Published Thursday, August 22, 2013 AT 7:47 PM / Updated at 10:39 AM
Practice Report Aug. 22: Freshmen gearing to play, backup QB still unsettled
Sam McKewon Omaha World-Herald

A quick recap from Nebraska’s Thursday practice availability, which consisted of the Huskers’ typically quotable assistant coaches. They did not disappoint.

>> Defensive coordinator John Papuchis reiterated the defense’s need to play a number of guys — young, old, whatever — early in the season. This echoes Bo Pelini’s quote from last week. As my Monday Rewind column argued, this is very encouraging.

“It’s discipline on our part as much as anything else, because if things are going well, sometimes you have a tendency to lean toward the guys who are in the game,” Papuchis said. “Bottom line is: We gotta find out more about our guys in game situations. We don’t have the benefit of preseason. I want to play a lot of guys. We gotta track how many reps those guys are getting and make sure we get a thorough gameday evaluation.”

If Papuchis is behind Pelini being more open-minded on this issue, kudos. Nebraska’s relied on that core bunch too often in 2011 and 2012.

>> The four true freshmen who are likely to play on defense are linebacker Josh Banderas, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, safety/linebacker Nate Gerry, and defensive tackle Kevin Maurice. On the others, it’s a wait-and-see process. Had linebacker Courtney Love not been slowed by a hamstring for much of camp, he might have been on that likely list, too. As it is, the next week may determine how close Love gets to playing. He’d be an asset on special teams, at the very least.

“He stayed focused on what he had to do as far as the mental stuff,” Papuchis said of Love. “He’s come back and done some pretty good things the last couple days. Where he stacks up, it’s going to be hard to say.”

>> Collins is a known quantity — as far as what coaches think of him, anyway — whereas Maurice has not been. But Papuchis is plenty pleased with what he’s seeing out of the 6-foot-3, 280-pounder from Orlando.

“Right now he’s a little ahead of even some of the more experienced guys in terms of how he plays the run,” Papuchis said of Maurice. “He plays with a great center of gravity, he has good hands, plays with a good base. He’s certainly an early-down guy.”

Collins is being considered an “every-down guy,” Papuchis said.

Nebraska’s going to play many, many defensive tackles in the non-conference season. Bank on it. Redshirting Collins or Maurice, when you really chew on it, doesn’t seem to be an option in the wake of Kevin Williams’ second major ACL tear. The interior line has two seniors (Randle and Nickens), sophomore Aaron Curry, redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine, and Collins and Maurice. Better to break the kids in now, then when they’ll be forced to be at least second-string next year.

>> At Will linebacker, Michael Rose “has come a long way in the last two weeks” because of improved aggression, Papuchis said. He’s “taking his shots” instead of hesitating, and thus emulating the player NU coaches saw on high school tape.

Rose has more than a little Will Compton in him. Smart, overthinks a little, just needs to pull the trigger. He’ll get his opportunities.

>> Nate Gerry’s a good fit to play early, linebackers coach Ross Els said, because his unique athleticism offers something Nebraska doesn’t readily have: A guy who can play close to the line of scrimmage but drop back and cover.

“With the spread offenses we see now, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the type of player that plays back there at safety and your dime- or nickel-type outside linebacker,” Els said. “From a coverage standpoint, you just need a better athlete. And that’s where Nathan Gerry comes in.”

>> Offensive coordinator Tim Beck hasn’t entirely settled what the rotation will be on the line. There’s depth to burn — more than NU’s had under Beck or even head coach Bo Pelini — but Beck’s comments gave the scent of playing time battles still being waged.

“It’s more of a thing that we’ll take care of maybe this weekend,” Beck said. “That’s when we’ll worry about those things. It’s good to have all those guys. They’re older. That helps.”

>> No clarity on the backup quarterback situation yet from Beck. It’s between Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong, seems like, while Johnny Stanton appears headed for a redshirt, though Beck didn’t put that in ink. Beck talked situation, circumstance and timing as it pertained to Kellogg and Armstrong.

>> From the probably-a-good-thing department: Secondary coach Terry Joseph said that only nickel Ciante Evans should be considered a likely starter in the secondary right now. Safety and corner remain a bit in flux, with playing time earned by several guys.

“It’s too close to call,” Joseph said. “At safety, we feel good about four, five guys. At corner, we could get five guys in there and each one of those guys could go in and play nickel. As we start to finalize the gameplan, we’ll what our personnel matchups will be. Having that many guys who are game-ready gives us a lot of options.”

Video: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany

Video: Defensive coordinator John Papuchis

Video: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck

Video: East Stadium celebration and tour

About Sam McKewon

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him at sam.mckewon@owh.com. And follow him on Twitter at @swmckewonOWH. And call him at 402.219.3790.