Junior linebacker David Santos might have had his best game as a Husker in Nebraska's 41-31 win over Miami Saturday night. 

But his right leg was wrapped and in a brace Tuesday as NU began preparation for its Big Ten opener against Illinois. 

In his absence, defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, seniors Trevor Roach and Zaire Anderson, plus sophomore Josh Banderas, are the top three guys. Banderas or Roach will also play middle linebacker with the second unit, which includes redshirt freshmen Courtney Love and Marcus Newby. 

They'll all have to be ready for an Illinois offense that throws a dizzying number of formations and plays at a defense -- even if all those sets and plays don't work. 

"They have every personnel grouping you could have as an offense," Papuchis said. "They have big sets, they have spread sets, four-wide sets, and they run a lot of empty (backfield sets). So they force you to prepare for a lot of things ... they force you to prepare for a lot of different things."

Illinois running back Josh Ferguson, Papuchis said, is a staple of the Illini's offense. Illinois' wideout will run "clearout" routes that free Ferguson to work against linebackers underneath in coverage, much like Miami did to great success with Hurricane running back Duke Johnson. 

"They run vertical routes and then they work him on some check down stuff, which is obviously good for them in terms of an easy throw. And he's an explosive player." 

As offensive coordinator Tim Beck declined to speak the press -- he has not talked to the media in two weeks -- here are the rest of the quick hits from Tuesday's practice. 

>> Nebraska's football season is already four games old, and defensive coordinator Papuchis is most pleased with the bounceback ability of his unit. The Huskers may have given up three opening-drive touchdowns in four games, but they haven't let early setbacks, Papuchis said, hold them down.

"When things have happened in the games that haven't been good for us, we've responded relatively well," Papuchis said. "That was probably one of the things that bothered me as much as anything the last couple years, that things snowballed on us.

"I can't tell you why the first three drives have started the way they have at home, but we've been able to come on the second drives and play well. That's a sign we're able to move on to the next play, which is a sign of a mature group. That's probably pleased me as much as anything." 

>> Defensive end Randy Gregory is handling well offenses' attempts to get in his head and cut him often, Papuchis said. 

"Randy has done a good job of maintaining his composure ... it's an emotional game where guys are getting after it and playing hard. But we gotta be careful because I don't want to lose anybody or get a penalty that affects the game." 

>> One reason that freshman defensive back Josh Kalu has come along so quickly in Nebraska's scheme, Papuchis said, was the amount of teaching he got in the summer. NCAA rules now allow coaches to work with players for a limited amount of time in the summer, but that time helped Nebraska figure out that Kalu was ready to hit the ground running. 

"I knew he was a smart kid," Papuchis said. "Once he got on campus ... it really stood out then this kid is pretty sharp. Within a couple days of fall camp, we knew he had a chance to really help us out."

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