April 7, 2010

Wednesday notebook: Martinez continues to impress

The hype for Taylor Martinez continued following Wednesday's practice, as some of his Nebraska teammates threw in their two cents on their impressions of the redshirt freshman quarterback.

More than anything, they said it's been Martinez's mobility as a runner that has caught his teammates' attention.

While the competition at quarterback has by no means swung in anyone's favor over the past two and a half weeks of spring practice, Martinez has definitely assembled himself a nice little highlight reel thus far.

"Martinez is fast," Legate said immediately when asked about the QB race. "He looks like he's an eighth grader running around with a bunch of sixth graders out there. He's fast. The kid is pretty quick. They'll find a place for him.

"The other day I think (nickel back Austin Cassidy) had a 5-yard angle on him and he outran him to the sideline. I was like, 'Dang, that kid is fast.'"

The Corona, Calif., native has also started to establish a good connection with NU's receivers. Senior wide out Niles Paul said he's noticed steady improvement in Martinez's passing skills, especially so far this spring.

Paul said Martinez still has some work to do in perfecting his accuracy, which is something Martinez has spent a lot of time working on this off-season. In particular, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has worked with Martinez and the rest of NU's quarterbacks to improve their throwing motion.

On Monday, all of the Husker quarterbacks spent some time at the beginning of practice specifically on their throwing motion, as Watson had them stand by a wall and make sure the back of the football touched the wall on every throw.

As far as throwing velocity goes, Paul said Martinez throws harder than both senior Zac Lee and sophomore Cody Green.

"He's coming along great," Paul said. "He's putting the ball where it needs to be. Occasionally he has some mishaps and he puts the ball a little behind you or kind of leads you a little far, but throughout spring ball he's been improving on that.

"He's just getting adjusted to us receivers. He's learning. He's definitely coming along. He's getting the job done. He's having a great spring."

- Robin Washut

Wednesday practice takes
Paul excited about new plays: As was mentioned following Nebraska's first spring scrimmage on Saturday, the offense broke out some new plays that caught the defense completely off guard. Senior wide receiver Niles Paul said the plays weren't exactly new, though. Instead, the coaching staff is feeling more and more comfortable to open up the playbook a bit. "It's pretty much our base offense," Paul said. "We're just pulling a lot of new stuff out. Obviously we have a big ol' playbook, so we just dusted off a couple of plays… People are going to see a lot of different things being run out there with us utilizing more of the field. You're going to see our true offense."
Meredith a versatile weapon: Because of the strides sophomore Cameron Meredith has made both on the field and in the weight room this off-season, Nebraska defensive ends coach John Papuchis said there's a good chance the team will line up Meredith both inside and outside this season to show different looks up front defensively. "His technique is getting really good," Papuchis said. "I've always looked at Cameron as a guy that could play in any situation."
Second scrimmage coming soon: According to junior fullback Tyler Legate, he expects Nebraska to hold its second scrimmage of spring practice either Friday or Saturday. If you remember, the offense really got after the defense in the first scrimmage last Saturday, so it will be interesting to see if the defense steps up and slows the offense down anymore this time around. While it was exciting for many to hear that the offense had such a good showing, many fans were just as concerned that the defense didn't play quite as well coming off their dominating play last year.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two-hour, full-padded practice inside of the Hawks Indoor Championship Center on Wednesday. The Huskers will return to action on Friday for their 10th practice of the spring.

NU still debating Kunalic's redshirt

Rumors have been floating that Nebraska may decide to redshirt senior kicker Adi Kunalic in order to have him replace Alex Henery as the full-time kicker in 2011.

However, neither Kunalic nor his coaches are anywhere near making a decision on the matter at this point.

Because of the value he brings as a kickoff specialist, the Huskers may opt to use him this season and hope one of their younger kickers can step up and fill the void next year. Of the Fort Worth, Texas, native's 73 kickoffs last season, 29 of them went for touchbacks.

"We want to do what's best for this football team in 2010, so Adi's obviously a huge part of our special teams," defensive ends/special teams coach John Papuchis said. "He does a really good job with our kickoffs, and we don't want to take away from that area, because we're good at that unit. At the same time, if other guys are able to step into that role, then (redshirting Kunalic) is a possibility, but that's obviously up to (head coach Bo Pelini) and Adi's performance."

Papuchis said Kunalic and the coaching staff are hoping to come to a decision by the end of the summer so the team can go into fall camp knowing what it has to work with this season at kicker.

However, he said the performance of NU's younger kickers the rest of the off-season could play a big role in what they do with Kunalic.

If young kickers like Brett Maher, Jon Damkroger or even future walk-on Jason Dann can step up and prove themselves capable of being solid replacements, Nebraska may decide to continue to use Kunalic as a kickoff specialist this year.

"Hopefully we'll have it figured out in the summer, but sure, that's going to be a factor," Papuchis said. "We're going to have to figure out what our plan is no matter how it ends up playing out. If Adi redshirts, we'll go with that plan. If Adi doesn't redshirt, then we'll have to have a plan for 2011. But it's a little early for us to decide that at this point."

As for Kunalic's place kicking ability, Papuchis said he's proven himself more than capable in practice. However, the true test for a kicker is how he performs under pressure during games - such as how he responds to having to kick a 57-yarder with 1:50 left in the game to beat Colorado.

"He's a very solid place kicker," Papuchis said. "For those guys, the game is the best test. He hasn't had the game reps, so there are a lot of unknowns for that. We just have to make our best judgment decision going forward to see if that's something he's able to do or not."

- Robin Washut

Pelini happy for Colman

It was announced earlier this week that former Husker linebacker and current intern coach Doug Colman has accepted a position to be the linebackers coach at Tulane under head coach Bob Toledo.

On Wednesday, Pelini said he was happy to see Colman get the opportunity with the Green Wave after working in an intern type role the last two seasons.

"I think it's a great opportunity for him," Pelini said. "He's a guy that wanted to get back into coaching football and kind of interned in our weight room. He's a great guy, a good football coach and just did a lot for us over the two years he was here. It's a great opportunity for him and his family. I'm excited for him."

Pelini also thanked Colman for the sacrifice he made coming to Lincoln in a role where he wasn't paid as a full time coach.

"It's a big time sacrifice," Pelini said. "He obviously went from being a (high school) head coach to an intern with a lot of long hours working in the weight room and helping us in the off-season in the conditioning program and that type of thing. It's just good to see it pay off for him."

Linebackers coach Mike Ekeler said on Wednesday he knew exactly what Colman went through the last two years, because he was in a similar type of role at LSU under Pelini.

Bother Ekeler and Papuchis worked as intern coaches under Pelini, before being hired in full-time roles at NU in 2008.

"He'll do a great job," Ekeler said. "I joked around at our coaching clinic and I said there were nine full time coaches that were really happy to see him get the job and one who is really disappointed and that was me.

"He did a great job while he was here and he was happy he learned quite a bit. Now he's got a chance to get on his own and rock and roll."

-Sean Callahan

Legate loving new wrinkles

When junior fullback Tyler Legate talks about the development of the offense this spring, there are quite a few things that have him excited for the upcoming season.

Legate said on Wednesday that Watson has added quite a few new wrinkles to the offense, particularly in the run game.

"Just some of the new zone read plays we are doing are new," Legate said. "We've got a new play called 'slice' that I like. It's kind of the same as it used to be, but sometimes we might insert a fullback where a tight end used to be and they're kind adding some new stuff they picked up from other teams.

"It's mostly different read plays and running plays and we are just expanding from there."

What also excites Legate this spring is the fact that several teams around college football appear to be going back to using a fullback. Most noticeably Texas has made an emphasis this spring on playing with a fullback in their offense.

"I think it will eventually come back around because all of the defenses in the Big 12 are kind of going to lighter, faster guys and I think power can do pretty good against those lighter linebackers," Legate said. "I can see it revolving back around."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Ekeler said junior linebacker Mathew May has done his best to stay actively involved this spring, despite the fact he's still recovering from off-season groin surgery.

"It's always difficult, but he's taking a lot of mental reps," Ekeler said of May. "He's down there with some of the younger guys right now and really coaching. He comes down between periods and he'll ask me what to do and say 'that's what I thought, that's what I thought.' He's getting it and he's seeing it from a different vantage point and taking advantage of it."

***When talking about the running back position, Legate said he's seen good things from all of the top backs in Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson.

"All three of the top backs have impressed me," Legate said. "Roy is just elusive, Rex just runs hard and is bullheaded and then (Robinson) is powerful. All three of them have their little things they can do. They're all going to be good I think."

***Legate fully expects some sort of scrimmage in either Friday or Saturday's practice.

"There will be something," Legate said. "It may not be to the extent of last Saturday, but there will be something."

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