LINCOLN Hear out Marvin Sanders when the Nebraska assistant coach explains how a cornerback can be too talented for his own good.
Sanders said those loaded with athletic ability will sometimes rely on it too heavily. Those blessed with special skills might think that they can get by without mastering the nuances of the position.
That’s one trap he doesn’t want cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard falling into.
“Both of them are very talented athletically, and both of them try to utilize a lot of their straight athletic ability to make plays,” Sanders said. “As teams study them more, they’re going to study the little idiosyncrasies that they do or don’t do, and they’re going to try to capitalize on that.
“So it’s up to me as a coach, and for them, to clean up those small quirks that they may be doing.”
And there is no better time than spring practice, something laid out by head coach Bo Pelini two weeks ago when he said things such as technique, fundamentals and competition would be the foundation for the 15 workouts that conclude with the Red-White scrimmage on April 17.
“Obviously I want them competing and challenging routes, and things like that,” Pelini said. “But I also want attention to detail and what we’re asking them to do, how we’re asking them to do it, and working on the finite points of the game.”
Amukamara and Dennard became one of the better pair of starting cornerbacks in the Big 12 at the end of last season. The upgrade at corner was another step in the Huskers evolving into one of the best defenses nationally in 2009.
In terms of pure ability, many on the roster can’t match Amukamara, a senior-to-be from Glendale, Ariz., and Dennard, a junior from Rochelle, Ga.
But Dennard said they understand what Sanders is saying and understand that the position they play already requires about as much technical precision as any on the field.
“You’re going to have good receivers you have to go against, and you’re not going to beat them by just being a good player,” Dennard said. “You have to have good fundamentals and good technique, also.
“Every day I learn something new. I’m not there yet. So each day I come out, I try to get better and learn more technique and just get more help from the coaches. Spring is a good time for that.”
Amukamara was voted an All-Big 12 player by league coaches after finishing last season with 64 tackles, five interceptions and 11 pass breakups. Dennard made his way into the starting lineup as the Big 12 schedule started and contributed 31 tackles with eight pass breakups.
What that tells Sanders is that opponents now have plenty of film to dissect on the two and will be looking for any edge that might make a difference.
“Now they have to decide what direction they need to go in to continue to improve their ability,” Sanders said.
Dennard pointed to footwork, use of hands and where they’re looking as things the cornerbacks can study and improve. When they sit down with Sanders to view film from the previous practice, Dennard said, they usually don’t look at if they prevented a catch but how they played their technique.
Pelini said Amukamara and Dennard are physical players, and they performed at “a pretty high level for the most part” last season. When mistakes happened, he said, they were usually self-inflicted.
“This time of year it’s about learning and understanding so we don’t do those things to ourself,” he said, “and a lot of those things are technique and fundamental-related.”
Contact the writer: