The way Nebraska's top I-back reacted to it on Saturday, coach Bo Pelini thought Ameer Abdullah might have sustained a serious injury. So did defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
“It spooked me,” he said. “He's a leader. You could feel a little bit of the air come out of the building when that happened. That's an extremely unique situation.”
But after doctors looked at it, they determined Abdullah merely “tweaked” his knee to a lesser degree than Rex Burkhead (on several occasions) did last year. Abdullah — whom Pelini said “fell wrong” in Saturday's scrimmage — could return before the end of spring practice, Pelini said, but his tone indicated there wasn't much need for the junior to do so.
“Let's face it: Ameer didn't need a lot of carries this spring,” Pelini said. “He didn't need a lot of work. It gives us an opportunity to let some of those younger guys move up and see what they have.”
Sophomore Imani Cross — whom offensive coordinator Tim Beck identified before spring as a player to watch — “has had a really good spring,” Pelini said. Once again Monday night, Cross was the last Husker player or coach off the field, working on catching the ball with a student assistant.
“We just have to understand that when one guy goes down, the next guy has to be ready,” Cross said. “That's the I-back position. But nothing's changed. We still have the same standards. We still understand that we want to be better, every single day. Nothing's changed. We support Ameer and hope he gets well soon.”
Redshirt freshman King Frazier — a walk-on who turned down a scholarship offer to Indiana — has also impressed coaches.
One Husker is out for spring: left guard Ryne Reeves. The sophomore has an injury around his ankle that Pelini said won't set the Crete native back long-term, but will keep him out of camp. Reeves is a backup swing guard behind right guard Spencer Long and left guard Jake Cotton. In Reeves' absence, junior Mike Moudy and sophomore Givens Price — who would move from tackle — will get more of a look at guard, offensive line coach John Garrison said.
“(Moudy) has the ability to play both (left and right) and be a flop guy,” Garrison said. “Givens Price is another guy we can move in from the tackle spot, having three tackles and another one (junior college recruit Matt Finnin) coming on the way. I think he's a guy who needs to get more involved and I think to do that, probably guard spot is his chance to do that.”
Several other Huskers — including wide receiver Brion Carnes, safety Harvey Jackson and defensive end Avery Moss — were without pads walking off the field Monday.
Walk-on lineman switches to defense
When Brodrick Nickens found out coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis wanted to meet with him last week, the senior immediately assumed he'd done something wrong.
Why else would Nebraska's top defensive minds want to talk privately with a walk-on offensive guard?
“But I was thinking, 'I haven't done anything,'” Nickens said. “There was no way I could be in trouble.”
He wasn't. Pelini and Papuchis wanted him on their side of the ball.
“I didn't even see it coming,” Nickens said.
But he's been completely on board since that Friday meeting. Nickens went from working with the second-team offense to taking reps with the 2s on defense, so unprepared for his new role that the coaches were telling him how to line up before the snap during practice later that day.
Nickens, out of Alliance, Neb., said he's been using his knowledge of offensive strategy to help with the transition. So far, he's played both tackle and end on the D-line. He did play defense in high school, but he's certainly not trying to over-complicate things at this point.
“I just come off (the football) as hard as I can,” Nickens said. “Just hit people. Just cause a little mayhem.”
— Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa