August 26, 2009

Amukamara struggling with the mental aspects

It seems that whenever Prince Amukamara's name comes up in conversation about Nebraska's defensive backs, terms like "pure athlete" and "natural ability" are usually are the first to come up.

It's never been a question of Amukamara's physical ability. Anyone can see just how talented he is simply by watching him run through basic individual position drills.

When it comes to the Huskers' junior cornerback, the real question is what exactly has kept an athlete of his caliber from establishing himself as one of the premier defensive backs in the Big 12 Conference?

The answer, according to NU secondary coach Marvin Sanders, lies solely inside Amukamara's helmet.

"Prince still has a long way to go," Sanders said, despite Amukamara currently holding down the No. 1 left cornerback spot. "I think he may understand it, but sometimes the mental aspect - he has all the physical tools - but he needs to continue to concentrate on the mental aspect of his game.

"That's what's sometimes frustrating with him. You see all the ability he has, and you know he knows it, but sometimes he doesn't translate that onto the field. Until he can be consistent on that, it's going to be hard for him to be on the field consistently."

Sanders said the biggest issue with Amukamara hasn't been a matter of him learning the defensive system and coverage schemes. He knows all of that, and he shows it in meetings and the film room.

The real problem has apparently been getting him to consistently apply his knowledge on the field when the pressure is on.

"He knows it, and the minute you ask him he'll know exactly what he did," Sanders said. "It's just he's got to get his focus. That's what it is. He'll go off on a play and do something completely wrong. So I think his mental focus is where he's lacking right now."

Amukamara admits that he struggled picking up what his coaches were asking of him early on, but despite Sanders' criticisms, he said he's become more comfortable with the system than he ever has at Nebraska.

"Defense is definitely a huge mental game," Amukamara said. "It was kind of rough at first. It was just getting used to what the defense is trying to do. Just knowing the defense has helped me a lot. Once you know what's going on, you just want to play faster and make plays."

While Amukamara can say he's comfortable with the system and knows all of the coverages, his opinion doesn't decide how much he actually gets on the field. That comes back to Sanders and the rest of NU's defensive coaching staff.

Sanders said he has no plans of simply handing over the starting job to Amukamara if he doesn't earn it this fall. Since the Huskers kicked off fall camp almost three weeks ago, Sanders has made sure Amukamara is well aware of that stance.

"Competition fixes all of that," Sanders said. "We have a bunch of young guys pressing him for that position, and I listed the defensive backs in a meeting we had a while back, and I said, 'Prince, you know how I'm going to fix that problem? You see this list right here? One of these guys is going to help me fix that problem.' That's what competition is all about. It should bring out the best in everybody."

Does Sanders think Amukamara will ever take that next step mentally towards becoming an elite cornerback?

"He always shows signs, and then sometimes he slips back," Sanders said. "You really love his potential, but you can't win off potential. That's the first thing that'll get you beat. Once he gets that focus, do I think he'll get it? Absolutely. I just don't think he's there yet."

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