September 15, 2009

Tuesday notebook: Jones ready for another big test

For the second week in a row, sophomore tackle Marcel Jones will be asked to take on one of the hardest jobs of anyone on Nebraska's football team.

A week after going head to head with Arkansas State defensive end Alex Carrington - a potential first-round draft pick - Jones will be responsible for containing Virginia Tech's All-America candidate Jason Worilds, also a potential first-round pick.

It's definitely a lot to ask of a player like Jones, who's only in his first season as a full-time starter. That doesn't mean he isn't more than ready for the challenge.

"It's kind of nerve racking, but the coaches believe I can do it, and I believe I can do it," Jones said. "It's always good to go against the best competition, because to be the best, you've got to go against the best. It's really good for me, because it'll help me a lot in the long run."

Last week, Jones went up against Carrington the majority of the time he was on the field. Carrington - who racked up 10 sacks last season - finished the game with just two tackles, but did get one sack for an 8-yard loss.

It wasn't a perfect effort by any means, but it gave Jones the confidence that he can compete with top-tier defensive linemen. With a player like Worilds next on the schedule, Jones needs all the confidence he can get.

At 6-foot-2, 262 pounds, Worilds is a bit smaller than Carrington (6-5, 284), but his combination of speed and power make him one of the most talented ends in the country.

Worilds finished last season with 62 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Jones said the biggest thing he's noticed about Worilds from watching film is his rare mix of quickness off the ball and ability to use his strength to mix in power moves.

Jones said his plan is just sit back, focus on his footwork and "drop the anchor" in his pass blocking to make sure he's ready for whatever Worilds throws at him. That, and just play with fearless determination.

"Going against guys like that, you always fall on your technique because that's what's going to help you out the most," Jones said. "After technique, it's just playing with relentless effort, because sometimes bad technique can get you in a bad spot, but if you play with heart and play with a hard will, you can recover from it."

Tuesday practice takes
Lee has been "phenomenal": Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson didn't hold back Tuesday when evaluating how junior quarterback Zac Lee has performed through two games this season. Watson said after watching film, Lee has been 100 percent on his check down throws this year and has graded out around 80 percent in what Watson called "pressure throws", or throws made in pressure situations like the red zone, on third down and facing blitzes. "I'm really pleased with where he is right now," Watson said. "He's ahead of what I thought he would be… The kid's been phenomenal. He was last week, and he was really good the first week."
Hokie disguise: One of the aspects that Watson said makes Virginia Tech's defense so good is the way the Hokies are able to disguise coverages and confuse quarterbacks. Watson said Tech doesn't run anything new this year that it didn't last season, but said the defensive scheme has been a point of emphasis in the Huskers' offensive game planning this week. "No. 1, they have great athletes back there. No. 2, they run a different scheme in coverage," Watson said. "Those two things make you have to work this week. He's got to get familiar and really work on what they do in terms of understanding their coverage, because they're different than anyone we play."
Injury update: Head coach Bo Pelini was unavailable to the media following Tuesday's practice, so no injury update was given. However, Watson said all of Nebraska's active offensive linemen practiced on Tuesday, and they should all be available for Saturday's showdown with Virginia Tech.
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.

Is Lee the next Favre?

OK, the comparison between Nebraska junior quarterback Zac Lee and future NFL Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre is definitely a major stretch at this point, but senior center Jacob Hickman said the two share at least one similarity.

If nothing else, both quarterbacks have the confidence - some times more warranted than others - that they can make any throw at any time.

Much has been made of Lee's confident demeanor, and while he's obviously toned things down since taking over as NU's starter this season, Hickman said Lee still shares the same gunslinger mentality that has made Favre a football legend

"He's got a lot of gunslinger in him," Hickman said. "The confidence he has in himself - when you're a real confident guy, you kind of do a little more risky things. So far, it's paid off for him. You've seen a little of the aggressive nature in him, like Brett Favre a little bit."

With the help of Nebraska's coaching staff, Lee has done a good job so far of not trying to do too much in order to make a big play. In fact, his lone interception on the year was arguably more due to a great play by a Florida Atlantic defender than Lee making a bad throw.

Hickman said Lee's ability to keep his confidence in check has allowed him to keep the mistakes to a minimum, but said Lee is still willing to take chances when he thinks he can make a play.

As far as Lee's teammates are concerned, that's exactly how a quarterback should be.

"You've definitely got to be smart about it," Hickman said. "I think he understands that. I don't think he's going to take tremendous risks, but sometimes you've got to throw some risks out there to try and get success. It's all about managing the right time to do it and the right way to do it."

- Robin Washut

Defense focused on containing Taylor

The bulk of the responsibility for keeping Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor contained in the pocket will fall on Nebraska's defensive line.

However, the Huskers' linebackers are also preparing to help make sure the athletic Taylor has to try and beat the Huskers with his arm and not his legs.

Redshirt freshman MIKE linebacker Will Compton said NU's linebackers will have to do a good job of focusing on pass coverage while also making sure to keep an eye on Taylor in the backfield in case he tries to scramble.

Taylor, who is just four yards shy of passing Michael Vick as the Hokies' all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback, ran for 87 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska last season.

Compton said the play of the Huskers' front four would be the biggest help in keeping Taylor in check, and that as long as everyone on the defense does their job correctly, they shouldn't have any trouble containing him.

"You've got to stick with your coverage first and foremost, but you want to keep your eyes on him just to see where he's set," Compton said. "You can't worry too much about what play he's going to run, because I think I speak for the rest of the defensive backfield that we trust our d-line. They're going to get in there and do their job.

"If we just execute what we do this week, we should be fine."

- Robin Washut

Henery not worried about Hokies' special teams

Junior kicker/punter Alex Henery generally isn't one to the get too excited or nervous about anything football related. That even goes for facing the best special teams unit in college football.

On Tuesday, Henery said he hasn't concerned himself much with Virginia Tech's heralded field goal and punt block teams, which have been known to single-handedly win games for the Hokies with crucial blocked kicks.

For Henery, the only thing he's focused on is making sure his technique is good and he doesn't shank any kicks, just like he always is.

"I'm just making sure my operation time is quick enough and make sure I'm going into the pocket and not getting too far outside the pocket," Henery said. "That's pretty much all I can do to prepare myself for it. I don't put that added pressure on myself just because if you do that you're kind of setting yourself up for failure. I don't really think about it.

"We know how good they are on special teams. Pretty much everyone knows. As long as we do what we're taught to do and do what we're supposed to do, we'll be fine."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits:

***Though Virginia Tech lost some key players from its defense this season, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the Hokies were still as good as ever defensively.

"They're everything you'd expect them to be," Watson said. "They don't disappoint you. The thing that I see is they fly around the football and have 11 hats right there. They have very good pursuit defense."

***While Lee has put up some pretty impressive numbers in his first two starts, some question whether he'll be able to do the same things in the passing game that he's done against two Sun Belt Conference opponents. Watson said it all depends on who the opponent is, but he would make sure Lee has a game plan best suited to allow him to have the most success.

"You always change every week," Watson said. "We changed even from Week 1 to Week 2. I have a pretty good idea with what he's comfortable doing, and that's the stuff that as we work through our game plan this week we'll end up doing on Saturday."

***The forecast in Blacksburg, Va., this weekend calls for a fairly high chance of rain on Saturday. However, Watson said the weather would have absolutely no impact on the Huskers' offensive game plan.

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