March 26, 2012

Monday notebook: NU hits ground running in Week 2

In the first practice back since March 14, it would have been somewhat understandable if Nebraska were a bit rusty when it kicked off Week 2 of spring ball on Monday afternoon.

To head coach Bo Pelini's pleasant surprise, however, the Huskers came back and didn't miss a beat.

"I thought we had a good day coming back," Pelini said. "You worry about a little bit of layoff and what's going to happen, but I thought we had a good practice, good tempo. I thought the recall of the things we've installed up to this point was pretty good. I thought it was a good practice."

Pelini was asked how the offense looked coming back from spring break, as often times that is the unit that suffers the most from extended breaks away from the practice field.

While the defense may have had a bit of an upper hand on Monday, Pelini said he was very happy with the effort and performance of his players on both sides of the ball. For Pelini, spring practice isn't so much about how the offense fares against the defense and vice versa, but more about individual players improving and gaining experience heading into the coming season.

"I think the defense was maybe ahead of the offense today, but I thought overall, like I said, I saw some good things on both sides," Pelini said. "Just overall, for spring practice, my philosophy is obviously you want to get your team better, but a lot of it's about mixing and matching. You don't necessarily have one group in there together all the time, so you're not going to have great continuity at times, but it's about getting individual guys better and getting progress made.

"I think across the board we are having progress made, not only in the top units, but right down the line. We're getting a lot of guys repetition, and I think we're getting better as a football team."

One thing in particular that stood out to Pelini was his team's physical conditioning, which he said was very good especially coming back from such a long break. He said the coaching staff had no plans of easing the team back into things on Monday, and the Huskers showed no signs of sluggishness.

"Oh no, we got after it today," Pelini said. "Our guys are in really good shape. It's pretty obvious to me that our guys did what we asked them to do during the week off. They came back, and the tempo was really good."

Senior running back Rex Burkhead said the players made it a point to stick to their diet and workout plans over spring break, which he said definitely paid off.

"Guys came back in shape and showed that they did so something over the break instead of just chilling the whole time," Burkhead said. "It was good. It was a little sloppy at times, but I think overall the effort was pretty good… The workout schedule wasn't too bad. It was just kind of something to keep us in shape. I went out and worked out and just made sure I kept myself in good shape to pick back up where we left off at."

- Robin Washut

Rodriguez playing with hunger

One player that has made an early impression on his teammates this spring with his work ethic has been junior offensive lineman Andrew Rodriguez.

A year ago the Aurora native lost his starting spot to senior Seung Hoon Choi after a foot injury set him back. However, senior offensive lineman Justin Jackson said Rodriguez has showed up this spring in a big way and is looking like his old self.

"I love A-Rod," Jackson said of Rodriguez. "A-Rod is the man. He's going to do big things in his career. He works his butt off. I always come in when we have our spring break and I don't like to go anywhere. I like to stay around here and lift and hangout. Every time I came in here A-Rod was in here working. You can tell that he's hungry and he wants it. We'll see where he goes with it."

Rodriguez continues to work with the second group on the offensive line behind Choi, but Cotton said he's also seen him make some big gains this spring. Cotton added that Rodriguez is also working a little at tackle this spring in order to see who NU's best five linemen are going forward.

"Andrew's health is better and he's full speed," Cotton said of Rodriguez. "Andrew has had an excellent first four days of practice."

- Sean Callahan

Moore learning the hard way

Offensive tackle Tyler Moore made his way into exclusive company last year when he became the first true freshman to start a season opener for Nebraska, only the fourth true freshman offensive lineman to start a game and only the 10th true freshman offensive lineman to play at Nebraska.

He remained in NU's starting lineup all the way until the Huskers' trip to take on Wisconsin. With things starting to get out of hand, Moore was flagged for a false start and then was immediately pulled from the game.

He didn't start a single game the rest of the season.

Moore said he learned a lot from his experience last season, but as for his abrupt benching against Wisconsin?

"Don't make mistakes," Moore said. "Because one little mistake and you're out of the game, so you definitely have to be ready and you can't make mistakes. For any position at any time in the game, you can't do it."

Moore admitted he was a little surprised he was benched so quickly in that game, especially considering he was just a true freshman playing in his first conference road game.

"I know you can't make a mistake, but I thought I'd have a little more leniency with the coaches and everything," Moore said. "But, one and done. What are you going to do when you're young?"

The good news for Moore is he said his comfort level now compared to last season is night and day.

"I'm able to read stuff quicker," the sophomore said. "It's a lot easier now. I know when to look for certain things."

The mental edge is only half the battle. Moore said training with the team for a year has made him a different player physically, one that should be better prepared to shoulder the load this fall.

"Physically, it's a lot different with a year of lifting and running with the team. I'm stronger and more balanced. Sometimes I wasn't able to make the blocks that I can now."

- Robin Washut and Dan Hoppen

Jean-Baptiste battling at corner

Junior Stanley Jean-Baptiste is one player that's really hoping to increase his stock at the cornerback position this spring.

A year ago Jean-Baptiste moved from wide receiver to corner and made a crucial interception to help win the Ohio State game in his first ever action.

However, a knee injury kept him off the field for the rest of the season and he never was able to take advantage of the momentum he gained after the OSU game. This spring Jean-Baptiste continues to get comfortable with the cornerback position.

"Everything is good right now," Jean-Baptiste said. "They have us learning the playbook as a team. They are bringing everything down real smooth right now."

Jean-Baptiste said he probably should've stayed off his bad knee a year ago, but he tried to push through it and that's when the injury got worse.

"I couldn't really move on (my knee)," Jean-Baptiste said. "I just had to rehab on it and try to get it better for the season. "I ran knee-to-knee with one of the scout team players and they kept telling me to sit out and I didn't want to listen to them."

One other thing Jean-Baptiste mentioned was he does miss his days at offense, but he has no regrets about making the move. Jean-Baptiste is currently working behind junior Andrew Green at one of NU's two corner positions. 

"I miss it a little bit because it's always funs scoring touchdowns," Jean-Baptiste said. "That's why I miss it."

- Sean Callahan

Martin explains 'hate/love' relationship with o-line

Leave it to defensive end Eric Martin to put a completely unique spin on the relationship between defensive and offensive linemen.

Off the field, Martin said some of his best friends on the team play on the offensive line. On the field, however, those same teammates are some of his worst enemies.

"I mean, we hate each other when we have pads on, but when we don't have pads we're cool," Martin said. "That's how it is with Cole Pensick. I hate Cole Pensick. Like, absolutely hate him. He's probably the top person I hate the most out of the o-line, because he holds a lot, he's strong.

"(Choi) might be second. Sueng Choi, he's strong, and if y'all don't know, Sueng Choi talks a lot. It may not seem like it, but he talks a lot. Sueng Choi talks a lot of mess. So I mean it's just certain people on the o-line that I don't like when we're in pads, but off the field I'm actually cooler with them than anybody else."

Martin's list of part friends, part nemeses on the o-line didn't stop there, either.

"Like (Rodriguez), I used to hate A-Rod too," Martin said. "But I'm kind of cool with him now. He's calmed down since last year. He used to just be out there like a pit with no leash, but now he's good.

"(Tackle Brent Qvale) is probably one of the people I hate the most right now, only because I go against him every play."

Then there is Moore, who irks Martin as much as anyone because he apparently doesn't give Martin the reaction to smack talk he's looking for.

"He likes to zone out a lot and space out," Martin said. "I try to talk mess to him, and he doesn't respond like everybody else."

As Martin said, as soon as the pads come off and the team leaves the practice field, all that "hatred" fades and his bond with his offensive line teammates goes back to normal.

"Like I said, I'm cool with all the o-lineman," Martin said. "I'm cool with them off the field, especially the ones that I hate the most on the football field. I hang out with them the most outside of football. I think it's just kind of a relationship thing. Like we hate each other, but we love each other. It's a hate/love thing."

- Robin Washut

Burkhead spreading knowledge

Burkhead already serves as the Huskers' team leader and offensive workhorse.

Now you can add librarian to his list of duties.

Fellow senior Will Compton saw Burkhead reading a book called "The Mental Edge" a few weeks ago and was intrigued.

"He was reading it and I asked him what it was, because Rex is one of the guys I look up to," the linebacker said. "It's for athletes in every sport. It's like a mind-body connection type thing. I loved reading it."

Compton believes the book will better prepare him for the role he has to take on this year. With former defensive leaders Lavonte David, Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard graduated, Compton is one of the defense's elder statesman and a player the young Blackshirts have come to with questions this spring.

"You just feel more comfortable when you get older," Compton said. "I just got comfortable in that role. Once you're able to sacrifice and do things right, you can start bringing other guys with you."

- Dan Hoppen

Quick hits

***Through four spring practices junior quarterback Taylor Martinez has been pleased with the quarterback exchanges with NU's three new centers.

"Right now the quarterback-center exchange has been pretty good," Martinez said. "I think we've just had one missed snap (today). Other than that we've been pretty good."

***Martinez also clarified the comment he made to the Sporting News that said he'd be disappointed if NU didn't win anything but a national championship this year.

"After the South Carolina game I said the same thing," Martinez said. "I said if we don't go to the national championship I'll be disappointed. I think every player needs to have high goals. I think if a player doesn't have the goal to play for a national championship they shouldn't play football."

***Cotton has been pleased with the development of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zach Sterup, who's seen his weight go from 260 to 295 pounds over the last year. Sterup is currently working at right tackle and Cotton said he's only going to get bigger and stronger as he grows into his body.

"The guy has made tremendous gains," Cotton said of Sterup. "He's still got some more strength gains to go, but he's matured an awful lot this first year, but then again he still has a lot of maturing left do."

***Cotton also chimed in on the status of his son Jake Cotton, who underwent major knee surgery to repair several things this past season. Barney Cotton said he hopes to have Jake Cotton back at full speed by fall camp.

"Hopefully he'll be full speed by summer workouts and possibly be able to get him into some individual workouts," Cotton said of his son. "No team work or anything like that this spring."

***Pelini said defensive tackles Thaddeus Randle and Kevin Williams were both limited in Monday's practice, though both suited up in full pads.

"They're doing limited things," Pelini said. "They're doing individual and some group things, nothing in the team setting yet. We're easing them back into it, but they're both doing really well. How much we allow them to go over the next couple weeks, we'll play it by ear a little bit to see how they progress. We keep picking it up a little more each day, but you don't want to put them into a team setting until they're confidence is there."

***Pelini said there have been no significant injuries to report so far this spring.

***Pelini had a lot of good things to say about safety Daimion Stafford. Despite jumping into Nebraska's complicated defense last year, Stafford still eventually earning a starting spot. Now with more experience under his belt, Pelini said Stafford is "light years ahead" of where he was a year ago in terms of confidence and understanding of the defense. Pelini said he noticed a big change in Stafford's play within the first three spring practices.

***Pelini said cornerback Mohammed Seisay continues to impress this spring, saying "football comes easy" for the juco transfer, and that you only have to tell him something once and he immediately gets it.

***Pelini said Ryne Reeves has moved to guard for at least the next few practices. That means Pensick, Justin Jackson and Mark Pelini are NU's three centers at the moment.

***Running back Aaron Green said the biggest change he's seen in the past year from offensive coordinator Tim Beck is that the coach has loosened up a little.

"You can just tell that this isn't his first year anymore," Green said. "Last year he was more uptight. He was probably just nervous, just like the rest of us. First-year offensive coordinator, that's not a light job here at Nebraska. He seems a little more loose and he's having more fun."

***Moore said he thinks Pensick has emerged as the leader at the center position. "I'd say Pensick's probably leading right now, but he got off to a slow start with his hamstring injury. I think he'll lead for the rest of the spring."

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