August 20, 2011

Saturday notebook: Pelini's mid-camp review

With the second week of fall camp now in the books and the start of the fall semester just two days away, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini gave a state of the program breakdown, so to speak, following Saturday's practice.

Overall, Pelini said there were plenty of encouraging aspects from his team through their first 18 fall practices, but added that depth and consistency were areas that still needed to be addressed before the season opens on Sept. 3.

"I'm happy about some areas, and there are some areas I'd like to come a little bit quicker," Pelini said. "I think we've got to keep improving our depth. Like I said, some guys are coming along faster than others. Hopefully here towards the beginning of next week and into next week we should get a couple guys who have been injured back. We're getting to be a little bit better injury wise, so I think it's all coming together."

Offensively, Pelini said he's been pleased with the improvement of the Huskers' efficiency and learning of the new offense thus far. In particular, he said the offense has been doing a much better job cutting down the penalties and mental mistakes in practice.

"I think we're just getting better overall as a whole," Pelini said. "Probably our consistency needs to get better, but that's to e expected at this point. I think our knowledge of the offense is getting better. The efficiency is better.

"We've been practicing with a lot of noise, so I think the penalty aspect of things - the false starts, the discipline, once again the efficiency of what we're doing - has gotten better, but it's not where we want it to be yet. But I'm seeing progress."

On defense, Pelini said first unit has been what he expected so far, but admitted he was a bit concerned about the lack of depth to emerge at certain positions, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary.

"Probably my biggest concern is depth in some areas," he said. "I think we're deep up front. We've got some experience and youth in the secondary. We're not very deep at linebacker right now, and that's a little bit of a concern, but I think that's coming. I think we're a little bit ahead of the game schematically, but in some areas like I said my biggest concern is depth."

Nebraska has dealt with a few injury issues during the first two weeks of camp, but Pelini said overall his team has been pretty healthy all things considered. He added that having a few more experienced players out with various injuries has allowed for some younger players to show what they can do with the first-team units.

Despite some positions being hit a little harder by injuries during camp - like the offensive line - Pelini said he hasn't noticed any real setbacks in his team's progress over the course of the fall.

"You go practice, and you put guys in there and other guys have to step up," Pelini said. "I think that's happened. We've moved a couple guys around, moved them back. We've used this time to look at a lot of guys and make some decisions, and it's all slowly but surely coming together for us."

- Robin Washut

Martinez continues to impress, Carnes lacking consistency

After saying how much more comfortable sophomore Taylor Martinez was at the quarterback position and as a leader of the offense throughout the offseason, Pelini's impressions haven't changed a bit through 18 practices.

According to Pelini, Martinez has been an almost completely different quarterback from where he was at this point as a redshirt freshman last season. The biggest improvements have been in Martinez's overall confidence and knowledge of the offense.

"I think just overall he's more comfortable," Pelini said. "I think he has a good handle on what we're trying to do offensively. Is he perfect? No. But I do think he's coming along. There is some carry over on some of the things we're doing (from the previous offense). Like I said, I think he's a lot more comfortable in the role he's in.

"I've seen him improve, I've seen him get better, and I think he feels like he has a pretty good handle on what we're trying to accomplish."

The report on redshirt freshman backup Brion Carnes wasn't quite as encouraging, though.

While Pelini said Carnes was the clear No. 2 behind Martinez, he said Bradenton, Fla., native has still struggled with his consistency in practice. Carnes had a great showing in the Red-White game in April, but the knock on him throughout the spring was he would have just as many bad plays as he would good.

"Inconsistent," Pelini said when asked how Carnes was playing this fall. "He shows flashes of good and flashes of not so good. He's playing like a young quarterback. He's just got to keep working on his consistency. He's a guy who it's real important to him, and he puts a lot of time into it.

"You're seeing the benefit of that at times, but it comes down to at the quarterback position, it's decision making and being able to be real comfortable in your role and knowing the offense and handling the huddle and all those things. I'm seeing progress, but I think he'd be the first one to say that he's got a ways to go."

- Robin Washut

Maher, Bondi battling it out

The competition for the task of replacing the great Alex Henery hasn't slowed down one bit through fall camp, as junior Brett Maher and freshman Mauro Bondi continue to battle it out for the starting kicker, punter and kickoff duties.

Pelini said Saturday that the daily competition between the two in all three areas has only made both players better over the course of the fall.

"They've had a good camp," Pelini said. "The competition has been good, and I think they're both quality players They're both going to do all three (kicking, punting and kickoff duties), and the competition has been great."

Pelini estimated Maher's field goal range to be around 55-60 yards, and Bondi has been right about even with him in practice.

Asked if there was a chance Maher and Bondi could split the three kicking duties in some combination this season, Pelini said he wouldn't rule anything out.

"It depends on how it plays out," Pelini said. "It's a little bit early to make that call yet, but we're not opposed to that."

- Robin Washut

Huskers come in at No. 10 in AP Top 25

The Associated Press's preseason Top 25 was released Saturday morning, and Nebraska checked in at No. 10 overall.

The Huskers were the highest ranked Big Ten Conference team, with No. 11 Wisconsin right behind them. There were a total of four Big Ten teams in the Top 25, including Michigan State at No. 17 and Ohio State at No. 18.

Oklahoma checked in as the preseason No. 1, followed by Alabama, Oregon, LSU and Boise State to round out the top five, respectively.

Earlier this month, Nebraska was ranked No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, essentially swapping places with Wisconsin, which was ranked No. 10.

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Pelini said he still wasn't sure when senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard would return to practice, as he continues to sit out with a muscle injury. Pelini did say he didn't expect Dennard to be back before the end of next week at least.

"It's probably going to be at least through this week," Pelini said. "It's kind of hard to tell when you're talking about a muscle strain like he has."

***Pelini said he's seen good improvement from safety P.J. Smith, who lost his starting job last year after some poor tackling performances.

"P.J. has gotten better, especially over the last couple days," Pelini said. "He continues to need to get better, but he's done some good things for us… He's tackling better. I think his knowledge and confidence is better. He just needs to continue to come along, but he's done some good things."

***Nebraska's entire roster will be on the field when the Huskers return to practice on Monday with the start of the fall semester. Pelini said the new players would join in with the rest of the 105 in drills, but they would probably be eased in a bit over the first couple of days.

"They'll join us probably in a limited role for the first couple days, then we'll kind of ease them into it," Pelini said. "I always felt like that's the best way to do it. We have these other guys who have been playing football for the past couple weeks, and like I said, fall camp really kind of continues the first couple days (of next week). It gives us a chance to give those guys a chance to get their legs under them a little bit."

***Senior receiver Brandon Kinnie has been limited the past week with a thumb sprain, but Pelini said Kinnie was back in full action on Saturday.

"He came back and had a good day today," Pelini said.

***Asked to evaluate Nebraska's group of young receivers, Pelini specially mentioned sophomore Quincy Enunwa and junior Tim Marlowe as players who have caught his eye the past two weeks.

"I think Quincy Enunwa has had a really good camp," Pelini said. "Timmy Marlowe has really stepped up over the last week. He's had some really good practices. Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner are really showing flashes."

***Pelini also said junior college transfer Daimion Stafford is well on his way to making an immediate impact at safety this season.

"I think he's going to be a good player for us," Pelini said. "He's gotten better, and I think he'll continue to get better. I think his knowledge of what we're asking him to do for a guy who hasn't been here very long is pretty good."

***Pelini estimated Nebraska would start specific preparations for the season opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga on either Thursday or Friday of next week.

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