November 30, 2010

Tuesday notebook: Huskers honored by Big 12

A day after being named a first-team All-American, Prince Amukamara and six of his Nebraska teammates were selected to the All-Big 12 Conference first-team on Tuesday morning, marking the most for the program since 2000.

Amukamara highlighted the day for the Huskers, as he was also named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year. He becomes the second straight NU player to win the award, following the footsteps of former defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh last season, and he's the fourth Husker in the past 15 years earn the honor.

Though he has yet to record an interception all season, Amukamara ranks third nationally with 13 pass breakups and is widely regarded as the top cornerback in college football. He also becomes just the third defensive back to win the award and the first since Kansas State's Terence Newman in 2002.

Along with Amukamara, the Husker first-team selections, which are made by the each of the Big 12's head coaches, included junior linebacker Lavonte David; junior defensive tackle Jared Crick; senior defensive end Pierre Allen; senior defensive back Eric Hagg; and senior offensive guard Ricky Henry.

David was also named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, as he currently ranks as the league's second-leading tackler, while redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez was chosen as the as the Offensive Freshman of the Year.

David joins former quarterback Scott Frost in 1996 as the second Husker to win Newcomer of the Year honors, while Martinez is the first NU player to ever when the Offensive Freshman of the Year award.

Overall, Nebraska's six first-teamers are its most since 2000, and the five defensive first-team selections are the most since 1996, the inaugural season of the Big 12.

"We had a number of guys honored today when the Big 12 came out," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I'm proud of all those guys. It's a team game and there are a lot of people who put a lot of effort in, guys that weren't honored who I thought were deserving also. It's a team game and it just goes to show you we made some improvement. We did some good things as a football team this year."

Despite being on pace to end his career as the NCAA's all-time most accurate kicker, senior Alex Henery was a second-team selection for the third year in a row. Pelini said he's been stunned with the way Henery has been overlooked in the post-season accolades this season.

"I think it's crazy," Pelini said. "I also thought it was crazy that he wasn't a finalist for the Groza Award. I think when it's all said and done, when the guys who know, the guys who really watch, and it comes draft time, I think it will be obvious where he is in the pecking order."

Senior Niles Paul was named to the second-team at two different positions, being selected at both receiver and kick returner. Senior running back Roy Helu was also a second-team pick.

On defense, sophomore Cameron Meredith was also a second-team selection at defensive end along with junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

Additionally, six other Huskers earned honorable mention honors. On offense, Martinez, junior center Mike Caputo, senior offensive guard Keith Williams and sophomore running back Rex Burkhead were all honorable mention picks, and senior defensive back DeJon Gomes and sophomore defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler also earned the honor defensively.

- Robin Washut

Tuesday practice takes
Murray "looking positive" to play The status of Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray has been the topic of conversation surrounding the Sooners the past three days. Murray, who injured his knee during the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over Oklahoma State, has been limited this week in practice, but head coach Bob Stoops said the chances of him playing were looking up on Tuesday. "DeMarco is much improved from (Sunday)," Stoops said. "We'll see as the week goes. I don't want to say something until it's for sure, but it's looking positive right now."

Game day itinerary: For those making the trip down to Arlington, Texas, for Saturday's Big 12 Championship game, the Cowboys Stadium parking lots will officially open at noon on Saturday, and there will be a Big 12 GameDay Fan Festival in the East Plaza of the stadium running from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Gates will open at 4:30 p.m., and kickoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Injury update: Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez (ankle, toe) was expected to go through practice as much as possible on Tuesday, but no confirmation could be made on how much he did practice because there was no media availability after practice. There were no new injuries reported during Tuesday's weekly press conference.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team returned to practice Tuesday, and the Huskers will go through another full practice on Wednesday as they continue to get ready for Saturday's Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas, at 7:15 p.m.

QB will likely be game-time decision

After sitting out last week's game against Colorado and being limited for Monday's practice and eventually walking off the field again with a boot on his left foot, the status of Martinez remains completely up in the air.

On Tuesday, Pelini and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson indicated that they are in no rush to name the start for Saturday's Big 12 Championship, and it could once again be a game-time decision as to whether Martinez or sophomore Cody Green gets the start at quarterback.

"What time's the game on Saturday?" Pelini said when asked when he thought the team needed to make a decision on who would be the starter.

Pelini followed by saying he didn't feel it important for his players to know who would be the starter during the week because he said they all have equal trust in both Martinez and Green.

As for Martinez, Watson said he expected the Corona, Calif., to again participate in practice without his protective boot. He said the deciding factor in which quarterback they choose would likely depend on how well Martinez was able to run the offense during his reps in practice.

Obviously Martinez's effectiveness has been diminished due to his injuries, so Watson said it would simply be a wait-and-see situation until a decision has to be made.

"We'll do whatever is necessary," Watson said. "Bo and I are on the same page, we'll do whatever is necessary. We build our plans; both guys can do equally what we want to get done in a plan. We always have Plan A and Plan B ready, always. It gives us the affordability to use time."

- Robin Washut

OU's no-huddle will test Blackshirts

Nebraska's defense is already very familiar with the fast-paced, no-huddle offenses around the Big 12 Conference, but even so, there's no denying that Oklahoma's up-tempo attack will still be a big test.

With the way the Sooners rush to the line and often times check with the sideline to get the play call while set at the line of scrimmage, it forces defenses to sub less and react on the fly.

"They use different tempos they check-with-me at the line a significant amount, and they're well coached," Pelini said. "They can put stress on you in a hurry in a lot of different ways. They've got good athletes and they get them in space. They get a lot of plays, and they do a nice job of running their offense."

Not only does Oklahoma push the tempo, it also runs more plays as a whole than most offenses around the country. In last year's game in Lincoln, the Sooners ran a total of 87 plays against the Huskers. Last week against Oklahoma State, they ran 107.

"They do get a lot of snaps, so we anticipate that," Pelini said. "This time of year, you hope you're in game shape, and we're going to need to react well to their tempo and all those types of things to play well."

Along with staying hydrated being physically in shape to handle such a workload, Gomes said the Blackshirts would also have to be mentally ready for the variety of ways Oklahoma's offense attacks defenses.

"Just being prepared mentally, I think that's the biggest challenge," Gomes said. "Getting lined up and knowing your responsibilities, because you know they're going to be on the ball fast. I think last year when we played them they had about 100 snaps, so it's (going to be) pretty similar to how many plays they had last year."

Defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders said having faced offenses such as Oklahoma State and Missouri's would help some in preparing for OU's fast-paced approach, but said none would quite compare to what the Huskers would see on Saturday.

"We won't face a team that has this type of tempo," Sanders said. "They really have a fast-break offense."

- Robin Washut

Pelini talks NFL futures of Henery, Dennard

With just two more games remaining this season, it's only a matter of time before talk about the coming NFL Draft gets into full swing.

Considering all the national and regional attention many of Nebraska's players have received throughout the year and especially this week, Pelini took some time to talk about what the future may hold for two of his top pro prospects.

Pelini addressed the status of Dennard, who has been rumored to possibly forego his senior season and jump to the NFL after his exceptional play this year. Pelini said he's talked with Dennard, and even though there's no doubt the Rochelle, Ga., native would be drafted, he's confident Dennard will be with the team next season.

"Yeah, I think his mindset is to come back," Pelini said.

Despite having the majority of the attention going to Amukamara when talking about Nebraska's secondary, Pelini said Dennard is content with waiting for his time in the spotlight to come and then making the most of it.

"I think in the end his opportunity will come next year," Pelini said. "I think he recognizes that. Believe me, Alfonzo is very happy for Prince, but I think you'll see him in this very similar situation next year."

The other player Pelini talked about who actually will be entering the draft this April was Henery. Even though he's been slighted on the national level over the course of his career, Pelini said NFL scouts have raved about Henery's ability.

"They love him," Pelini said. "He's done it for a long period of time. I think he only missed one this year and it was blocked, it was about a 56 (51)yarder that was blocked. You can't do any better than that. Plus, the punting and the clutch situations and the amount of time he has done it.

"I'm not taking anything away from, I don't even know who got first team, but I'm not taking anything away from him, I just wouldn't trade Alex for any kicker in the country."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Many fans have loudly voiced their displeasure about the Big 12 Conference not presenting Nebraska with the North Division trophy after Friday's win over Colorado because the league office "didn't feel safe" coming to Lincoln.

Pelini was asked if he felt wronged by the Big 12 for not giving his team the traditional ceremony.

"No," he said. "I understand there are some other circumstances that played into that, but it's not an issue."

***Watson had heavy praise for Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal, who was named the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year as well as a first-team all-conference selection.

"I think he is one of the best players in our league defensively and especially at his position," Watson said. "He is a kid that plays with a lot of speed, gets to the football, a really good football player. He's been a good football player for a number of years. I think in this year in particular, you really feel him on the field. When you watch film, he is a good player. He's like the Von Miller from Texas A&M, he reminds us of him."

***Many fans across the country enjoy throwing out their two cents when it comes to their teams' offensive play calling and strategies. Knowing what it's like to be one those highly criticized coaches, Watson said he never second-guesses the play calling of other teams while watching other games.

"No, never," Watson said. "You just don't. There are things that happen that you don't know. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes that you don't know. Everybody manages their situation. The objective is to manage wins and what it takes to win.

"Sometimes you have a quarterback who is ready, sometimes you don't, a guy who is developing, you try and protect him or you have injuries in key position that handle the football, whether it be receiver or running back, whatever it is. You have to manage it. Unless you know the man's plight, you don't (second guess). I understand what goes on in the business."

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