August 21, 2009

Friday notebook: Breaking down the secondary

When Marvin Sanders breaks down his secondary, he sees quite a bit of potential heading into the 2009 season.

Right now Sanders feels like juniors Prince Amukamara, Anthony West and sophomores Alfonzo Dennard and Dejon Gomes will all contribute at cornerback.

"I think there's about four or five guys that can help us win football games," Sanders said of his cornerback position. "You look at Anthony West, Dejon Gomes, Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard, that's a good situation to be in, so hopefully this thing will work out itself out by the time the game comes."

Meanwhile at safety, Sanders likes the mixture he has with seniors Larry Asante, Rickey Thenarse, Matt O'Hanlon and junior Eric Hagg.

Sanders said Thenarse particularly has made some big strides over the course of fall camp. On Friday, Thenarse worked with the No. 1 defense in the place of O'Hanlon who sat out practice with a minor injury.

"The depth with Matt, Rickey and Larry has been impressive," Sanders said. "I think Rickey has really shown some dramatic improvements this fall camp, so we are trying to look at ways to get them all on the field."

Sanders said the biggest area Thenarse has shown the most improvement in is the mental side of the game.

"His patience and letting the system come to him instead of always trying to push the issue has improved," Sanders said.

When Thenarse looks at his play over the first two weeks of camp, he's not making any assumptions at this point.

"The safeties in the secondary, we are just competing," Thenarse said. "Everybody knows what they are doing, so if someone goes down we aren't panicking because everybody knows what they are doing. It's just competition I guess."

Friday fall camp takes
Interesting approach: When junior Nebraska running back Roy Helu prepares for the 2009 season, he actually chooses not to watch film of himself from 2008. Helu said he feels like he's a completely different back compared to last season. Instead, Helu said he likes to watch film of backs like Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray and the Oakland Raider's Darren McFadden along with more recent practice film from this fall.
Hardest hit of camp: When asked which player has made the hardest hit in fall camp thus far, junior safety Rickey Thenarse gave the honors to himself. Thenarse said the play happened during Friday morning's practice when he hit junior wide receiver Chris Brooks over the middle on a crossing route. "We were in red zone and I was on the right side and Chris Brooks was in the slot and on the left and he came around across the middle and he caught it and I just laid my shoulder and helmet into him," Theanrse said.
Injury update: Senior safety Matt O'Hanlon, freshman defensive tackle Thaddeus Randle and junior running back Quentin Castille all did not practice on Friday. Head coach Bo Pelini did not address the media on Friday to give a detailed injury report.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour full-padded practice on the grass fields North of Memorial Stadium on Friday morning. The Huskers will come back for their second practice of the day on Friday at 3:45 p.m. NU will hold their final practice of the week on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and they'll use Sunday as an off day.

No word on Castille

Junior running back Quentin Castille sat out of Friday's first practice, but no one would say exactly why.

With head coach Bo Pelini not speaking to the media after practice, no other Nebraska coach or player wanted to touch the topic of Castille's absence.

Husker receivers coach Ted Gilmore was the lone offensive coach to address the media group after practice, but he wasn't going to divulge any explanation on the subject.

"What about him?" Gilmore asked when asked about Castille.

Did he practice today?


Is he hurt?

"No response. He just wasn't out there."

So reporters then turned to fellow junior running back Roy Helu for an answer. As could be expected, Helu didn't provide much insight outside of guesses that he was being held out for recovery reasons, similar to how Helu sat out with tightness in his hamstring.

"I don't know," Helu said of Castille's status. "You'll have to ask him or Coach. We don't know. I think he's doing some recovery type of stuff also like I was doing, but other than that, I think he should be back soon."

Pelini is scheduled to talk to the media following Saturday's practice, so an official answer to Castille's situation will likely have to wait until then.

- Robin Washut

Paul finally officially named a starter

After spending the first two weeks of fall camp saying junior Niles Paul hadn't won a starting job yet, Gilmore finally gave in on Friday.

Gilmore said Paul is having the best camp of any NU receiver, and the starting Z receiver job is his to lose for the rest of the season.

"Niles has had a tremendous camp," Gilmore said. "Niles, right now, no question is a starter. It's his job to lose."

As for the X receiver spot, Gilmore said the competition for the starting job is still as tight as ever. One interesting note was that senior Menelik Holt is working at both X and Z, rather than sticking at the X as was expected heading into camp.

Along with Holt, Gilmore said guys like sophomore Curenski Gilleylen, senior Chris Brooks, and freshmen Antonio Bell and Khiry Cooper are all in the mix at the X.

Despite an impressive debut so far through fall camp, Gilmore said sophomore Brandon Kinnie is still far behind in learning the system, and it's looking as if Kinnie might redshirt this season to help get caught up mentally.

"Physically and talent-wise, you once (Kinnie) learns the system, he'll be in the mix," Gilmore said. "Right now he's at a disadvantage because he's still learning."

- Robin Washut

Coaches: Huskers having "country club" camp

With temperatures in the 60s and 70s mixed with occasional cool rain showers, one would think Nebraska had started its fall camp two months later than usual.

Friday marked the Huskers final two-a-day practices of the fall, and if you ask Gilmore, the team got off easier than any team he's ever been a part of.

"It's the last one?" Gilmore said when asked about NU's final two-a-day. "Really? Camp has changed, hasn't it men? If you ask me, I'd like it to be a little bit hotter. Every single day it's still cool out there. I want to see how they strain when they're hot and when they're tired and we're stretching them pretty good."

"Of course when you tell the kids that, they just say 'Oh here goes Coach again on another one of his fishing stories.' It has changed. You've got these three two-a-day practices, and in my opinion, that's country club."

Gilmore wasn't the only coach that thought the Huskers were getting off easy this fall. Defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders said he didn't want to harp too much on how much tougher camp was when he was a player, but that this year was definitely one of the more pleasant falls he'd seen.

However, Gilmore hasn't shied away from throwing out a few "back in my day…" stories to his players.

"Of course when you tell the kids that, they just say 'Oh here goes Coach again on another one of his fishing stories,'" he said. "It has changed. You've got these three two-a-day practices (this week), and in my opinion, that's country club."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Whenever Gilmore talks about Cooper, he mentions that he's trying to catch up after missing all of spring practice while playing for the Nebraska baseball team. Has there been any pressure to get Cooper to focus exclusively on football?

"No, none at all," Gilmore said. "None from me. I don't know if anyone outside of here is putting pressure on him. When we recruited him, we told him he could do that. We're not going to go back on our word."

***While he was out the past three days with a tight hamstring, Helu was still a big part of NU's practices, helping coach the younger running backs through drills and offering tips of advice as much as he could.

"I've got to stay connected, especially with the younger guys," Helu said. "You've got to be coaching them all the time. I remember when I was younger when Marlon (Lucky) and Cody (Glenn) were both out there helping out the same way. I just want to be a leader and role model for those guys as well."

***Sanders said there are no plans whatsoever to redshirt Gomes at cornerback.

"There are no plans on redshirting him," Sanders said. "He's a guy that's competing for a job right now."

***Helu said on Friday that he sat out a couple of days this week to just let his body heal.

"I didn't have an injury," Helu said. "I just took a couple of practices off and came back. I feel better now."

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