August 18, 2009

Tuesday notebook: Cotton breaks down o-line

As the dog days of fall camp continue, Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton is working on trying to put together his 10-man line rotation for the fall.

A hamstring injury to junior Ricky Henry has opened things up more at the right guard position and it's allowed players like seniors Andy Christensen and Brett Meyer to make a push for playing time this August.

Cotton has also lost two freshmen lineman to injury in Jess Coffey and Brent Qvale. Coffey went down with an MCL knee injury on Saturday, while Qvale went down on Monday with an unknown injury. Neither injury appears to be serious, but they are serious enough that both players were take off the 105 man roster and replaced by sophomore Luke Lingenfelter and redshirt freshman Quentin Toailoa.

"He really has had a good camp," Cotton said of Qvale. "We kind of screwed him up when I made him play right and left (guard). Now we moved him back to right and he's a lot more comfortable there. I probably expected too much of him to have him play the right and left side as an incoming freshman, but he was a great surprise for us so far."

At the tackle spots, Cotton said he has been working sophomore Marcel Jones as the swing tackle on both the right and left sides. Cotton added that Marcel Jones has been splitting time with D.J. Jones at the right tackle position in fall camp, while junior Mike Smith has obviously been taking most of the reps as the starting left tackle.

"Marcel (Jones) and (D.J. Jones) are locked into a real good battle right now," Cotton said. "Right now probably Marcel would be listed first, but it's a very even competition right now."

There was some talk over the off season that senior Jacob Hickman could see some time at right guard in fall camp, but Cotton said they've only played him at guard for one day thus far in camp.

"I think we know who the 10 guys are going to be," Cotton said. "We don't necessarily know the order those guys are going to be placed on the depth chart yet. Little by little we are starting to fall in place.

"We are getting a good idea of what's going on at tackle, we know which guys can play each side and which guys can swing. At guard, the picture is a little bit muddier, but we are pretty solid at center with Hickman and Caputo."

-Sean Callahan

Tuesday fall camp takes
Weight management: Tight ends coach Ron Brown had an interesting comment on Tuesday regarding Nebraska's nutrition program. Brown said that NU's players all lost considerable amounts of weight by the end of the season and it's something they are monitoring closely for 2009. He said both the strength and the nutrition staffs have a new plan in place to help players retain the weight they've gained over the off-seasons. One of the things the team is doing different compared to last year is the players eat a bag of pretzels and a drink a Gatorade protein shake each day as they walk off the practice field. All together their post practice snack contains 750 calories.
Young fighting back: After undergoing back surgery before the start of fall camp there was some concern if junior tight end Dreu Young would be able to effectively bounce back. Tight ends coach Ron Brown said through two days of practice Young is getting closer and closer to his normal self. "Anytime you hear a guy getting operated on his back you are not quite sure what to think," Brown said. "But just from talking to doctors he'll be back very shortly. He's already starting to get back, so it's just a matter of time."
Injury update: Junior running back Roy Helu, freshman defensive tackle Thaddeus Randle and freshman safety Dijon Washington were all backed down with minor injuries on Tuesday. Freshman offensive lineman Brent Qvale was taken off the 105 man roster on Tuesday as well because of injury. Junior offensive lineman Mike Smith, redshirt freshman linebacker Sean Fisher and freshman cornerback Andrew Green all returned to practice field after missing some time.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a 2 hour full-padded practice on the grass practice fields North of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. NU will come back for a two-a-day practice session on Wednesday at 9 to 11:15 a.m. and 3:45 to 6:00 p.m.

WR Henry has plenty of work to do

Last spring, it looked like junior wide receiver Will Henry was finally starting to make the jump to becoming the caliber of player many fans have hoped he'd eventually be.

Despite getting his first taste of praise from coaches and teammates just a few months ago, Nebraska receivers coach Ted Gilmore said Henry has leveled off a bit in his development this offseason.

Not to say he's been playing any worse than he did during the spring, but according to Gilmore, he just hasn't played any better.

"He's been kind of steady," Gilmore said. "He hasn't done anything wrong, hasn't done anything bad, but he hasn't done anything great. When you have competition, which we have, you really have to strive to show up on film and catch people's eye, and he's got to do that. He's got to do that, because there's a lot of competition."

At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Henry has the physical make up of everything most would want in a wide receiver. On top of that, Gilmore called him one of the hardest working players in the unit and one that has improved his game as much as any receiver since his first day of practice.

The problem, however, has been that while the gains he's made in three years on campus have been noticeable for his standards, they haven't separated him much at all from the competition at the position.

Still, Gilmore hasn't been disappointed in Henry's development, and said that he still has as good of a chance as anyone to eventually compete for playing time this season.

"There's no disappointment at all," Gilmore said. "You've got to keep in mind that that young man, there's a lot of good players ahead of him. Will has worked probably harder than anybody on his game, and has improved more than anybody. But it kind of shows you where he was at then and where he is at now."

- Robin Washut

Burkhead continues to impress

Through 12 practices it has become pretty apparent that freshman running back Rex Burkhead will see the field in 2009.

Cotton said Burkhead has been able to do things that most typical freshmen can't.

"I've been really pleased," Cotton said. "He's a great athlete, he's in great condition and he's a fast learner and I think he's a play maker. As a line coach I'm pretty excited about a back like Rex."

Even with juniors Roy Helu and Quentin Castille ahead of him on the depth chart, Cotton said NU can still find a way to utilize him in their running back rotation.

"You can look back towards last year," Cotton said. "How many times was our first back always healthy? How many times was our second back always there? You better have three or four guys ready to go in the Big 12."

-Sean Callahan

Kyler Reed is an 'athlete'

One of the more burning questions on offense this year for Nebraska is how they can effectively use redshirt freshman tight end Kyler Reed.

When you look at Reed, he could be utilized as a receiver, a blocker, an h-back and a fullback.

"You just named it all," tight ends coach Ron Brown said. "He's all of that. He's a guy that can line up wide, he lines up in the backfield and he can line up at the line scrimmage. You look at him and you say 'athlete!' You say 'athlete!' You watch him run, you watch him catch and do all that staff and you say athlete. Then you watch him block and you say 'he can block.'

"I feel good about Kyler Reed in a variety of situations. He should be a great special teams players as well. He's a terrific athlete."

Brown said each day he continues to work with Reed so he can grow and develop more into a jack of all trades role in the offense.

"I'm working him like crazy for that," Brown said. "He continues to learn and grow, so we sure want to use him in a variety of ways. He's a kid that we've been really excited about just in terms of his athletic ability.

"He's a very composed kid out there. He seems to be very poised, he's kind of quiet and he seems to be relaxed. I just like his demeanor. He's a tough kid, he responds to challenges and we are going to find out a lot more about him."

-Sean Callahan

Holt sensed Lee would become starting QB

Apparently junior wide receiver Menelik Holt knew something many others didn't when he decided to stay after practice and catch balls from Zac Lee last season.

Before Lee was even being considered a frontrunner to earn Nebraska's starting quarterback job, Holt said he could sense that Lee had the physical tools and the attitude to eventually win the job.

Following the transfer of Lee's main competition - Patrick Witt - in the spring and the junior's quick establishment of the No. 1 job this fall, it looks like all those extra reps with Lee after practice have definitely paid off.

"Zac was always the guy I saw throwing by himself after practice, and I figured he probably needed somebody to throw to," Holt said. "Now we've developed almost like a rhythm. I know where the ball is going to be placed… Zac is a fast guy, he's competitive and he learns quick. Those are all things that coaches love, especially his ability to be coached.

"I think Zac's attitude and his focus in the meeting room, you know, the extra things he does, has set him ahead of the pack."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Never one to give any of his players an early idea of where exactly they stand on the depth chart, Gilmore said he expected to let his receivers know the pecking order by the end of this week.

"I want them to keep working, and at the end of this week, we'll let them know," he said. "I like the competition. Even when we name a starter, whoever that guys is, he's still got to continue to play at that level to keep that job. I want competition."

***For those that missed it, former NU star receiver Maurice Purify earned some camera time on the HBO series "Hard Knocks", which chronicles the Cincinnati Bengals through the preseason. Purify made quick work of former Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams in the Oklahoma Drill, putting him on flat on his back in the blocking challenge.

Gilmore said he hadn't seen the episode yet, but has been recording it to watch later. When hearing of Purify's performance, Gilmore didn't seem surprised in the least.

"Did he really?" Gilmore said. "Well, we all know his ability wasn't his issue. He can play at that level. No question."

***Cotton said it's been a whirlwind for Toailoa once he got the call he was going to be replacing Qvale on the 105 man roster on Monday.

"He got in late last night and got through with his physicals and he got just a little bit of work in this afternoon," Cotton said.

***Cotton would not address Helu's injury specifically other than saying it's "just a normal strain of training camp."

***Cotton said Tuesday's practice had a major emphasis on third down work and the two-minute offense.

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