LINCOLN — Nebraska's secondary knows it was vulnerable downfield too often last year, so it's trying new methods to become a better coverage unit.
Mimicking Alabama, for starters.
The Husker defensive backs have studied practice film and game tape of the national champion Crimson Tide, which annually boasts one of the nation's top pass defenses. No team gave up fewer passing yards than 'Bama last year (111.5 per game).
During the past few months, NU's players would cue up a practice clip of an Alabama safety or cornerback maneuvering through a particular drill. Then see how the seemingly minor technique was applied in games.
Some of those same drills have showed up during Nebraska's summer conditioning. Exercises focused on pinning a receiver to the sideline. Jump-ball scenarios. Simply reading the football in the air.
New defensive backs coach Terry Joseph is behind the adjustments, said senior safety P.J. Smith.
“We've done a lot of different things,” Smith said. “Coach Joseph, he's a smart guy. He's brought a lot of different things to the table that we've never (done) since I've been here.”
Sirles will go where he's needed on line
Jeremiah Sirles says he hasn't seen anything resembling a depth chart. And he's not yet had an in-depth conversation with any of the coaches about lineups.
So when you ask him where he's going to play this fall, he shrugs his shoulders.
“Wherever they put me,” said the 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive lineman from Lakewood, Colo. “I'm fine with wherever I need to be.”
He spent his summer training as a tackle. And coach Bo Pelini has said Sirles will start fall camp at that spot.
But NU offensive coaches say that few Husker linemen understand the offense as well as Sirles, and that the junior knows every lineman's responsibilities. He'll at least practice at both sides of the offensive line as a tackle. He played some center in high school.
“Wherever they want to put me, I'll go,” Sirles said.
For teammates, Marlowe is go-to guy
There were times during games last year when receiver Tim Marlowe said he was fielding on-the-fly questions from confused or unsure youngsters about their responsibilities.
Marlowe wants to be a coach someday — and in crunch time last year, he often found himself acting like one on the field.
So is that why he beat out talented freshman Jamal Turner, earning extensive playing time as Nebraska's top slot receiver because of his football acumen?
“That's what got me on the field last year, just being able to know the whole offense,” he said. “I love watching film. I love knowing what everybody's doing.”
Marlowe said Turner and the rest of the younger receivers are catching up mentally now, though.
The receivers hope to have seven or eight regulars in the rotation this fall. Marlowe knows he'll have to excel at the little things to be part of the group, though he said he's trying his best to make sure his teammates reach their potential, too.
For example, Marlowe said his relationship with Turner has only grown stronger during the offseason.
“We lift together in the weight room, we work together after practice,” Marlowe said. “Me and Jamal, we don't care how much we play, if we split time 50-50. As long as one of us is making plays and we're winning football games.”
Freshman corner off to quick start
Freshman cornerback Charles Jackson — a 2011 signee who had to wait one year to enroll at Nebraska because the NCAA wouldn't grant him eligibility — has quickly made an impression on his teammates with his work ethic.
But Jackson was trying too hard in the earliest summer workouts, Smith said.
“I was like, ‘Man, Charles, slow down, you don't have to be the fastest person in your backpedal,'” the safety said. “‘You just got here. Slow down, and let's do everything right.'
“When he first got here, he was like ‘Oh, I wanna do this,' and ‘I wanna do this.' He needed just to take a deep breath and have fun.”
Martinez is a fan of new uniforms
The way quarterback Taylor Martinez talked Friday, he seemed to have some advance knowledge of Nebraska's alternate uniforms.
“I've known what they were going to look like for a while,” Martinez said. “I actually really like them. I wish they were black, but, oh well.”
California trip is homecoming for some
It'll be a homecoming of sorts for several Huskers when Nebraska makes a Sept. 8 trip to UCLA. Martinez, who played high school football in Corona, said he's looking forward to the game “a ton.”
“Wish (Rick) Neuheisel was still there,” Martinez said with a smile, referring to the recently fired Bruin coach who recruited Martinez as a wide receiver and defensive back.
Martinez said he is “going to get as many tickets as I can” for the contest.
Bits and pieces
The Huskers will conduct 10 evening practices this month, beginning at 6:45 p.m. instead of their standard mid-afternoon start time. It should be a bit cooler then. Said Marlowe: “They want to be very smart with us, and we definitely appreciate that.” ... A limited number of single-game tickets are available for Nebraska's Sept. 22 home contest against Idaho State. Visit Huskers.com or call the NU ticket office at 402-472-3111 for more information. ... Former Husker defensive end Grant Wistrom, a two-time first-team All-American at NU, spoke to the entire Husker team for about an hour Thursday. Wistrom shared some of his experiences with those talented mid-1990s Nebraska teams. His main message: Build a family within the locker room and work hard for your teammates. ... The Huskers' first practice of the season is Saturday.
— Jon Nyatawa and Sam McKewon
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• Video: Husker fan day highlights:
• Video: Taylor Martinez addresses the media: