LINCOLN — Nebraska’s defensive line already lacked experience before sophomore tackle Kevin Williams suffered a torn ACL in practice last week. But coach Bo Pelini, who announced Williams’ injury Saturday evening, said NU can absorb the loss with its depth at the position.
“I feel bad for Kevin, but obviously, that’s a position where we have depth right now,” Pelini said. “Just wish him the best because this is the second time he’s had a knee injury. I just feel for the kid. He’s obviously heartbroken. And he was playing good football.”
Through two full weeks of practice, the Huskers’ coaching staff appears most confident in senior nose tackle Thad Randle — who’s battled knee problems of his own in past years — playing significant snaps in two weeks when Nebraska hosts Wyoming. The other main candidates vying for playing time include Alliance senior walk-on Brodrick Nickens, sophomore Aaron Curry, redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine and true freshmen Kevin Maurice and Maliek Collins. Nickens switched from a reserve offensive tackle spot in the spring.
Pelini called Williams’ injury “clean” — as clean as such a thing could be. It may foretell a faster rehab than Williams had when he injured his knee in 2011, not long after he arrived.
Sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory returned to practice Saturday, while redshirt freshman defensive end Greg McMullen will return to practice Monday, Pelini said. Senior Elkhorn tight end Jake Long — who’s missed all of camp with an injury Pelini has not disclosed — is “way ahead of schedule” and could return to workouts “any day now.”
Long’s absence has allowed NU to give snaps to a trio of young tight ends: Lincoln Southeast sophomore David Sutton, Lincoln Southeast walk-on redshirt freshman Trey Foster and true freshman Cethan Carter. Lincoln Southeast redshirt freshman Sam Cotton did not appear to practice Saturday.
Wide receiver Jamal Turner wore pads Saturday, returning to workouts. It did not appear that wide receivers Alonzo Moore or Taariq Allen practiced Saturday, nor did true freshman linebacker Courtney Love. Pelini said no Huskers have serious injuries other than Williams.
Gerry, Banderas impress
Though Pelini has already cautioned coaches to “temper their expectations,” Nate Gerry and Josh Banderas seem to be the true freshmen making the strongest move toward playing time on defense.
Banderas, a Lincoln Southwest graduate, is at middle linebacker, and although sophomore David Santos has been called the “leader of the room” by position coach Ross Els, Nebraska seems to be putting Banderas through the same kind of rigorous practice exam Santos gets.
“We’re putting a lot on him and throwing a lot at him,” Pelini said. “The thing I’m most excited about Josh is, I know he can run, but he’s physical. He’s showing tremendous instincts for the position. It hasn’t been too big for him, for somebody (who) plays Mike linebacker and has to make a lot of calls — do a lot of things — we put a lot on him. And he’s handled it extremely well. He’s going to be a really good football player.”
Gerry, from Sioux Falls, S.D., came to Nebraska as a safety — and may eventually play there. But, for now, he’s working at a strongside linebacker spot behind redshirt freshman Jared Afalava. Gerry’s also in the battle at dime, where NU prefers a bigger body who can tackle and cover against spread offenses.
“He’s got a long way to go, but he’s made a lot of progress,” Pelini said. “He’s got good physical tools, and has the intangibles you want to see.”
School start similar to 2008
A quirk in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln schedule will allow the Huskers to complete all of preseason camp before school starts on Aug. 26. The last time the Huskers’ first day of school came just five days before a game was in 2008, when Pelini was preparing his first team for Western Michigan. After the Monday practice that year, Pelini wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort, and players cited the struggle of juggling new classes with strategic installation all on the same day.
Pelini would have preferred two weeks of school before the season opener.
“We had to shift our schedule around a little bit,” he said. “It does keep our guys where they don’t have all the school things. You wish you kind of had school out of the way — a week of it — before you get into game week. But it is what it is.”
Bo ‘can’t comment’ on Lewis
Pelini declined specific comment on a Boulder Daily Camera report that Alex Lewis intended to enroll in school at Nebraska. Lewis, a former Colorado lineman, announced in May he was transferring to NU. A day later, he was arrested and charged with felony assault on CU’s campus.
Asked if Lewis — whose next hearing date in Boulder is Sept. 20 — could join the team later in the fall, Pelini said “that all depends on the legal situation.”
“I don’t know,” Pelini said. “I really can’t comment on any of that. I don’t really know how that’s going to play out or what’s going on there. Until that gets resolved, it’s not part of the conversation.”
Lewis was believed to be an option at tackle next year for the Huskers, who lose their top three tackles — Jeremiah Sirles, Andrew Rodriguez and Brent Qvale — after this year. Behind them are junior tackle Matt Finnin and Hastings St. Cecilia sophomore Zach Sterup. Sterup, a right tackle, has made good strides, Pelini said.
Overall, Pelini said, NU’s offensive line depth is as good as he’s ever had.
“We have a lot of guys who can play — and play well,” Pelini said. “Hopefully that will continue, and some of the young guys will continue to step to the forefront.
Besides Sterup, junior Chongo Kondolo, junior Mike Moudy and Crete sophomore Ryne Reeves have developed as good backups in camp, Pelini said.