August 19, 2009

Wednesday notebook: Christensen still in the mix

Making it count.

Those are the words that can best describe senior Andy Christensen's decision on why he chose to come back for a sixth year of eligibility.

Originally recruited by former head coach Frank Solich in the 2004 signing class, the 6-foot-3, 310 pound Christensen is the last player on the team that started for Nebraska in the 2006 Big 12 Championship game against Oklahoma.

In his first interview since talking to on April 1, Christensen talked told reporters on Wednesday about the long road he's traveled to get to where he's at right now.

After being acquitted by a Lancaster County jury for sexual assault charges this past September, Christensen rejoined the team at midseason weighing 335 pounds.

Over the summer he saw his weight drop all the way down to 305 pounds and over the past few practices he's been seeing some time with the No. 1 offense at right guard-competing head-to-head with junior Ricky Henry.

"I had a lot of rust to knock off," Christensen said. "In the spring, I wasn't ready to work with the ones or anything, because I just wasn't in shape yet. I got some stuff done during winter conditioning, but this summer proved to be pretty big for me. It allowed me to get stronger and get back in shape. I'm probably pretty close to where I need to be.

"I wouldn't say I'm in the best shape of my life, but I'm on my way. There's summer conditioning shape and then there's football shape, so we are still in the process of getting into football shape."

Over the summer, Christensen had as full of a plate as anyone on the entire team. In the morning he worked out with his teammate and in the afternoon he did an internship with a local construction company. On top of that, Christensen also took night school for his master's degree he'll receive in construction management this May.

When Christensen looks at the 2009 season as a whole, he said his main goal is to just go out on a high note.

"If I would've played last season, I would've let myself down and probably the team," Christensen said. "Now I'm in a position where I can be competent and I can contribute.

"One of the main reasons I came back was the guys on the team. You just can't replace the camaraderie with everybody. It's strong. It's something you really can't explain. I also wanted to come back and end things the right way."

-Sean Callahan

Wednesday fall camp takes
On the move:Nebraska originally started their practice for the first 20 minutes inside Memorial Stadium on Wednesday because the grass fields were too wet from the rain Lincoln received Tuesday night. However, another storm front moved in and forced the Huskers to take things inside the Hawks Center right after the end of individual position work.
Qvale still on the 105: Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton misspoke on Tuesday when he said freshman offensive lineman Brent Qvale was off the 105 man roster due to injury. The NU Sports Information staff said that Quentin Toailoa took somebody else's spot on the 105 and that Qvale is still a part of the official fall camp roster.
Injury update: Junior running back Roy Helu remains sidelined with what head coach Bo Pelini called "tightness". Both freshmen offensive lineman Brent Qvale and defensive tackle Thaddeus Randle also remain out with injury. Freshman safety Dijon Washington returned to the practice on Wednesday morning after missing the last several days with injury.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour full-padded practice insides the Hawks Championship Indoor Facility on Wednesday morning. NU is also scheduled to work out from 3:45 to 6:00 p.m. later this afternoon. The Huskers will come back on Thursday for a 1:45 to 4:00 p.m. practice.

Helu backed down again

For the second day in a row junior Nebraska running back Roy Helu was backed down from practice with tightness in his legs.

Running backs coach Tim Beck the coaching staff feels like they don't need to risk Helu because they already know what they have in him.

"He works hard, as does Quentin (Castille)," Beck said. "There's not a play those guys take off ever.

"We just want to be smart. We are just trying to be smart."

-Sean Callahan

The race for No. 2 continues

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson wanted to make it pretty clear on Wednesday that by no means has anyone locked up the No. 2 quarterback position.

Watson said he read some reports that freshman Cody Green had the edge over junior Latravis Washington, but those reports are not true.

"I don't know where the media got this, but Cody (Green) hasn't earned the No. 2 spot," Watson said. "That needs to be said first. Cody is in competition for No. 2. We just kept on going. We just keep moving forward."

Watson said the race between those two guys has gone back and forth each day. He said Washington had a little bit of a lead over Green, but over the last few days Green has closed the gap.

"I think both Latravis (Washington) and Cody Green have had good camps and they've both done really good," Watson said. "They've both done really well. We right now are still evaluating it. When it shows itself, we'll make a decision. If we get to game time, we'll go with the guy that best has shown.

"I see something in one of them every day. Cody Green has done really well the last three practices. He's had three of them where the light has really come on and where Latravis was a little bit ahead, now he's closed the gap and shut it. That's great competition."

-Sean Callahan

Young overcoming injury setback

Four days before the start of fall camp, junior tight end Dreu Young found himself faced with a decision that could potential alter the outcome of his entire season.

Throughout the offseason, Young had tried to battle through an injured muscle in his back, but as the start of the season drew closer, he began to question how much longer he could stand the constant pain he felt with every step he took.

After meeting with his coaches, trainers, parents and doctor, Young decided that surgery was the best option.

"It was kind of a tough decision," Young said. "I mean, we tried everything we could, and that was the best option - the quickest fix. We talked about it. I talked with the coaches, the trainers and my parents and the doctors, and we all sat down and said we've done everything we could, and that's what we figured was the best option to get me back. So we went ahead and did it as soon as we could."

Young said he was up walking around the day after his surgery, but he wasn't allowed to do anything else for an entire week until his muscle healed enough. He was forced to miss the first nine practices of fall camp, but he was finally cleared to run on a treadmill and swim to get some of his strength back.

He returned to practice on Monday, though he hasn't been cleared to practice in full pads and might not for longer than the standard acclimation period, depending on what his coaches and trainers decide.

Still, Young said he feels about 85-90 percent in his recovery, and he's confident he can still be a factor for the Huskers this season.

"I was in bad shape, but I came out of surgery and I've felt real good," he said. "My muscles have just been a little stiff. I haven't been moving around for like a month, but I'm getting loose again. I've been swimming and running on the treadmill, running some routes and getting some of that stuff in.

"I feel good now. Just kind of got to get back in shape and get stretched back out. I'll be ready to go in September."

Considering he's competing for playing time at one of Nebraska's deepest and most talented positions, the time Young missed because of the injury could prove to be a huge setback. Regardless, he said he doesn't regret the decision to have surgery one bit, no matter the consequence.

"It was something I had to do," he said. "I'll work when I get back. If I did lose any plays, I'll work to get them back. That's up to the coaches. I really don't have any control over that. I'm just going to do what I have to do."

- Robin Washut

Paul, Burkhead leading returner candidates

Once again, it appears junior Niles Paul is the most likely candidate to hold down both of Nebraska's kickoff and punt return duties this season.

However, a new name has entered the race at both positions this fall - freshman Rex Burkhead.

According to Paul, Burkhead has been taken reps at both kick and punt returner since the Huskers began their special teams installation on Tuesday. So far, Paul said the freshman running back has looked pretty darn good at both spots.

"He's fast," Paul said. "He can see the hole, and he has great vision. He makes the right cuts, and of course he's fast. He's real fast."

Paul said other candidates for the two kick returner spots were sophomore cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who returned kicks last year as a true freshman, and junior receiver Curenski Gilleylen.

On punt returns, Paul said redshirt freshman receiver Tim Marlowe and freshman receiver Antonio Bell have also had some looks.

Because of a hamstring injury Dennard suffered last week, his reps have been limited on kickoff returns, giving guys like Burkhead and Gilleylen a chance to show what they can do.

Gilleylen is considered one of the fastest, if not the fastest player on the entire team. Though he didn't see much action as a kickoff returner in high school - which he said was because teams wouldn't kick to him - Gilleylen said he feels he could make an impact in the return game if given the chance.

"I think I could make a contribution," he said. "I think I got two chances last year to actually return the ball. I think if me and Niles get the chance to be back there, I think they'll have a problem kicking to both of us because we've both got speed and we can definitely try to make some things happen."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Pelini said that freshman offensive lineman Brent Qvale[/d]b is going to be out for a "while." Pelini didn't specify what his injury was or how long he'll be out for.

***When Pelini looks at freshman defensive end [db]Jason Ankrah, he sees a lot of promise for the future.

"He's a talented kid who's got a long ways to go to learn what to do," Pelini said. "Like a lot of the freshmen, he's swimming in it right now. He's got a long ways to go, but the talent is there. He's a very talented kid."

***Junior offensive lineman Ricky Henry made it through all of practice on Wednesday with no problems.

***Junior cornerback Anthony West said he's enjoyed the added competition Nebraska's latest crop of incoming defensive backs have provided in fall camp. Because of the amount of youth within the unit, West said he's made it a point to step up as a leader in the secondary.

"I've taken a lot of strides," West said. "Last year I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, but going into this year I know a lot more of what everybody else is doing too. That helps out a lot. We've got a lot of young guys coming up, so myself and the rest of the older guys in the unit have got to show them the way and get them on the right path."

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