September 8, 2009

Tuesday notebook: Martin's intensity hard to match

After watching the film of Saturday's win over Florida Atlantic, Nebraska's coaching staff decided to forgive freshman linebacker Eric Martin for his fourth quarter late-hit penalty.

In the opinion of head coach Bo Pelini, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini and linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, the officials flagged Martin's hit because they wanted Nebraska to ease up on the Owls and just let the game end without incident.

If you've ever watched him play, you know Martin just can't do things like that.

"I just play till the last second is ticked," Martin said. "I can't let up on somebody. I mean, you're here to play football, so you've got to play every second you've got. If you're being lazy on a play, that's what hurts teams most, when they act lazy. We shouldn't be lazy, even if it's the final tick of the clock."

Much has been made of the spark Martin has brought to the Huskers' defense since fall camp kicked off a month ago. Not only has he built a reputation as one of the team's hardest hitters, he also prides himself on maintaining a level of intensity some might label as crazy at all times on the field.

"That's the key factor in my vocabulary," he said. "If you're not intense, then I don't know how you're going to play football, because football's a very intense sport. It's mental too, but you've got to be mentally intense too. I really enjoy that part of it."

One only needs only to ask Nebraska's equipment managers to learn just how hard Martin goes, even in basic individual position drills.

So far, he said he's already broken his helmet three times, as his chinstrap keeps breaking off when he hits people hard enough. His shoulder pads have also been an issue, as his tackles have begun to jar them loose because the strap fasteners keep breaking.

The top of his helmet is already covered in what Martin calls "scars" - scrapes, dents and scratches that can't be covered up with a new coat of paint. In fact, the more beat up his helmet gets, the more pride Martin takes in it.

"That's my trophy," he said. "My helmet is my trophy, and I love making it look better every practice and every game."

Like it did on Saturday, Martin's intensity has been known to get him in trouble on occasion.

During one practice early in fall camp, Martin got a little too jacked up while coming around the edge on a blitz, and he accidentally laid fairly big hit of starting quarterback Zac Lee, who was wearing a strictly enforced green no-contact jersey.

Needless to say, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson wasn't too happy with Martin's overzealous play.

"Coach Wats, he told me not to even breathe on (Lee)," Martin said. "Next play, I had to hold my breath walking past him."

Tuesday practice takes
No quarterback controversy: Despite recent rumors that freshman Cody Green was suddenly pushing junior Zac Lee for the starting quarterback job, Watson said there were absolutely no plans to open the spot up for competition. Though Green certainly showed some flashes in his debut on Saturday, Lee did nothing to show he wasn't the Huskers' clear No. 1 signal caller. "No. No plans like that," Watson said, "We don't do that. (Lee) is our starter. He's our guy. We ride that horse, and if the opportunity presents itself to play (Green), we'll put him in just like we did this past week
."Green has ways to go:
Freshman quarterback Cody Green gave some insight as to how offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will call plays for him and the rest of Nebraska's back-up quarterbacks who see playing time this season. On the Friday before game day, Watson has his quarterbacks fill out a call sheet with the plays they absolutely know, and when a new QB enters the game, Watson sticks to calling from that specific list. Green said his list on Saturday was about 15 plays, which shows just how far he still has to go before learning all of Nebraska's 320 or so plays in the playbook. By comparison, Lee is required to know all 320.
Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini was unavailable to the media following Tuesday's practice, so no injury update was given. Senior offensive lineman Adny Christensen sat out of practice with an undisclosed injury.
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour full-padded practice on the outdoor practice fields North of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. The Huskers will take the field again on Wednesday from 3:45-6 p.m.

Green still learning the simple things

When freshman Cody Green took the field for the first time as a Husker on Saturday, he completed a number of career firsts. He completed his first pass, had his first long run and scored his first touchdown.

But Green also had a few firsts that many would take completely for granted.

Because of the shotgun no-huddle offense he ran back in Texas throughout high school and even back through junior high, Saturday marked the first time Green had even called a play in a huddle or taken a snap under center.

So along with the pressures of living up to the hype in his Nebraska debut, Green had to make sure he could call the plays correctly and take the snap to actually run it.

Obviously things went well for Green in all areas, but one of the things he took the most pride in was being able to take ownership of the team in the huddle and establish himself as a leader.

Green said the biggest challenge was getting his upperclassmen offensive linemen to respect him as a leader of the offense. He said with the help of offensive line coach Barney Cotton and centers Jacob Hickman and Mike Caputo, he was able carry himself the right way throughout fall camp, which allowed him to run the offense with authority on Saturday.

A normally humble and reserved personality, Green said he's had to learn to embrace the "my way or the highway" approach needed to be a Division I quarterback.

"We've got a lot of older guys, especially on the line, and that's how you get their respect," Green said. "I had to learn that really fast with the help of Coach Cotton and Hickman and Caputo. They really helped me out just saying, 'this is how you need to do it. To get our respect this is what you need to do. You've got to walk in (the huddle), and - I know I have a deep voice - you've got to command it. You've got to command their attention at all times."

Bulked-up Williams a more confident, aggressive player

At 218 pounds, defensive end Josh Williams wasn't exactly an intimidating presence when he came to Nebraska as a true freshman last year.

Because of his lack of size and admitted lack strength, Williams said he was both nervous and hesitant during his redshirt season. Over the course of the past offseason, however, Williams was determined to change all of that.

After putting on more than 30 pounds of muscle the past year - including roughly 20 just this offseason - Williams has bulked up to 250 pounds and has worked himself into the mix at defensive end, as he's currently listed as the No. 2 at right end behind junior Pierre Allen.

"During the offseason, I just worked hard in the weight room and ate right. I would try to do extra work when I could. I put a big emphasis on working hard, and now I like the weight room."

Williams said NU's coaching staff set a weight goal for him to reach over the offseason, but he didn't need that for motivation.

"I wanted to reach a certain weight because I felt it would give me an edge on the field," Williams said. "Being an undersized defensive end is pretty tough trying to play against those 320-pound linemen."

With the added weight, Williams said he's noticed himself playing with more confidence and aggressiveness than he did a year ago. As a result, it didn't take him long to break into the rotation at defensive end this fall, as he knew he would contribute early on in fall camp.

"There is a difference from last year, and I think also from the spring I can see myself playing a little different," Williams said. "I think I'm more confident in my play now. Last year, I kind of felt myself nervous at times, but now I feel more confident just going out there and perfecting and getting better."

Paul: Receivers proved doubters wrong with big game

Though he only had two catches for 13 yards, junior Niles Paul felt vindicated after Saturday's win.

He might not have personally made an impact on the stat sheet, but as a unit, Paul said Nebraska's wide receivers erased all the doubts many had about the group throughout the offseason.

The Huskers' receivers accounted for the first two touchdowns of the season when senior Menelik Holt and sophomore Curenski Gilleylen both scored on scoring receptions in the first quarter.

All together, the unit accounted for 10 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

With all the concerns over who would replace the reliable and productive duo of Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, Paul said NU's wide outs proved they are more than capable of picking up the slack.

"What a lot of people were saying was real weird about the receiving corps," Paul said. "I said it in fall camp, and when I said it I wasn't blowing smoke, I really meant it - we have four big-play receivers that can make something out of nothing.

"Just because they didn't play last year, they didn't even get a chance to show what they have."

As for Paul's production, Watson didn't seem too concerned about his receiver having a relatively quiet game.

"I think he's our, if not the best offensive player we have, he's certainly one of the two or three," Watson said. "He's been superb. He's a guy we definitely want to target and a guy we definitely do target. He'll get his touches. He'll break out."

Quick hits

***Watson confirmed that redshirt freshman Lester Ward was still the Huskers' No. 3 running back as of Tuesday, but that doesn't exactly mean he'll be seeing the field any time soon. Watson said unless something happens to change it, the game plan is to rotate junior Roy Helu and freshman Rex Burkhead exclusively throughout the game.

"We would ride those two horses, to be honest with you, forever," Watson said. "That's the way we'd do it. If we needed a third guy, it'd be Lester."

***Considering the fact that Nebraska played 23 true and redshirt freshmen on Saturday, Green had every reason to be as optimistic as he was when asked about the potential of group on Tuesday.

"It's kind of scary looking at it about how many people are redshirt freshmen or freshmen that are going to get in and play this year, and then look at and see how good we are right now," he said. "Like Coach Pelini said, we always have room to grow and we do make mistakes and stuff, but just looking at it now and seeing that we're going to be together for the next four or five years, that's scary."

***One critique Watson did have of Lee's performance Saturday was his management of the "huddle tempo." According to Watson, Lee wasn't quick enough to get the play called in the huddle, get the offense to the line of scrimmage and get under center to set the defense in the first half. However, Watson said Lee did a much better job of it in the second half after some adjustments.

***After being flagged for a personal foul on Saturday, Paul has now been hit with two personal foul penalties in his past two games going back to the Gator Bowl last season. Paul defended himself on his most recent penalty, saying the referee assumed he was taunting an FAU player when he really wasn't.

"I had put the DB on his back, and I said something to him," Paul said. "I didn't curse at him, I didn't use any bad language. But the fact that I as talking to him, (the ref) considered it taunting him, so I got a personal foul."

***Watson said junior tight end Dreu Young would finally be back in the mix this weekend after missing all of fall camp and Saturday's opener while recovering from offseason back surgery.

"It's good to have him back," Watson said. "He'll be in the game plan. It's good to have him back, because he has a lot of thump on line of scrimmage and he's a good pass receiver. He's got a nice quality in leadership with him, so we feel him out there. It's nice to have him back."

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