September 7, 2010

Tuesday notebook: QBs knew where they stood

It wasn't until the starting lineups were announced on the giant HuskerVision screen just before Saturday's game against Western Kentucky that Nebraska fans and media finally found out who was going to be the starting quarterback.

Though it was by far the biggest secret of fall camp, for the people who needed to know the most, it was no secret at all.

According to sophomore quarterback Cody Green, all three of the Huskers' starting QB candidates knew exactly where they stood on the depth chart throughout fall practice. So when the coaches officially informed them that redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez had beaten out Green and senior Zac Lee for the job, none of them were shocked one bit.

"He kept us in the loop the whole time," Green said. "We knew exactly where we stood, exactly what everybody else did, because he doesn't want to hold anything back in the meetings. He'll tell us, 'Taylor you did this, Cody you did this, Zac you did this.' So we all knew where everybody stood. That's all you can really ask for."

Green said all of the reps with the first-team offense were split evenly between the three quarterbacks all the way until Martinez was named the starter last Monday. When the decision was finally made, the three QBs were the first players on the team to hear the news, and they heard it straight from head coach Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson themselves.

"It would be a lot worse if everything was secretive and then all of a sudden, bam, here's the starter," Green said. "It wasn't like that. We knew that (Martinez) was starting and the reasons why he was starting. It wasn't like, 'oh, well, we're just going to pick Taylor.' We knew all the way through the things that he had done and the things that we had done, the goods and the bads, so it wasn't such a surprise to us.

"If it was me starting or Zac starting, we would still know. (Watson) tries to not leave us out of the loop on anything. What he says is basically from the coaches to us. We're the first players to really know."

Watson said he and Pelini and the rest of the coaching staff made it a point to make sure the competition was as fair and even as possible the entire offseason. He said all three quarterbacks never showed any frustration or resentment during the process, instead realizing they could all learn from one another.

"It's something that I tried to foster in our room because I understand how much they need each other and how important each one of their roles is," Watson said. "It's key to their success as a team. We don't allow any selfishness in our room, no self-centeredness. I try to create an environment where they have to help each other and are required to help each other in those situations where it is a film study or practice where they need each other to help each other.

"It works out really well. I'm proud of what they've done because both Cody and Zac wanted to have that opportunity, and those guys have put the team first, which is part of our culture here. That is exactly what Bo (Pelini) does with everybody, which is how our team is. It's good to see that culture is embedded in those guys and they believe in it."

Even though he knew he wouldn't be starting days before Saturday's opener, Green admitted it still hurt when the coaches officially announced their decision. Rather than get discouraged, though, Green said he made up his mind to keep competing as if the job was still as wide open as it was a month ago.

"There's not really a feeling you can just describe," Green said. "It was just one of those things where you're like, 'well, OK. My number hasn't been called, so I have to keep competing. I've got to train myself to be the starter if something does happen (to Martinez). I've got to still practice like I am the starter, just like Coach Pelini and Coach Watson have been wanting us to since we got here."

- Robin Washut

Tuesday practice takes
Huskers move up in the polls: Thanks to their win over Western Kentucky on Saturday and some losses from other top-10 teams, the Huskers jumped up to No. 6 in the Associated Press top-25 poll and No. 7 in the Coaches poll on Monday. The No. 6 ranking in the AP poll marks NU's highest since prior to its 2002 Rose Bowl loss to Miami when it ended the regular season ranked fourth overall. Ahead of Nebraska in the AP poll were: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Boise State, 4. TCU and 5. Texas.

Similarities between Boise St., NU:
The first weekend of the college football season ended with another classic win by Boise State over a BCS conference foe on Monday night. Junior defensive tackle Jared Crick said he was a big fan of the way the Broncos played, comparing their team unity to Nebraska's this season. "The biggest thing I think for Boise State is they play as a team," Crick said. "Those guys would do anything for each other. I have a friend who plays for Boise State and they are such a close-knit group that nothing can break them apart, and that's how we need to be and that's how I see us right now, just one unit. That's how they play and that's how we want to play."

Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini estimated sophomore linebacker Will Compton would be out six to eight weeks while recovering from the foot injury he suffered last Thursday. The good news was defensive end Cameron Meredith returned to practice after separating his shoulder on Saturday. Meredith was in full pads, but he practiced on a limited basis and was held out of all scrimmage work. Other players who sat out of Tuesday's practice were offensive tackle Marcel Jones, receiver Curenski Gilleylen, defensive tackle Chase Rome and tight end Mychael McClure. Offensive lineman Brandon Thompson also returned to practice.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced for two hours in full pads on the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, as the Huskers continue to prepare for Saturday's game against Idaho. The Huskers will return to the field on Wednesday for another full-padded session.

T-Magic pulls disappearing act

Even after making one of the best debuts a quarterback has ever had at Nebraska, Martinez wasn't exactly excited to talk with reporters following Tuesday's practice.

In fact, he skipped out on his one and only interview opportunity of the week entirely.

While Green, the No. 2 quarterback, spent more than five minutes talking with members of the media, the starter Martinez missed both the weekly press conference (class schedule conflict) and the post-practice interview session.

The next media availability for Martinez won't be until after Saturday's game against Idaho.

- Robin Washut

Lee handling demotion well

For many players, losing your starting job to a redshirt freshman heading into your senior year would be a devastating blow your morale and self-confidence.

That hasn't been the case for Lee, it appears.

While Lee has yet to publicly address Nebraska's quarterback situation since Martinez was named the starter, his coaches and teammates say he hasn't voiced any anger or discouragement with his demotion from starter to third string quarterback.

Watson said it was extremely difficult to break the news to Lee that he had lost his starting job, but the senior made it a little easier with the way he took it all in stride and maintained his usually positive attitude.

"It's hard," Watson said. "Bo and I both told him when we sat down to talk to him, we understand how hard it was what we were saying to him because we're people too with sons. We understood what we were saying. We had been competitors also. We understand what it is like. We ask him obviously, to take on a huge role because he is very important to our team.

"He has a strong leadership with our guys. He is very well respected. He's a guy that we wanted to make sure he understood from us that his role was even more important now, and how he handled it would really say a lot about who he is and what his intentions are for our team. I think he's answered like a champion. He's been awesome."

Wide receiver Brandon Kinnie echoed Watson's impressions of Lee, saying Lee actually possibly gained more respect from his teammates than ever with the way he's handled the situation.

"It would be hard for me, very hard for me," Kinnie said. "I would have to come in and do what he's doing. He's handled it well, and I look up to that. He's still coming to practice and throwing the ball well every day, still competing, still being vocal and stuff like that every day."

- Robin Washut

D-line faces huge test in Idaho o-line, literally

Weighing in at an average of roughly 340 pounds, Idaho's offensive line literally presents one of the biggest challenges Nebraska's defensive front four will face all season.

Junior defensive tackle Jared Crick said the Vandals' massive o-line would be a tough match-up for a number of reasons, and the only way to counter that size was to have exceptional technique and quickness off the snap.

"Just the fact that they're a lot heavier, you've got to play with great technique," Crick said. "You don't want to just get out-manned. Giving up 100 pounds to some guys, it's kind of shocking, but you've just got to play with great technique. If you do that, you can go against someone who's 500 pounds, but if you've got the leverage you're going to win every time."

What makes Idaho an even tougher task for NU's d-line is the fact that its passing game revolves around a quick passing game that makes it difficult for opposing defenses to get to the quarterback.

Crick said it would be important for the front four to generate some sort of pressure on Saturday to throw off the rhythm of the passing game, but they would also need the secondary to help out by locking up receivers and giving the line enough time to get off their blocks.

"If our DBs do a great job in coverage and they can give us as much time as they can, yeah, it's possible to get sacks on anybody," Crick said. "The thing is, we've just got to play our game and get a good rush. If not, he's going to have time to throw all day. So it's up to us to get our rush, but it's also up to the DBs to do their part and give us a little bit of time."

- Robin Washut

Crick familiar with Enderle

Five years ago, Nate Enderle was leading the way at quarterback for North Platte (Neb.) High School. Now, he's one of college football's top-rated signal callers getting ready to take on his home state team.

Much has already been made of Enderle's return to the Cornhusker State, as he actually turned down a late scholarship offer from Nebraska to honor a commitment he made to Idaho much earlier.

With the showdown against the Vandals now just a few days away, Crick, a native Nebraskan, recalled his high school memory of Enderle.

"I remember, it was either my junior or sophomore year, he was the big time man, especially being only 50 miles away (from Cozad, Neb.)," Crick said. "We knew all about him. We knew when he went to Idaho. But we never played against him. I think I met him once at a track meet, other than that, I don't know too much about it."

Pelini said he didn't know much about Enderle outside of what he had seen on film, as he was still down coaching at LSU when Enderle was being recruited. Pelini said Enderle was obviously a talented player, but hoped some of his players wouldn't go easy on him just because he was a fellow Nebraskan.

That won't be much of a problem as long as Crick has something to say about it.

"It doesn't matter," Crick said. "You could be from Cozad and I'm still coming after you. It's great having another guy from Nebraska do well, especially at another school. No mercy though."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Enderle reminded him somewhat of former NU quarterback Joe Ganz because of his deceptive mobility in and out of the pocket.

"I wouldn't call him a runner, but he's an opportune scrambler," Pelini said. "He reminds me of Joe Ganz a couple years ago, where you don't think about him as a runner but over and over again you see him moving the chains with a seven- or eight-yard scramble."

***After watching the game film from Saturday, Green said he felt good about his performance overall. He led the Huskers to two touchdowns on his only two drives of the game.

"I thought I did pretty well," Green said. "There were some areas where I knew I had messed up… Overall there's still some room for improvement, but heck, like I've said earlier, it was two drives and two touchdowns. Can't be mad at that."

***Green said he sympathized with Watson and the decision he had to make on who would be the starting quarterback.

"I would not like to be in his shoes, because there were three quarterbacks that we had that were so close going into fall camp, so, so close," Green said. "I honestly don't think he would have been wrong picking any of us, because our depth is so deep that somebody can mess up and the next guy can go in there and won't miss a beat. That's how it was in fall camp.

"The reps with the ones - you can ask the linemen, ask any of them - they didn't know who was in. They didn't care, because they knew that we were going to get the job done no matter what. For (Watson) and the job that he does, I don't know if I could do it. I would rather just sit here and play than call the shots."

***Crick said fellow defensive tackles Baker Steinkuhler and Terrence Moore did a good job giving him some help on Saturday.

"I thought they played extremely hard, and that was probably just the biggest thing for them just being about to get out there and run around and stretching your legs a little bit, if you will," Crick said. "They made some mistakes, but so did I. As far as stepping on the field for the first time for a good amount of minutes, I thought they played well."

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