August 18, 2008

Breaking down week two of fall camp

Nebraska wrapped up its second week of fall camp with its annual Fan Day at Memorial Stadium on Sunday, where fans got to meet the Huskers up close with an hour-and-a-half picture and autograph session. If you haven't visited on a daily basis in the past week, you've probably missed a lot.

Here is a quick summary and breakdown of NU's practices since Monday. The Huskers will hit the field for week three of fall camp again on Monday morning for another two-a-day practice session.


***Sophomore Prince Amukamara surpassed fellow sophomore Anthony West to claim the No. 1 spot at right cornerback on the Huskers' depth chart earlier this week. Amukamara said NU head coach Bo Pelini had him go in for West with the starting defense during last Saturday's practice, and he's held the starting job ever since.

***The offensive line has been a topic of discussion seemingly every day, as injuries and the emergence of talented underclassmen have created several interesting position battles up front. With sophomore Jaivorio Burkes missing nearly all of the first two weeks of fall camp, redshirt freshman Marcel Jones has emerged as the starter at right tackle. Freshman Ricky Henry has impressed everyone with his unrivaled physicality on the field, and suddenly is giving senior Mike Huff a run for his money for the No. 1 spot at left guard. Another notable position battle has been between senior Lydon Murtha and sophomore Mike Smith at left tackle.

***While nothing is official yet, it appears freshman cornerback Alfonzo Dennard might redshirt this season. According to defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders, Dennard has shown plenty of athletic ability to play right away, but he has struggled to grasp the Huskers' defensive system mentally thus far through fall camp.

***The three leading candidates for the Huskers' punt returner job are currently senior Nate Swift and freshmen Khiry Cooper and Tim Marlowe.

***The race for the No. 2 quarterback spot is far from over, but it appears redshirt freshman Patrick Witt is the cleat frontrunner over sophomore Zac Lee. Witt has shown a far better grasp of NU's offense, and has even proved to be a better runner than most expected so far through fall camp.

***Nebraska's stable of running backs is still be led by senior Marlon Lucky and sophomore Roy Helu, but sophomore Quentin Castille and redshirt freshman Marcus Mendoza both had excellent scrimmages last week. NU offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and running backs coach Tim Beck both acknowledged Castille and Mendoza as players who have had great fall camps thus far.

***Junior safety Major Culbert is still listed behind junior Larry Asante at strong safety, but Culbert is apparently having arguably the best fall camp of any Husker defensive back. Sanders said Culbert has been impressive in both coverage and against the run, and even if he doesn't start, he should see extensive playing time this season.

***Highly touted freshman receiver Khiry Cooper put the worries of Huskers fans and coaches alike when he decided to stay in Lincoln and not sign with the Anaheim Angels, who drafted him earlier this summer.

***Senior Phillip Dillard established himself as the leader of NU's linebacking corps a long time, and he's continuing to show why. Dillard was one of the all-around defensive standouts for the Huskers in Thursday's scrimmage, as those who watched said he was flying to the ball on every play.


***Helu was held out of practice for the final two days of the second week of fall famp. Pelini said he suffered a bruise, but mostly he's just recovering from the normal grind of fall camp. Had it been a game, Pelini said Helu would've played.

***Pelini said on Tuesday that sophomore linebacker LaTravis Washington is still at least another two weeks away from returning to the practice field. Washington has missed the most of fall camp after having his left knee cleaned up in surgery.

***Sophomore Anthony West sat out of Thursday's practice with a knee bruise, but Sanders said the injury was not serious and that West is expected to return to practice this week.

***Barney Cotton said Marcel Jones suffered a bone bruise in his foot, but it is nothing serious. The redshirt freshman showed no signs of injury during Wednesday's practice and played the rest of the week.

***Along with Burkes, the Huskers had a few other players return to practice after missing time with injuries. Tight ends Mike McNeill and Kyler Reed and offensive lineman Lydon Murtha all made it back onto the field on Saturday.


Ricky Henry WR (6-4, 304), Jr.
No one has made their presence felt on the practice field more than Henry, who has already earned the utmost respect of his teammates and coaches for his physical and relentless play during the past two weeks. He's already seriously pushing senior Mike Huff for the starting job at left guard, and could very easily win the spot by the end of the season if he keeps up his current pace.

Khiry Cooper WR (6-2, 180), Fr.
While most of the talk around Cooper the past two weeks has revolved around his potential career in the major leagues, the standout freshman has immediately established himself as a special player in more than one area for the Huskers. Cooper's speed and hands should make him a go-to threat as a receiver, and Pelini has already mentioned Cooper's name as an instant playmaker in the return game.

Marcel Jones OL (6-7, 310), RFr.
After Jaivorio Burkes was sidelined for the bulk of fall practice with high blood pressure, Jones stepped in and hasn't missed a beat. Offensive line coach Barney Cotton said Jones has not only held his own at the No. 1 right tackle spot in Burkes' absence, he's excelled. Now that Burkes is back in practice, the competition should be tighter than any other position for the rest of fall camp.

Prince Amukamara CB (6-1, 195), So.
Amukamara replaced sophomore Anthony West at the starting right corner position in last Saturday's practice, and it doesn't look like he'll be leaving that spot any time soon. Amukamara's pure athletic ability and instincts in coverage make him a natural at the position, and NU defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders has had noting but praise him.

Marcus Mendoza RB (5-10, 185), RFr.
While everyone is talking about the three-man race at running back between senior Marlon Lucky and sophomores Roy Helu and Quentin Castille, Mendoza has quietly made quite a name for himself in fall camp. After the Huskers' first major scrimmage on Thursday, Mendoza was mentioned by both offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and running backs coach Tim Beck as one of the NU's standout performers. His speed and ability to turn the corner could make him a nice change of pace in Nebraska's backfield this season.


"Rickey reminds me of the kid in the neighborhood that the game was tackle the man with the football, and you go to it. And that's not a bad attribute to have on special teams or things like that, but when you institute a concept like we're trying to do, we're trying to get him to play a game and not a play, so to speak. It's fine if you go and knock that guy's head off and you make that play, but we want to see some consistency. We want you to play the whole game." - Defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders on junior Rickey Thenarse's physical playing style.


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