November 11, 2008

Tuesday notebook: No Glenn, Blackshirts awarded

When Cody Glenn first made the move from running back to linebacker this offseason, the thing he was excited about the most was the opportunity to earn a Blackshirt.

After 10 games as Nebraska's starting WILL linebacker, Glenn's dream came to an abrupt end on the day the defense finally got their Blackshirts back.

Glenn was suspended indefinitely by head coach Bo Pelini Tuesday for a violation of team rules, the same day the Husker defense was awarded its Blackshirts by the coaching staff.

Neither a coach or player would comment on Glenn's suspension after Tuesday's practice, but as the 11 Blackshirts walked off the field proudly donning the coveted black jerseys, one couldn't help but remember a quote from Glenn from back in fall camp.

"When I told my cousin (former Husker defensive end) Broderick Thomas that I was switching over to defense in the spring, he was excited," Glenn said back on August 9. "He just kind of told me the tradition of the Blackshirts. I talked to (former Husker linebacker) Demorrio Williams and you can see the passion he has. Just to see those guys and the passion they have for having a Blackshirt, it just kind of lets you know what it means and not to take it for granted. I would be real honored if I could get one."

On what should've been a special day for the junior from Rusk, Texas, Glenn's future was the topic of discussion on Tuesday.

Though Glenn would've undoubtedly earned a Blackshirt prior to his suspension, the Huskers handed them out to 11 players they felt the most deserving of carrying on the longtime tradition.

The recipients of the Blackshirts were defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Zach Potter, Pierre Allen, Ty Steinkuhler and Clayton Sievers; linebackers Tyler Wortman and Phillip Dillard; and defensive backs Armando Murillo, Larry Asante, Anthony West and Eric Hagg.

"We had a staff meeting on Sunday and made a decision that we thought the physical nature of the play on Saturday, the great effort our guys made running sideline to sideline, we felt like that was a performance where they earned the Blackshirts," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "We put them in their lockers today, and when they came out of meetings they were there waiting for them."

For the 11 players who received the Blackshirts, Tuesday was somewhat bittersweet. On one hand, they finally were awarded the honor they'd been working for since the start of fall camp.

On the other, they did it without one of their most deserving teammates and friends.

"It's hard," Wortman said. "It's hard to take. It's a day of mixed emotion. We're really happy and excited and honored about the Blackshirts, but then again it hurts to be losing somebody like Cody, someone who plays such a big role in your defense and on your team."

Despite Glenn's absence, Carl Pelini said the Huskers had their best practice of the season as a result of the Blackshirt distribution, saying the intensity level was better than it's ever been, especially for the defense.

"I thought it was our best practice of the year," he said. "It was just a certain level of excitement there and a certain level of our guys feeling a sense of achievement. They really feel like they earned those shirts, and they did."

A couple of noteworthy points concerning the Blackshirts were the two non-starters - Hagg and Sievers - who earned the jerseys over players with starting experience like Matt O'Hanlon and Rickey Thenarse.

Apparently, unlike previous years, 11 is the most Blackshirts the Huskers will give out, and it doesn't necessarily mean those 11 all have to be starters.

"They're saying 11 is the number," Allen said. "They are saying those top-11 guys are deserving of one. They just aren't going to give them to anybody."

-Robin Washut

Tuesday practice notebook
Suh thinking NFL?: With defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's recent rise, there's been some discussion if he'll forgo his senior season for the NFL draft. On Tuesday, Suh said he doesn't even plan on submitting his name to the NFL draft advisory board to see where he'd project, because his main focus is getting his construction management degree next December.
Trickery or stupidity?: Back in 2006, Kansas State head coach Ron Prince called a fake punt in the Nebraska game on a fourth-and-3 on his own 9 yard line. Prince's punter was standing in the end zone 3 yards deep when he took the snap, but that didn't stop him from calling one of the more gutsy fakes you'll ever see a coach make. The gamble paid off and Prince's punter had a 38 yard run on the play, because the call was so out of the norm, nobody saw it coming. In last year's game, Prince decided to go for a fourth-and-24 on his own 46 yard line with 28 seconds before halftime trailing 31-10. KSU didn't get the first down and Nebraska turned around and scored a touchdown 14 seconds later to go up 38-10 before halftime. On Saturday,
Nebraska needs to be ready for some more trickery or off-the-wall "Playstation style" calls from Prince.
KSU run defense woes: There's no other way to say it other than Kansas State's run defense is bad. The Wildcats rank 109th in the country in stopping the run and both Louisiana Lafayette and Louisville racked up over 300 yards rushing on them in back-to-back games. With that said, expect Nebraska to try to exploit KSU's rushing defensive woes early and often on Saturday.
Early bowl business: By picking up their sixth win of the season and becoming bowl eligible, Nebraska's Unity Council has already been faced with some important business. Senior quarterback Joe Ganz said the Unity Council is in charge of selecting Nebraska's official bowl game apparel, and they get a $300 budget per player to pick out the new gear with. Ganz said it's pretty exciting stuff after not qualifying for a bowl in 2007.

Filling Glenn's void

With Glenn's suspension, the Huskers will have to find a viable replacement to take his place for the remaining three games of the season.

With Dillard still out with an injury, Glenn had taken over the responsibilities of making the pre-snap defensive calls generally handled by the MIKE linebacker. Now with Glenn out of the picture, it appears those duties are going to be handled by committee.

Wortman will take over as the starting MIKE linebacker for the rest of the year, or at least until Dillard returns. Blake Lawrence will likely get the start at WILL, and Latravis Washington and Thomas Grove will also work in to provide some depth.

Carl Pelini said he didn't expect the Huskers to run three linebackers at one time much at all this weekend against Kansas State, so Wortman and Lawrence should see the majority of the playing time.

"We've got guys at the WILL linebacker position who have been working, and we just move on," Carl Pelini said. "We play the guys who've earned the playing time. I think Blake Lawrence did a heck of a job in there against Kansas playing at that spot. We've got other guys. We've got (Washington) doing well, and you know, I feel confident that our linebacker play is going to be just fine."

Wortman said he was up to the challenge of taking over as the quarterback of NU's defense. Though he hardly played much at through the first half of the season because of the spread offenses NU faced, he said he feels more than comfortable taking on the increased responsibilities.

"I've been playing MIKE all along behind Phil," Wortman said. "It's something where I feel they can put me wherever and I feel confident in being able to fulfill the role. I still prepared and was ready to go when I needed to. When we had some guys go down, I was kind of thrown into that role. But it was something that I had been practicing backing up, so I was ready. I wasn't surprised with it."

-Robin Washut

Suh reflects on impressive season

Everyone knew it could happen eventually, but no one, not even Ndamukong Suh himself, expected it to happen like this.

Though the junior defensive tackle was expected to make a big impact when he initially signed with NU in 2004, Suh has had one of the biggest breakout performances in recent Husker memory this season. Through 10 games, the Portland, Ore., native has 60 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

His 60 tackles lead all Big 12 Conference defensive linemen, and are the most by a Nebraska d-lineman since Ryon Bingham's 67 in 2002. The school record for most tackles by a defensive lineman is 96, set by John Bell back in 1973.

So has he been surprised by his performance so far this season?

"I have," Suh said. "I expect from myself to play well every game, but if I go back and look at my stats from last year or the last years I've had chance to play, it's night and day. I didn't say, 'Oh, my goal is to exceed 60 tackles, or 100 tackles.' To me, that's linebacker numbers. I did not expect for me to do that, but by all means am I satisfied? No."

With the amount of success he's had this year and the premium the NFL puts on defensive linemen with his size and ability, the big question is whether Suh has any plans on forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft in April?

"Obviously that's one of my goals, so I mean, I've thought about it," he said. "But am I thinking about leaving? No. I have another year to play. So, I'm going to take my options and play another year."

Suh said he has every intention on getting his degree in construction management, but he didn't rule out a potential change in plans if his stock were to rise high enough on NFL teams' draft boards.

When asked if he were to be projected as a guaranteed first-round selection would he reconsider entering the draft, Suh didn't exactly give a definitive "No."

"All that is speculation, and I haven't done that," he said. "As of right now, it's K-State, and that's all it's going to be. My mindset right now is it's K-State and Nebraska football. I'm coming back for another year, and that's all it is."

Bo Pelini said he would support Suh in whatever decision he makes concerning leaving school early.

"You just counsel them and try and help them," Pelini said. "He seems to have every intention of coming back, but that could change. He seems to act like he wants to come back for his senior year, but that could change if they tell you you're graded out as a top-five draft pick, sometimes that changes. There are a lot of ifs."

One of the reasons Suh said he wants to stay at Nebraska for his senior season was the opportunity to be a part of the foundation for the Huskers' return to national prominence. Following last year's 5-7 debacle, NU is 6-4 and will return to a bowl game this season in Bo Pelini's debut as head coach.

"That's a great opportunity, and Coach Bo has told this senior class and this team, you have an opportunity to do something that a lot of Nebraska teams didn't have the opportunity to do," Suh said. "You were in a tough situation last year, and you have an opportunity to rebuild this program and bring it back up to where it needs to be. The senior class, the junior class and the underclassmen have a great deal of responsibility to get us back to where we are supposed to be."

-Robin Washut

Cherishing the moment

As Murillo was walking down to his locker after class, he did his typical daily routine before meetings. Murillo likes to get his shoulder pads and gear ready before practice, but the only problem on Tuesday was for whatever reason his practice jersey was missing.

Murillo said he had no idea that Pelini and the coaching staff had plans to hand out the Blackshirts on Tuesday.

"When I got out of class and I got to my locker to put stuff together before practice I was looking for my jersey and couldn't find it," Murillo said. "I was like 'where is my jersey at man?' (Husker equipment manager) Jay Terry was like 'we are still washing them.' I went up to meetings than I came back to my locker and there was a Blackshirt sitting right there. It kind of shocked me."

Allen said he got to the locker room late on Tuesday, so he didn't see the initial reaction of the team when they first saw the Blackshirts, but obviously there was quite a bit of excitement in the room.

"I could tell people were happy," Allen said. "A couple of offensive guys even put on the Blackshirts. Beau Davis put on Suh's and was just walking around in it."

One of the people that didn't expect to earn a Blackshirt was Hagg. The sophomore from Arizona was one of two players not listed as a starter on the depth chart that earned a Blackshirt, so it definitely came as a surprise to him to get one on Tuesday.

"It feels really good," Hagg said. "It's crazy, I can't even explain it."

"They didn't' really say they were passing them out or anything and I just went to my locker and it was sitting right there. It was pretty cool."

Allen added now that the defense has earned the Blackshirts back after not having them at all this season, it's their job to continue to play a high level so they don't lose them again.

"I came down after the meeting and saw it posted on my locker and my stomach just cramped," Allen said. "It wasn't expected at all. It's an honor to have one.

"You are only 11 out of 160 guys that have a Blackshirt on. People are looking up to you now."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said running back Marlon Lucky showed no signs of being affected by the injured right big toe that held him out for a day of practice last week and limited him in Saturday's win over Kansas.

***Watson also said offensive lineman Keith Williams fully participated in Tuesday's practice after injuring his knee on Saturday, and he expects Williams to be ready to play this weekend. Senior lineman Lydon Murtha is still listed as day-to-day, and Dillard again sat out of practice.

***The Huskers practiced for two hours inside of the Hawks Center in full pads on Tuesday. They'll return with another two-hour, full-pad practice on Wednesday.

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