December 29, 2011

Thursday bowl practice: Seisay next star DB?

ORLANDO, Fla. - Monday's Capital One Bowl will obviously be an emotional affair for secondary coach Corey Raymond to say goodbye to seniors like cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and safety Austin Cassidy.

However, when Raymond starts to talk about the future, it's hard for him not to get excited when he thinks about the potential junior college cornerback Mohammad Seisay has.

Ranked as the No. 2 overall junior college cornerback in the nation by, the Eastern Arizona College standout signed his letter of intent to Nebraska last week and he'll start classes at NU on Jan. 9.

"He's one of the top guys out there and he has a chance to be special," Raymond told this week in Orlando.

Head coach Bo Pelini is also excited about what Seisay potentially brings to the table for 2012.

"I think he's a good football player," Pelini said of Seisay. "I'm glad we got him. He's a heck of a player, mature, great kid, high character, really talented, big and physical. He was a good get for us - a great get for us. I'm glad he signed."

This is the first time either Raymond or Pelini have been able to make public comments about Seisay since he officially signed with NU last week.

Over the recruiting process Raymond said he felt like he built a great relationship with Seisay by simply being honest and open with him.

"I was just honest with (Seisay) and we had a good understanding with each other," Raymond said. "Like I told him, don't put distance or the weather in when you are trying to make your decision.

"Put the people you are going to be around and you are going to associate with and just put the town of Lincoln in your decision and how it will be a great place for you to be in and you're in a great environment."

When Raymond talks about the abilities and strengths of the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Seisay, there are a lot of attributes he brings to the table.

"He does a lot of stuff well," Raymond said. "He's big and long, he can play bump and run, off man, I mean he can do a lot of stuff. We just have to get him to learn the defense."

Raymond said he'll be excited to meet with Seisay when he arrives to campus after Nebraska gets back from Orlando on Jan. 2.

"He's already registered for school and he'll be here in the spring," Raymond said. "Hopefully he'll come in and we'll see how he competes."

- Sean Callahan

Fisher calls reports of new role 'premature'

Less than 24 hours after Pelini said he was still deciding on his next recruiting coordinator, rumors surfaced Wednesday that receivers coach Rich Fisher would be the eventual choice for the role. reported Fisher was in line to replace new defensive coordinator John Papuchis as Nebraska's recruiting coordinator, but on Thursday Fisher called the report "premature" and said he has had no discussion with Pelini about the opening.

"That's all premature," Fisher said. "Somebody sent me some text messages (about the report), and I was like 'I don't know what you're talking about.' I guess I've got to call you guys to find out what my job titles are. I think that's all premature stuff."

While nothing official has been done regarding Fisher and recruiting coordinator job, he admitted he was interested in filling the role. He said it would be a great opportunity to take a step in his coaching career if he in fact was a candidate.

"I think any coach wants to advance his career," Fisher said. "When you get an opportunity to take on more responsibility, I think it's good for you. If Bo thinks that highly of me that I'm that guy, then I'll cherish the opportunity and look forward to it."

- Robin Washut

Allen making big strides in redshirt season

It took some convincing to make freshman wide receiver Taariq Allen agree that redshirting this season was the best option for him in the long run, but with just four days remaining before he can officially start competing for playing time next year, the benefits of his year off are already showing.

As a member of Nebraska's scout team, Allen went up against Dennard on nearly every rep in practice this season. The result of matching up with one of the best corners in college football on a daily basis was invaluable experience for a player his coaches say is loaded with potential.

"A lot of what I head about Taariq Allen is from the defensive coaches, but what you're starting to hear is the same thing I heard about Kenny Bell when I was coming in - that he's going up against Alfonzo Dennard in the secondary and he's making plays," said Fisher, who coached Allen back at The Rivers School in Massachusetts. "He's gotten bigger, stronger and faster, and I know he's chomping at the bit. He keeps telling me that he's got a couple of days left before his redshirt is over. That's the kind of competitor he is.

"I had the kid for two years when he was in high school, and I know he wanted to play this year - probably could have - but I didn't want to waste getting him in there and playing just mop-up duty and limited reps when we could have him hopefully competing for a starting spot next year."

Few players know Allen's ability more than Dennard, who said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman reminds him a lot of NU senior receiver Brandon Kinnie in how physical he is getting off the line of scrimmage.

While Allen might not be the fastest receiver on the team, Dennard said he makes up for it with precise route running, good hands and a natural instinct for finding ways to get open.

Dennard said he's made it a point all year long to make sure Allen goes 100 percent on every snap that he lines up against him. Not only does Dennard want to help make Allen a better receiver, he knows a player like Allen can equally improve him as a cornerback.

"I told Taariq that when we go out and play, he makes me better, and obviously I'm going to make him better because I'm not going to go light on him," Dennard said. "I'm going to go hard every time. That's what I try to do to make him better and for him to make me better as well.

"I tell him, 'I want you to bring it every play.' I say, 'don't take no plays off, because the guys I go against, they're not going to take plays off. I don't want you to take plays off, because I expect you to make me better and I'm going to make you better.'"

- Robin Washut

Dennard ready for one-on-one with Jeffery

At the beginning of Nebraska's bowl preparation for South Carolina, Dennard wasn't sure if he would be asked to lock up on star receiver Alshon Jeffery the entire game like he did against Iowa's Marvin McNutt in the regular season finale.

Because of how well he shut down McNutt and how valuable Jeffery is to the Gamecocks' offense, Dennard said he once again has been assigned one-on-one duties against Jeffery for the entire game.

Dennard held McNutt to just four catches for 29 yards in Nebraska's 20-7 win, and that was the first time the Huskers had him follow one receiver for an entire game.

He said he enjoys the challenge of matching up with the opponent's best receiver on every play because it forces him to be at his very best at all times.

"It's very fun," Dennard said. "I'm a competitive guy, so I like stuff like that. If he wins, it's all on him. I'm not going to hold my head down, because he's a very good player. If I lose against him, I want it to be against a very good player."

Dennard said locking in on the top wide out also helps get him much more mentally psyched up coming into a game. He said at times earlier in the season he had trouble getting motivated enough because he knew teams were going to throw away from him more often than not.

Knowing quarterbacks will have to test him in order to get the ball to their favorite targets helps kick start his intensity going in.

"I had to learn that during the season," Dennard said. "Before the games, if I'm just laid back and chill, I won't be as hype when I get out there on the field. But when I'm hyped up at the start of the game, it's going to be a very good game."

With Jeffery being far and away South Carolina's No. 1 receiving threat, Dennard knows he'll get plenty of chances to make some big plays in his final collegiate game. While he's made some impressive plays on balls this year, Dennard has zero interceptions in his senior season.

If he can get one on Monday, a celebration just might be in order.

"If I get a pick, ain't no telling what I'll do, man," Dennard said. "I might do a flip or something."

- Robin Washut

Husker offense on the same page

Nebraska's offensive staff and players spent the 2011 season not just installing a new offense under offensive coordinator Tim Beck, but getting acclimated to a few new faces on the sidelines.

The Huskers added Fisher, co-offensive line coach John Garrison and graduate assistant Vince Marrow to the staff. Beck moved from coaching running backs to quarterbacks along with leading the Huskers offense as the coordinator. Former tight ends coach Ron Brown took over duties with the running backs.

With all that change, co-offensive line coach Barney Cotton said things continue to come together not just as a staff but as an offense.

"A lot of it is stuff that I had in my past, but probably the biggest thing with us is more so than just the learning part, but Ron is coaching a new position, we've got two line coaches, Tim's coaching quarterbacks instead of running backs, Fish is new to the staff and Vince is new to the staff," Cotton said.

"I think probably the bigger growing issue is having a staff that works well together and everybody teaching and using the same verbiage, because you want to talk the same language. If I correct a wide receiver or Ron goes to an offensive lineman, or Tim talks to a tight end, we all want to use the same language with those guys."

The week of bowl preparation doesn't change the goal that the offense has had all along since they started working together as a staff.

That starts and ends with physicality on the ground.

"Our goals don't change," Cotton said. "We want to be a running football team first, but we want to be an effective throwing team and throw when we want instead of throwing when have to. And the way you do that is you try to be a good first and second down team.

"We still want to be a physical offense. Our goals are exactly the same now as they were at the end of training camp."

- John Talman

Huskers getting off their feet

Thursday will be the last day in Orlando Nebraska will do any major bowl activities as the players will either visit Sea World or some of the other theme parks in Orlando, along with attending an Orlando Magic game later this evening.

NU's players have done three straight days of intense tourism activities walking around all the major theme parks Orlando has to offer. Pelini said one of the reasons he brought his team down a day earlier than normal was so they could enjoy all the activities early in the week and use the second half of the week to just focus on the game.

"That's one of the reasons we came down a day earlier than we normally do," Pelini said. "It gave us an extra day of practice time here. I think the schedule has worked out well so far here, hopefully it pays off on Monday."

Junior defensive end Cameron Meredith said on Thursday he's glad Pelini set up the schedule the way he did, because all the walking around has made him and the other guys on the team pretty exhausted.

"I'm just tired of walking and standing in lines," Meredith joked. "I think I'm just going to relax today.

"I think it's good we came down early, because my legs are getting a little tired. It was good to get it out of the way the first half of the week, that way tomorrow we get to relax. After today's stuff, we can kind of just relax now the rest of the time which gives us plenty time before the game. I think it was good move by Bo to bring us down a day earlier."

-Sean Callahan

Pelini glad to have Cotton back

Junior tight end Ben Cotton continues to make strides each day in practice and Pelini said following Thursday's workout he really likes what he's seen from him this week in Orlando.

"He's feeling a lot better," Pelini said. "We probably gave him his biggest load to date today and he kind of wanted to test it out a little bit more and progress. I think he's doing well."

Cotton is recovering from a shoulder and elbow injury he suffered in the Penn State game. Without Cotton in the line-up, Pelini said NU has really missed out on the physical edge blocking he brings to the table.

"He's a physical guy that has experience and he's a good football player," Pelini said. "He's a productive player for us. I'm glad we are going to have him back."

-Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***With an extra day of work this week Orlando, Pelini said it will allow NU to really fine tune things in practice.

"It gives you a chance to do some more specialty things," Pelini said. "Obviously you have an extra day to play with, so we kind of do a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and two Thursday practices to kind of clean things up as the week goes on."

***Pelini said new defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski will coach from the box on Monday and not the sidelines.

***One of the hot-button topics for Nebraska this season was the emergence and subsequent disappearance of freshman wide receiver Jamal Turner. After leading NU in receiving at one point, Turner hardly saw the field late in the season, apparently because he struggled to grasp all the nuances and responsibilities of playing the position at the collegiate level. The good news, Fisher said, is that Turner has done everything he can to correct his mistakes.

"The great thing about Jamal is that when he looks in the mirror, he understands what his issues are," Fisher said. "It's a lot of pressure for a young true freshman to come into a system, change positions, learn the craft and then execute the craft at full speed, especially in game situations. I think early on when he didn't have a lot of his plate it was a little bit different. Then as the game plan started getting a little bit lengthier and he started to see more defenses and press coverage, things changed.

***Another scout team player Dennard said he's been impressed with all year is junior walk-on KC Hyland. At 6-6, 215, Hyland presents some unique challenges to defensive backs and has made countless big plays in practice, Dennard said.

"KC Hyland is a very good player," Dennard said. "I hope they move him up, because he's a very good player and can catch the ball. He makes big plays every day."

*** Since Pelini arrived at Nebraska, the Huskers have only signed one junior college offensive lineman - Jermarcus Hardrick. Cotton explained that their strategy when looking at junior college recruiting, specifically up front, is about deciding if there is a big enough need to go that route.

"We might look at both boards, but ideally junior colleges is based on need rather than want," Cotton said. "You'd like guys in your program for four or five years. But when you have a need like we had, Yoshi came in and was a viable back up for a year and has been an unquestioned starter the second year.

"Everybody expects junior college guys to come in and maybe start from day one, but there is a lot of learning, mentally, physically, adjusting, new teammates, new coaches, new everything, where it's not uncommon to take the path Yoshi's taken - be a good part-time player, and then get a really nice year of starting out of a guy. You'd like it to where they can come in and start both years. I'm proud of Yoshi."

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