September 8, 2011

Thursday notebook: Cooper finding his niche

Redshirt freshman safety Corey Cooper has to deal with the unfortunate timing of playing at one of Nebraska's deepest positions on the depth chart this season.


With three upperclassmen with starting experience and a rising star junior college transfer all working ahead of him in practice, Cooper has had to look for others ways to try and make an impact for the Huskers this season.


Based on his play in last week's win over Tennessee-Chattanooga, that outlet appears to be on special teams. A starter on all four special teams units, Cooper made two tackles on kickoffs, including stuffing the Mocs' on their own 3-yard line on a botched return in the third quarter.


"We've got a lot of depth at safety, and I'm still learning," Cooper said. "So I feel like I can contribute to the team on special teams. That's pretty much my role right now. I pretty much knew I was going to be on special team, because we have so much depth (at safety). That was going to be the way I was going to help the team."


After sitting out all last season as a redshirt, Cooper said it's been tough having to fight for playing time with the likes of senior Austin Cassidy, juniors Courtney Osborne and P.J. Smith, and even fellow redshirt freshman Harvey Jackson.


Cooper and Jackson both received plenty of praise last season from teammates and coaches alike, but Cooper said his biggest hurdle in seeing the field was fully learning the defense.


"Yeah, it's frustrating, because I feel like I'm talented enough to play right now, but this defense is complicated and there's so much depth," Cooper said. "So it's humbling, and at the same time it's made me work that much harder, because I know I've got to beat out the guys in front of me."


While Cooper may get frustrated at times from his limited playing time, his efforts on special teams and in practice aren't going unnoticed by his coaches.


"Special team wise, he's doing real well," defensive backs coach Corey Raymond said. "As a young guy, that's where you want to make your mark. That's where all guys make their mark at a young age in this program. It's about being a great special teams guy, and that's what he's doing right now."


"He's working hard, and he's just got to continuously work hard. We have some guys, but you never know, any play it could happen. Guys could go down and he could go in the game."


The good news, Cooper said, is he's already made big gains in mastering NU's defensive scheme with the help of his older teammates.


"I think it's helped that I've got a lot of older guys in front of me," he said. "With that kind of depth at the position, and competing with guys who have been here longer than me, I think it's always a positive. Of course I'd like to play right now, but I feel like my time comes, I'll be prepared."


Until his time does come, Cooper plans to continue to be a force for the Huskers on special teams this season. Now that he's finally got his first collegiate tackle under his belt, he's only going to want more and more.


"I've been wanting to do that when I got here," Cooper said. "It's hard to explain. I came here last summer, and I'd never gone this long without playing ball. So that first time being out there in front of all those people, it was something. In front of all those people, I just had to do something."


- Robin Washut


Pelini encouraged by Husker improvements


Ever since of the most "unpleasant" offensive film sessions in a long time last Sunday, there has been a different tone around Nebraska's practices this week. When the Huskers' wrapped up their final full session of the week on Thursday, head coach [db]Bo Pelini said he was pleased with the progress his team had made over the past four days.


"I thought we made improvement," Pelini said. "I thought some areas that we needed to shore up I saw improvement in this week, but time will tell. We'll see how we react on Saturday. We need to play better football than we did and more consistent football than we did last week."


After a somewhat sluggish performance against Tennessee-Chattanooga, Pelini said the offense made it a point to focus on efficiency and execution this week in practice. However, he said that went for all three areas on the team, as both the defense and special teams units made their share of miscues as well on Saturday.


"I think that was a huge emphasis, and it really extended well beyond the offense," Pelini said. "The communication defensively, some of the techniques on special teams, really it goes right across the board. There were a lot of areas that we could improve upon going into this week, and I think we made strides this week. Like I said, the proof will be in the pudding on Saturday to see how we come out and how we handle it."


Asked about what the defense needed to improve on the most, Pelini said the overall communication on the field was something the unit needed to improve drastically and the season progresses.


"I'm just talking about little things - being on the same page all the time, corners communicating with safeties, safeties communicating with linebackers, the whole thing," Pelini said. "Our defense is predicated on that, and that's always an area where until you actually get out there and it's loud and you have issues, you've got to make sure the hand signals are happening and we're communicating and we're getting on the same page."


Quick hits


***Pelini said junior linebacker Will Compton would be ready to go for Saturday's game after injuring his foot on the third play against UTC and missing Monday's practice. He said the defensive communication took a big hit when Compton left the game last week without his experience on the field.


"I thought (Trevor) Roach did a heck of a job, but you know, he doesn't have the experience Will has and he hasn't been in the system as long as Will has," Pelini said. "Obviously Will brings an air of confidence to everybody around him, and he's going to make things run a lot smoother."


***Asked if there was one area in particular about Fresno State that impressed him more than any other, Pelini said the Bulldogs' overall aggressiveness on both sides of the ball stood out to him the most. He said FSU's blitz packages would be a much bigger test for the Huskers' o-line than what they saw last week.


"I think the play really hard, and they're really aggressive in all phases," Pelini said. "I think that they do a good job in all areas, really. They're really aggressive defensively. They do a lot of different things, a lot of different pressures and blitzes, and offensively they're real sound and a physical football team."


***Senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard missed practice once again on Thursday, but Pelini didn't rule out the possibility of him suiting up on Saturday.


"Possibly," Pelini said. "We'll see how it goes towards the end of the week."


***The Huskers will hold a brief walk-thru session on Friday and stay at the team hotel Friday night. Per Big Ten Conference rules, only 70 players are allowed to stay with the team at the hotel the night before the game.

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