LINCOLN — Before preseason practice started, Nebraska turned everything it believed about its practice regimen on its head. Coach Bo Pelini, after what he described as “research,” shortened most practices from three hours to two, turned up the tempo in those practices and embedded GPS devices on most players to track health metrics.
Pelini declared the month of change a success.
“It went great; we had great tempo and our soft-tissue injuries were way down,” he said. “We were pretty much able to stay right on track with what we aimed to do going in. For the first time through, that isn’t real easy to do. But we were disciplined in staying on our time frames.”
The GPS trackers, Pelini said, were a worthy investment full of useful data on players and the team as a whole.
“It’s a tremendous resource,” Pelini said. “It’s been a lot of help.”
Nebraska now switches into its “game week” practice schedule until at least the first bye week in mid-October. The Huskers won’t practice on Mondays. Heavier practices will commence on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Thursdays becoming more of a walkthrough event, and Friday involving more contact than Thursday did.
Janovich probable; Sterup a maybe
The injury status of a few players remains uncertain one week from the Florida Atlantic game, Pelini said Saturday.
Pelini said junior right tackle Zach Sterup and sophomore wide receiver Brandon Reilly — both of whom have missed chunks of fall camp with leg injuries — are “questionable” to play against the Owls.
Fullback Andy Janovich, Pelini said, is “probable” for week one.
In Sterup’s absence, juniors Givens Price and Matt Finnin have taken most of the snaps at right tackle. Price, who had been at right guard for spring practice and some of August, had already moved to tackle — and started to take away Sterup’s first-team reps — when Sterup went down with an undisclosed injury. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Price said coaches had asked him this summer to prepare for tackle as well as guard.
“Anything that helps the team out is something I look forward to,” Price said in an earlier interview. “If learning right tackle will help us out in the long run, in case of injuries, that’s what I’m willing to do. I’m a team person first.”
At 6-7, 305, Finnin has the more prototypical size for an offensive tackle, but he struggled last year with the transition from junior college to Nebraska during his first year on campus. Pelini said Saturday that Finnin “really played good football over the last couple weeks.”
In a previous interview with The World-Herald, Finnin said he’s enjoyed the competition for playing time.
“Nobody’s got a spot locked up, so everybody keeps going every day,” he said. “It’s like a stock report every day. You’re up, you’re down, and you have to have continuous good days because nobody has a spot locked up.”
Pelini said Sterup will return for sure by week two.
No word on No. 1 kicker, return man
Nebraska’s two-deep depth chart typically surfaces in the days before the first game, if not the Monday before the game. Thus, Pelini was not ready to name a starting punt returner or a starting field-goal kicker.
The kicking battle is between junior Mauro Bondi and freshman Drew Brown. Bondi is expected to handle kickoffs, as he did last year, but Pat Smith beat him out in 2013 in the battle to kick field goals and extra points.
The race for top punt returner appears to be between sophomore Jordan Westerkamp, seniors Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell and freshman De’Mornay Pierson-El. Only Abdullah and Westerkamp have significant experience at the job, and only Abdullah has experienced much success, returning 31 punts for 316 yards in 2011 and 2012. Westerkamp returned 19 punts for 51 yards last year. He also lost two fumbles on returns. Bell’s lone career return was a lost fumble at Northwestern in 2012. Pierson-El, a freshman from the Washington, D.C., area, has impressed with his skills in practice.
Redshirt decisions 'too early to tell'
Pelini is not ready to name which freshmen will burn their redshirts.
“That’s still too early to tell,” he said. “There’s some guys who are definitely going to redshirt and some guys who are on the fence a little bit.”
Freshman defensive backs Kieron Williams and Josh Kalu have already been tabbed by defensive coordinator John Papuchis as players likely to play in 2014. Both have been working with the No. 2 defense after the injury to starting nickel Charles Jackson and the yearlong suspension of LeRoy Alexander.
Lincoln Southeast graduate Jerald Foster, who switched recently from guard to defensive line, is also likely to play in the wake of Aaron Curry’s transfer from the program.
“If he’s ready to play, and he can help us, he’s going to play,” Papuchis said Thursday of Foster. “We’re not going to put him in a position where he’s not going to be successful or put him in a position he’s not ready for. He’s only been over with us for a couple of days. We’re trying to play it by ear in terms of how fast he’s going to be ready — whether that’s Florida Atlantic or that’s for McNeese (State), or that’s for Fresno, I can’t exactly say — but he’s working hard and preparing, and we’re preparing him like he’s going to play.”
Brown, battling with Bondi at kicker, also is a candidate to play, as is Pierson-El — as a returner and slot receiver. Though not on scholarship, long snapper Josh Faulkenberry from Arvada, Colorado, is a true freshman and appears to be NU’s snapper for field-goal attempts.
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Video: Pelini after practice Saturday