March 30, 2010

Young receivers confident they can step up

When people think about Nebraska's wide receivers this season, the first players that come to mind are senior Niles Paul and the newly added Mike McNeill, and for good reason.

After them it's juniors Brandon Kinnie and Curenski Gilleylen, and then maybe guys like sophomore Antonio Bell. From there, however, the rest of the depth chart at receiver gets a little murky.

Maybe more than any position on the Huskers' roster, wide receiver may have the most question marks coming into spring practice. However, it appears the rest of NU's young and inexperienced wide outs have little doubt that they are more than capable of filling the presumed void.

"I feel like we're getting way better," Bell said. "I know I feel like I'm one step ahead. The game is slowing down for me. I pick up on more things, and I feel like I've got a good chance to get on the field a lot more this year."

Bell is one of the players who Nebraska's coaches are hoping can step up and provide some much needed depth at receiver this season.

After playing in six games as a true freshman last season, the Daytona Beach, Fla., native said he's made it a point to focus on improving the weak points of his game to make himself more of a trusted option for receivers coach Ted Gilmore.

In particular, he's put an extra emphasis on working on the one aspect that he said kept him off the field more than anything last season - blocking.

"Basically it came down to getting more physical," Bell said. "Blocking is kind of like a mind thing. Blocking ain't hard, it's just getting in there and doing it, doing it the way coach wants it done, and once you do it, they're going to put you in a position to make plays. Once you do what they want you to do, everything is going to fall into place."

Other receivers like Kinnie said the unit has naturally improved simply by going up against Nebraska's talented secondary this off-season, which is rated by many as one of the best in the Big 12 Conference.

"It helps me out a lot," Kinnie said. "Like if you're one-on-one and you make some mistake, they come back and always will tip you off what I need to do to let you know what you did wrong. When you beat, it feels even better."

The addition of McNeill to the receiver mix has also stepped up the intensity and competition, as suddenly the rest of receivers have had to battle for playing time with a former all-conference caliber tight end.

"It's making everybody work harder," Bell said. "Even with the positions (McNeill) doesn't play, he makes the competition way better."

Bell said Gilmore and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson have already shown to be more comfortable with their receivers so far in practice.

As opposed to last year where they had to repeatedly get on the younger players in the unit for making the same mistakes in practice, this year Bell said the attention has gone toward adding new wrinkles and techniques.

In other words, Nebraska's wide receivers are finally starting to "get it."

"We put a lot in early, and then we just keep doing it over and over and over again," Watson said. "The intention is to develop their assignments and fundamentals and techniques. Out of that I think comes confidence with the more reps they get and the success that they have."

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