April 7, 2011

Competition brewing for No. 2 cornerback spot

On one side of the defense is senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who stands as Nebraska's most talented and experienced defensive back and is widely regarded as one of the better corners in the country.

On the other side, though, is one big question mark.

While some have already penciled in sophomore Ciante Evans as the Huskers' other starting cornerback opposite Dennard this season, the competition going on so far this spring suggests the spot is still nowhere close to being secured.

Evans is definitely one of the frontrunners for the job, as he started last season as a true freshman against Missouri and saw significant playing time for an injured Dennard the next week against Iowa State.

However, at least four other young cornerbacks are giving him everything he can handle and pushing him for the starting spot this spring. Junior Antonio Bell and sophomores Andrew Green, Lazarri Middleton and Dijon Washington have all seen reps with the first-team defense the past three weeks.

First-year defensive backs coach Corey Raymond has also been rotating all of his cornerbacks to work on both sides of the field to help create more rounded experience within the unit, meaning even Dennard has flipped sides at times during spring ball.

That wide open competition is why Evans said he's not taking anything for granted in terms of winning a starting spot.

"I don't worry about what every body else is saying," Evans said. "I'm just focused on what I need to do in the film room and what I need to do to compete. I put everything on film and I try to make fewer mistakes every day and ask my coaches and guys like Alfonzo and the other DBs what I need to do to get better."

"I'm just going out there and competing. I'm not really sure how much playing time I'll get or what's going to happen, I just want to go out and compete with my teammates across the board on defense. We're all trying to compete."

The wildcard in the mix is Bell, who has apparently come into his own since moving over from receiver last season. With a good mix of size (6-2, 200) and well-documented speed, the Daytona Beach, Fla., native certainly fits the mold of Big Ten cornerback physically.

Though he admits that he struggled with the position change at first, Bell said he's finally feeling comfortable playing on the other side of the football.

"When I first moved to cornerback, it felt like I first came to college again," Bell said. "I had to start all over, and so everything was moving like 100 miles per hour. I had to learn our defense on the fly. It was pretty hard, but I stayed in my (playbook) and Coach (Marvin) Sanders helped me out, and Alfonzo and Ciante helped me out a lot as well. That made it a lot easier. It went well towards the end, but in the beginning it was rough.

"I feel more like a cornerback now that I've got that year under my belt. A lot of things are still new to me, and Coach (Raymond) is doing a good job of helping me out with some of those little things I need help with."

There's still plenty of time left in the spring and on through fall camp for the other cornerback spot to figure itself out, but there's little question that the amount of competition for the job is only making every candidate that much better on a daily basis.

As long as that keeps up, the next Dennard could very well be in the making.

"You just have to pay as much attention as you can in meetings, study the game plan and just come out to practice as learn as much as you can from the coaches and the other corners," Evans said. "Like Coach Bo always says, this competition is only going to help up and make us better players in the end."

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