Published Thursday, December 19, 2013 AT 4:11 PM / Updated at 8:15 PM
Practice Report, Dec. 19: Huskers getting healthy, Bo likes recruiting momentum
Sam McKewon Omaha World-Herald

Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini met with the press Thursday afternoon after the Huskers completed one of several Gator Bowl prep practices. Here’s several quick hits:

>>Pelini praised the tempo and focus of works that started Dec. 14 even though NU “started out a little bit rusty.” More “good on good” in practice — No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense. Pelini said Nebraska’s much healthier after two weeks off — “pretty much everybody has been practicing” — although quarterback Taylor Martinez is unlikely to play Jan. 1 in Jacksonville. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr., who missed most of the Penn State game and the Iowa game with an ankle injury, looked good walking off the Hawks Championship Center field. No heavy tape.

>>NU’s redshirt and true freshmen who played this year are much further ahead in terms of mental development than they were at the start of Big Ten play.

“It’s like night and day,” Pelini said. “Guys has grown up a lot. Does that mean they’re the finished product? By no means. But they’ve come a long way. Every opportunity for them to get out here is important.”

>>Pelini praised NU’s two junior college signees — cornerback Byerson Cockrell and defensive end Joe Keels — along with the progress the Huskers made between the 38-17 loss to Iowa and the start of a recruiting dead period Monday.

Bo on Cockrell: “He’s our style of corner. He can get up and press and get in people’s faces. He gives you some experience, an older guy, a more veteran guy.”

Bo on Keels: “He can kind of do it all. He’s a big-bodied defensive linemen who can play on the strongside. He can play a 6 technique, he can play a 5 technique, but also is athletic enough to do some things as far as rushing the passer. I like his overall skillset.”

Pelini said Nebraska could sign as many as 25 players in the class. Theoretically, Keels and Cockrell could count toward the 2013 class, if necessary.

“We’ve had good reception,” Pelini said. “We have a chance to finish this class off well. I like our class.”

>>Pelini said he hasn’t been contacted by any schools seeking to interview his assistants for other jobs.

“There hasn’t been a lot of movement in college football,” Pelini said. “That’s been good.”

>>Pelini still expects running back Ameer Abdullah to return for his senior season.

>>Offensive lineman Alex Lewis, the Colorado transfer currently charged with two felonies stemming from a May 2013 fight in Boulder, is enrolled at NU and taking classes, but is not currently on Pelini’s radar, the coach said. Lewis goes to trial Jan. 20, 2014 on the charges.

“He’s got things he needs to take care of that are obviously out of my hands,” Pelini said. “When that situation plays out, we’ll see where it goes. There’s always a possibility.”

>>Pelini brushed off any notion that Nebraska has issues with strength and conditioning, specifically as it pertains to S&C contributing to any of NU’s injuries.

“I’ve never seen a strength and conditioning issue as far as — when you have MCL (knee strains), you’re gonna get MCLs. Just talk to the guys who go through the program — we’ve outlasted teams in the fourth quarter. Since I’ve been here — since (strength and conditioning coach James) Dobson and his group have been here, we’ve been a good fourth-quarter football team. That’s a testament of strength and conditioning. There’s a reason why (Ndamukong) Suh, Prince (Amukamara) and Barrett Ruud and the rest of them train with Coach Dobson in the offseason — because they believe in what he does. To me that speaks for itself. I don’t know where (criticism) comes from, but that’s just somebody who doesn’t have very much knowledge making comments.”

>>The Huskers finish practice on Saturday, leave for a holiday break and reconvene Christmas night in Lincoln. NU travels to Jacksonville Dec. 26 and begins practice Dec. 27 at the University of North Florida.

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after practice Thursday

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.