Time to make a move. That's basically what defensive coordinator John Papuchis told the half-dozen players vying for a back-up spot in the top rotation at defensive end.
Said Papuchis: "What we told them really clearly at the beginning of week was, 'We have about eight days to decide who No. 3 is and who No. 4 is. It really is an open competition. We're going to continue to give everybody an opportunity. Whoever wants the job is going to win the job.'"
Nothing's settled yet, apparently.
Junior Jack Gangwish continues to cement his place in the race, so much so that he seems to have taken over the No. 3 spot behind eventual starters Randy Gregory and Greg McMullen. The "tough" and "physical" Gangwish is consistently taking practice reps with the second-team, Papuchis said.
Beyond Gangwish, it's the same mix of players: Joe Keels, A.J. Natter, Peyton Newell, Mick Stoltenberg and Sedrick King. All of them are getting a look, Papuchis said.
Ideally, the Huskers would like to have four reliable options emerge at D-end -- there's a contingency plan to play Maliek Collins on the outside, if necessary, but he's only practiced at tackle this month and Papuchis said they'd prefer to keep the 6-foot-2, 300-pound sophomore inside.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Newby is improving as a pass-rush specialist, according to Papuchis. "Marcus is really coming along well," Papuchis said.
Other practice notes from Friday's workout (which was not open to reporters to watch) are below:
>> More rave reviews for Byerson Cockrell, the junior college defensive back who's exceeding the coaching staff's expectations. He's already practiced at every position within the NU secondary, but now he appears to be settling in at nickel back quite well. Said Papuchis: "We feel like he's kind of a veteran even though he's never played a game for us."
>> Freshman Josh Kalu's working behind Cockrell at nickel. Kalu's also getting reps at cornerback.
>> The plan for senior Trevor Roach (who's also played the "BUCK" linebacker spot) is to continue to work at middle linebacker behind Josh Banderas.
>> Papuchis expects freshman safety Kieron Williams to make a jump now that the coaches have nearly completed the installation process of the defensive scheme. "Kieron athletically is as talented as everybody, but every time we put in a defense, it's the first time he's ever heard it," Papuchis said. "So he's naturally a step behind." The gap could close soon, though.
>> Papuchis assumes the same will be true for most of the players on the second-team defense. The top unit is clearly ahead, advancing into next-level thinking and communication. That's a good thing. But the back-ups need to keep progressing at a similar rate, too. Said Papuchis: "There's a little bit of a divide between the first group and second group, but obviously our goal in the next 10 days is to close that gap."
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Video: John Papuchis after practice Friday
Video: Nate Gerry after practice Friday
Video: Former Husker Ron Kellogg on "The Bottom Line"
Video: Former Husker Dave Rimington on "The Bottom Line" Part 1
Video: Former Husker Dave Rimington on "The Bottom Line" Part 2