle) and Wes Cammack (42 yards, with a perfectly thrown pass in between cornerback Anthony West and Larry Asante).

    “I’d like to say it went pretty well,” Lee said. “I’m sure I’ll see some things on film that I’d like to get better at. It was good. We had some success.”

    As did the White bunch, which controlled most of the first half until Lee’s first touchdown pass and a fumble on its following offensive drive by reserve running back Lester Ward. The White defense, led by Ndamukong Suh and a surprisingly quick and physical Barry Turner initially stung the No. 1 Red offense and its top offensive line. Quentin Castille was twice dragged down behind the line of scrimmage, and Lee was forced to throw the ball quickly.

    On White’s offense Washington, a converted linebacker who’s been a quarterback for all of four weeks, started his day with an eight-minute drive, culminating in an Adi Kunalic field goal.

    He completed of 9 of 13 passes in the first half for 112 yards and a touchdown to Brooks. The highlight play was a 27-yard fade route to freshman Antonio Bell, who leapt on one foot to make the catch and landed on his back. Washington found Brooks two plays later with a four-yard TD pass.

    “Some of my passes, I was just jumping at them,” Washington said. “But after that first series, I calmed down and managed the game really well.”

    Meanwhile, Lee was trying to dodge rushers and pick his spots wisely.

    Surprising? Not necessarily. It was part of what head coach Bo Pelini envisioned in equally splitting up the teams for the game.

    “We had a lot of guys playing next to people that they haven’t played next to before,” he said. “That takes some time. It’s not an ideal situation, but for what we wanted to accomplish today, it’s the right thing to do…you saw them get more confident and kind of get their feet underneath them.”

    Once Lee hit Mendoza, the Red’s collective feet hit the ground rather quickly. They amassed 380 total yards in the game, almost all of it in the final seven or so drives.

    Defensive tackle Terrence Moore stripped Ward on the White’s next drive. Tyrone Fahie recovered for the game’s only turnover. Lee took back over and hit Cotton for a touchdown two plays later. The Red led 14-10 at halftime. After the White team punted to begin the third quarter, Lee completed three consecutive passes, the last of them to Cammack, who badly beat cornerback Anthony West on a post route, then scooted around Asante at the five-yard line and dove into the end zone.

    “We were moving in a good direction in terms of just being aggressive to the football and finishing plays,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “I just saw shades of last of year and I didn’t like that. That’s got to get fixed.”

    The Red tacked on an Alex Henery field goal to begin the fourth quarter, then benefited from the day’s best run, a 33-yarder by redshirt freshman Collins Okafor, who cut back left into a wide hole, shimmied to his right, and accelerated through two tacklers on his way to the end zone. Okafor, who entered the game as NU’s No. 5 running back, led all rushers with 79 yards.

    “Every day, he’s been getting better,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “Today was icing on the cake for him. He really stood out.”

    Washington capped scoring for the White with a 71-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyler Reed. Washington sidestepped the rush and found Reed, wide open, 15 yards away from him. Reed hauled in the pass and did the rest, outsprinting all of NU’s defensive backs to the end zone.

    “He’s very explosive,” Watson said. “As he grows, he’ll really enhance us.”

    Reed’s performance was part of a strong group showing from Ron Brown’s crew. In all, tight ends caught 17 passes for 255 yards - almost half of the passes caught in the game.

    Quite frequently, they were wide open on short curl routes underneath the linebackers, who were often camped out in unusually deep Cover 2 zones. Lee and redshirt freshman Cody Green in particular feasted on throwing to them, while Washington was a little more apt to stretch the ball downfield.

    “A lot of talent there, and some experience,” Bo Pelini said. “We feel real good at that spot. We’re deep at that spot.”

    Overall, Pelini declared himself “happy” by the scrimmage, and the spring itself, which he called “long and physical.” Many of Nebraska’s practices dragged near the three-hour mark, and were longer than the Red/White Spring Game itself. NU’s coaches mixed and matched quite a bit throughout the spring, trying to find the right combination of players.

    Players must now hone their talents on their own this summer, and prepare for an even more competitive fall before the Sept. 5 Florida Atlantic game.

    “We got a lot accomplished in spring ball,” Pelini said. “We got a lot done. I’m happy. I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy with the progress we made. But we have a long way to go yet.”

    Tags: 2009 spring game, springtime with bo, zac lee, bo pelini, shawn watson, kyler reed, latravis washington, collins okafor, will compton, chris brooks, antonio bell

  9. 2009 Apr 10

    SPRING FB: Bo's Boys Back at It


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    No intensity or effort problems in Nebraska football's Friday practice.

    "It picked up quite a bit there," NU offensive line coach Barney Cotton said after the two-hour workout on grass. Head coach Bo Pelini had been openly displeased with Wednesday's offering from the Cornhuskers.

    Cotton said NU will scrimmage again some on Saturday. Just how much? A little "hit and miss hitting" before next week's Red/White Spring Game was all he'd offer up.

    "The staff hasn't talked about it yet," he said.

    The o-line shuffle continues. Senior Jacob Hickman moved back to center today as Ricky Henry worked with the No. 1 unit at right guard. If Henry doesn't work out, Hickman could slip back to guard, with Mike Caputo starting at center. Cotton said he's perfectly willing to let the situation work itself out in the fall, if need be.

    On the injury front, Nebraska remains relatively healthy. Running back Roy Helu is out with a hamstring pull, but NU's handling seems more of a precaution than anything else. Senior receiver Chris Brooks came back to practice Friday, as well.

    Tags: springtime with bo, barney cotton, ricky henry, chris brooks

  10. 2009 Mar 07

    SPRING FB: 50 Huskers to Know - Nos. 45-41


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    The list you have to have for spring football! Today's bunch includes superstud redshirt freshmen who should play a role on defense and nasty, young offensive linemen. Who are they? Find out!

    Tags: football, 50 huskers to know, tim marlowe, chris brooks, pj smith, courtney osbourne, brandon thompson, austin jones

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