September 20, 2011

Tuesday notebook: Kinnie fighting out of his slump

Brandon Kinnie's slow start to his senior season didn't pick up at all last week against Washington, as the receiver was held to without a catch for the second straight game. Even worse, he lost his starting job to redshirt freshman Kenny Bell.

What was supposed to be a breakout final year for the Kansas City, Mo., native, has been close to a nightmare through the first three weeks, and until he shows he can break through his current slump, Kinnie's role will only continue to decrease.

After not working with the first-team offense all last week, Kinnie was again working with twos on Tuesday.

"It ain't that good," Kinnie said of his play so far this season. "It ain't good at all as far as the passing game. The blocking game was a little better this past week, but I've got to get it. I've got to find it. I've got to get my mojo back. I've got too much pride to not find it."

Kinnie has been playing with an injured left thumb he suffered during fall camp, but he wouldn't use that as an excuse for his play. He said the bulk of his issues have been mental, as the biggest hurdle now is regaining the confidence he built up last year when he led the Huskers in receptions.

"It's not physical at all," Kinnie said. "I'm not about to stress myself about catching the ball. I know how to do that. Y'all have seen that. So I can't play the mental game with myself trying to go out and catch 1,000 balls, because it's just mental. It's catching the ball. I can't psyche myself out, because I know how to (catch). It's just a little hump and a little adversity that I know I'm going to get over. I'll be all right."

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Kinnie's struggles haven't resulted from any lack of effort in practice. In fact, mostly all of his teammates as coaches say there no player worked harder or was more involved in organizing team workout and activities over the summer than Kinnie.

It was because of that work ethic and drive that Beck said he wasn't concerned at all about Kinnie getting back to his normal self in time.

"He's been working hard," Beck said. "I think if you asked him he knows he hasn't been playing his best football, but we need him. He's a great football player. I know Brandon is working extremely hard. He played a lot and did pretty well, so I expect it to be a temporary thing for him."

The one benefactor of Kinnie's rough start is Bell, who got the start last week in Kinnie's place. Bell caught two passes for 59 yards against the Huskies, including a 50-yard bomb on the very first play of the game.

Even though Kinnie's loss has been his gain, Bell said Kinnie has been nothing but supportive and helpful all year long. He said Kinnie has always been a team player above all else, and was too proud to hold any sort of resentment towards a teammate.

"A guy as mature as BK would never hold something like that against us," Bell said. "We come out here and compete for spots every day, every week. As far as bittersweet, I haven't felt it. BK is a mature guy and he handled it really well. Like I said, don't look too deep into it, because our wide receiving corps has plenty of talent. That first play of the game, BK could've easily played just as well as I did."

With at least nine more games remaining in his collegiate career, Kinnie knows there is still time for him to get back the player he was a season ago and be the offensive weapon many thought he'd be coming into the year.

For now, he's just trying to keep from falling further into this frustrating early-season slump.

"I've got to stay upbeat," Kinnie said. "With my team, my attitude has to stay positive. If I get into a slump, the team will see that and they will kind of start going there. I'm not selfish, and I know I can't do that to my team. Really, all that matters is we're 3-0."

- Robin Washut

Crick sits out, Dennard at 99 percent

Nebraska had some good and bad news regarding two of its best defensive players following Tuesday's practice.

The good news was that senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard practiced for the second day in a row, and he's looking more and more likely to see the field in some capacity against Wyoming on Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini estimated Dennard was 99 percent back from the leg muscle injury that kept him out of practice for more than a month. The only thing keeping Dennard out at this point, Pelini said, was him trusting his leg enough out on the field.

"I really think Alfonzo looks good out there," Pelini said. "For him, it's just every day, it's the mental. I said that the other day. He's at 99 percent, and that last one percent is the mental part of feeling like you can let yourself go and go play football. I think every day he's out here on the practice field builds confidence, and that's what he needs right now is confidence."

Pelini said he wasn't sure how the staff would use Dennard should he be available to play on Saturday, saying the number of plays he gets will depend on how he feels and the opinion of the training staff.

"He's a veteran, and that's going to be a communication thing between the coaches and the trainers and Alfonzo," Pelini said. "I'm not going to go in and say we're going to limit him or we're not going to limit him. We'll just see how it's going and how he's feeling."

The bad news was senior defensive tackle Jared Crick sat out of Tuesday's practice with an undisclosed injury. Pelini said Crick was listed as day-to-day, but he expected to have him back in time to play against the Cowboys.

"I hope so, but then again it's day-to-day," Pelini said.

Asked if teams have been keying on Crick this season with extra blockers to take him out of plays, Pelini said it's been more offenses designing plays away from Crick than devoting additional attention towards him.

"I haven't seen him get more attention, but what I've seen is team's max protecting, slide protecting, spreading out, those types of things," Pelini said. "It's hard to give a guy extra attention in the run game, but you look at Washington, and the first two series we didn't see an inside run. That's one way of negating an interior player without necessarily double-teaming him."

Even though Crick hasn't put up the type of sack and tackle numbers many had hoped from him early on, Pelini said he hasn't noticed any frustration from his star defensive tackle.

"He's part of an 11-man team," Pelini said. "We don't think about statistics. That's for everybody else to think about. We think about performance and how he's playing technique wise, and I think he's playing fine."

- Robin Washut

Jean-Baptiste moves from receiver to cornerback

Sophomore Stanley Jean-Baptiste became the latest Nebraska receiver to move to the secondary this week when he starting working at cornerback Monday.

Jean-Baptiste confirmed Tuesday that head coach Bo Pelini came to him following last week's win over Washington and asked him about moving over to the other side of the ball.

Seeing how he hadn't played a down yet at receiver this season, Jean-Baptiste gladly accepted it as a better chance to get on the field.

"After the Washington game, they just spoke to me and were trying to get me on the field and trying to get me some playing time," Jean-Baptiste said. "Coach Bo spoke to me about it, and I said I'm all right with it. I've just got to learn."

Jean-Baptiste said the role the coaches have talked to him about the most has been at nickel back. At 6-3, 220, Jean-Baptiste would provide some serious size and athletic ability to the secondary.

"I thought (the secondary) played good versus Washington, but I guess they need help at nickel," he said.

While Jean-Baptiste said he had never played cornerback before, he does have experience in the secondary from his days in high school.

He was a starting safety at Miami (Fla.) Central High School, and he had six interceptions and a touchdown his senior year.

In fact, he has always considered himself more of a defensive back than a receiver to begin with.

"I always was a defensive player," Jean-Baptiste said, "so I'm glad they switched me."

- Robin Washut

Garrison says line can still get better

Everyone is obviously praising Nebraska's line this week after the jump they made in their win over Washington.

However, like any coach John Garrison said his guys up front can still get a lot better even though he's proud of the effort they played with last week.

"I think we made a good jump in the right direction," Garrison said. "As we looked at the film we didn't want these guys to get too confident, but there's still a lot of corrections that need to be made. I thought the guys played well, but we've got a long ways to go still.

"We've got to keep that workman type attitude that helped us from that jump from the second game to the third game and continue down that track."

The real story of the week was the emergence of junior walk-on Seung Hoon Choi, who started at left guard for the Huskers against Washington.

The South Korean native took the place of the injured Andrew Rodriguez and Garrison said it's too early in the week to say who will get the start for NU this week.

"It's an awesome story," Garrison said of Choi. "It's kind of been what Nebraska is all about. We've had a lot of walk-ons with our walk-on tradition here. Seeing a guy even with his background, such a diverse background with a different story than just the Nebraska kid who's walked on has created a whole new element to the walk-on program.

"It's a really neat story and I'm very proud of him and excited for him. He's got a long way to go too, but I'm really excited about his opportunity and his chance and what he's done with it so far."

- Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Garrison said the entire staff was proud of the way senior center Mike Caputo played against Washington after the poor showing he had in the Holiday Bowl.

"We basically kind of challenged him in the beginning of the week," Garrison said. "We almost did it to a point of calling him out a little bit and he answered the call. He did a phenomenal job against that guy.

"We were proud of him. He is a good football player and I think if you challenge him he's going to rise to the occasion. He definitely did that and he always does. I think he was just a little extra sensitive after the way he played in the bowl game against them."

***Freshman running back Aaron Green said he's loved playing for running backs coach Rob Brown this season, though it's not as if things have been anywhere near easy under his new position coach.

For example, he said whenever a back fumbles in practice, the entire unit has to do 15 up-downs on the spot.

"It's an honor," Green said. "Coach Brown is a good coach. He coaches us hard. He doesn't take any slack, and that's what I like from him. He teaches us a lot, some things I never really knew about the game."

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