LINCOLN — With projected starting tight end Jake Long missing the first half of camp with an injury, opportunity abounds for his backups to get extra practice snaps.
When asked which tight ends had been practicing well, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini initially said “all of them” before offering three names: Gretna redshirt freshman walk-on Jared Blum, Lincoln Southeast sophomore David Sutton and true freshman Cethan Carter of Metairie, La.
Carter, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, was a late commit in the 2013 class whom LSU had been trying to secure as a grayshirt until NU persuaded him to head north.
“I don't really consider him under the radar — he was a heck of a high school player,” Pelini said of Carter, a graduate of New Orleans Archbishop Rummel. “I think he's a guy who's already opened some eyes in camp. I expect big things out of him.”
Also vying for time at tight end: Lincoln Southeast redshirt freshmen Sam Cotton and Trey Foster. Foster is a walk-on whose brother, D.J. Foster, is committed for the 2014 recruiting class. Sophomore Max Pirman has also switched from linebacker to tight end.
All on the same side
On Thursday, offensive line coach John Garrison said that he'd seen Huskers in this camp rooting more for each other than merely their own unit, offense or defense.
“The offense and the defense are kind of cheering on each other,” Garrison said. “It's not offense vs. defense. There's good competition in there, but it's by far the most team-oriented group we've had, which is good.”
Pelini said NU coaches made a concerted effort at the beginning of fall camp — and the end of spring practice — to send that message to players.
“We're a team — it's not just about offense and defense,” Pelini said. “We need each other. Everybody understands that. That's the thing you hate about spring practice — sometimes it feels like one against the other. ... Hey, we need each other. It doesn't mean you don't compete and make each other better by getting after one another. But you're not in there, it's not one unit against the other. We have to be holding each other accountable.”
Armstrong feeling better
Any setbacks for backup quarterback Tommy Armstrong appear to be temporary now that Armstrong is seeing few limitations in practice.
Pelini had said last week that the redshirt freshman underwent minor knee surgery just before camp.
“He's been basically going full go the last couple days,” Pelini said Saturday. “He's doing a lot more. We've been slowly working him into it. He's feeling better and better every day.”
Armstrong and Ron Kellogg are competing for the No. 2 spot behind starting quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Afalava finding his way
Among the unproven players at linebacker is Jared Afalava, whose level of importance to the defense jumped up a notch after Thomas Brown was dismissed from the team in late June.
“He's done some good things,” Pelini said, “but he's got a long ways to go.”
Pelini said the redshirt freshman from South Jordan, Utah, has been working at the strongside and now weakside linebacker positions. He also has played the weakside spot in the Huskers' nickel package, when the strongside linebacker comes off the field.
“He's a guy who's talented,” Pelini said. “Sometimes he overthinks it a little bit. But when he just lets himself go, and the more comfortable he gets, you're seeing his athleticism come out that much more.”
On the R.A.C.
Husker players have tried to define Pelini's “process” by putting three words to it: Relentless. Accountable. Competitive. They even made a YouTube video of it.
“If you're one person one day, you need to be that same person the next,” I-back Ameer Abdullah says in the video.
“The process is everything,” says wide receiver Kenny Bell in the video. “It's your everyday life. It's how you live in the community. It's how you live on the football field, it's how you live in the classroom. It's what you do — not just in front of the camera, in front of your teammates or in front of your coaches — it's what you do away from them.”
Pelini said the “R.A.C.” designation is specific to the 2013 team.
“That's more with this football team and how they wanted to identify themselves,” Pelini said. “Like I told them: 'It's OK to have those words, but you gotta live it.' That's the key.”
Focused on fundamentals
Bring up the turnovers at your own risk when talking to Husker running backs coach Ron Brown.
You can see the disdain for the lack of fundamentals these days on his face.
“The way you get fumbles is in the open field where everybody starts thinking they're Kobe Bryant getting ready to make a crossover dribble,” Brown said. “It doesn't work like that in football. In basketball that's great but you don't dribble the football, you lock the football up.”
One of the drills NU has featured during fall camp involves a rolled up towel under the armpit of ball carriers.
As Brown shows the ideal positioning — hand over the heart like the Pledge of Allegiance, elbow tight to the ribcage — he shows how the towel should never come out from its lodged position.
“So when you stick a towel underneath their arm when you're doing drills, every time they do this,” Brown said as he extended his elbow from his body, “even if they don't fumble the ball, that towel comes out and as far as I'm concerned it's a fumble.”
Brown and the offensive staff, no doubt, have made fixing the turnover problems of 2012 a point of emphasis.
But he said it starts much earlier than fall camp. Brown said a lack of fundamentals that is starting at the youth level is just as much to blame.
And to prove his point he goes back to the basketball analogy.
“It's just like free throws in the NBA. I think the concentration level — across the board — in the culture is not as good,” he said. “So guys don't shoot free throws like they probably should when they're making all that money and guys don't carry the ball the way they should.”
Busy week ahead
Nebraska was set to scrimmage a bit Saturday, but Pelini said the Huskers aren't quite “at that point.” NU players take off Sunday — Pelini stressed the importance of getting the right kind of rest — before plunging into nine practices over five days starting Monday.
More changes for the media
Media access has changed for the second time during camp. Reporters will be able to talk to Pelini and players after Tuesday night workouts, and coordinators and coaches after Thursday night workouts. Previously, the media were scheduled to talk to all Huskers after the Monday and Wednesday morning workouts of two-a-days. A Nebraska spokesman said Pelini preferred his team to talk after the single-day workouts.
NU had originally been scheduled to make players available for comment seven times during camp. Because of Pelini's one-day cancellation at the start of camp and revised setup, players will be available three times.