The logjam at defensive tackle continued as Nebraska moved past the midpoint of training camp. Though it appears senior Thad Randle has become the most dependable option — “we could feel pretty solid that he's going to be lining up for us on Saturday,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said — several more are moving between the No. 1 and No. 2 units vying for playing time.
Senior walk-on Brodrick Nickens, sophomores Kevin Williams and Aaron Curry, redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine and true freshmen Kevin Maurice and Maliek Collins are the players in the mix.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Nickens, an Alliance native, is the outlier, a converted offensive lineman who just started playing tackle in the spring. Papuchis said Nickens is a “physical guy” who can “push the pocket” as a pass rusher.
“He's strong and he eats space in the middle,” Papuchis said.
Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski had even stronger praise.
“He's a guy that's really put the time in,” Kaczenski said. “He's doing more than what's required. He's finding any opportunity he can, talking with (Papuchis) and bouncing things off Bo (Pelini) and studying tape. That's the only way you're going to get better. He's done a real good job for us and he's going to have to play.”
At defensive end, sophomore Randy Gregory and redshirt freshman Greg McMullen again walked off the field not wearing pads. Both Papuchis and Kaczenski declined to comment on injuries, deferring to Pelini. On Tuesday, Pelini said there were no serious injuries aside from a season-ending injury to Gretna walk-on tight end Jared Blum. Kaczenski echoed Pelini's comment when he said no linemen were seriously hurt in camp.
“We've got some guys that are nicked up,” Kaczenski said. “They've got an obligation to get back. But the train's moving. We can't move the game back.”
Young I-backs on course
True freshman I-backs Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor seem to still be on course to play this year. Asked if the four-star recruits would play if NU had a game Thursday, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said “absolutely.”
“They're kinda hard to describe them, but they bring energy,” Beck said. “They run hard. They bring a lot of energy. They're different styles of runners, but they're both extremely effective.”
Beck said both players also pass block well. Taylor's further along than Newby, Beck said, because Taylor did more of it in high school.
“Assignment-wise, there's still some mistakes,” Beck said. “Sometimes, when he makes a mistake, is he a bad pass-blocker or did he make a mistake and block the wrong guy. It's kinda hard to tell. They're not afraid — they stick their face in there.”
Beck said Taylor's and Newby's work ethic has been impressive, and worthy of the standard set by junior starter Ameer Abdullah, who's earned a reputation as a hard worker.
“They work out hard, they play hard and they run hard,” Beck said.
Running backs coach Ron Brown said Abdullah has helped the two newcomers much as Rex Burkhead did for Abdullah, Aaron Green and Braylon Heard two years ago.
“It's his maturity,” Brown said. “He's got a lot of Rex in him. He's a trustworthy guy, he's a great leader, he's a great teammate. He knows how to have fun with them (but) he knows how to be firm with them. The ruboff from Ameer Abdullah and (fullback) C.J. Zimmerer has been great.”
Abdullah said his best piece of advice for the freshmen is to learn everything they can and understand more than just what they have to do. That requires some time, effort and study.
And then just carry yourself the right way.
“It's hard to be patient because you want to play, but you've got to be humble as well,” Abdullah said. “And that's what those guys have been. That's something I told them, that humility takes you a long way.”
Stressing ball security
Beck said he's involved the offensive linemen and the defense in his effort to improve the skill players' ball security. If any Husker player sees an offensive player not securing the ball well enough, their job is to tell the ball carrier about it right then and there.
Beck said the added scrutiny from offensive linemen has an effect.
“They're the ones grunting, making the holes for them and doing the dirty hard work,” Beck said. “They hate to see the ball on the ground.”
Banderas attracts notice
Another freshman linebacker on the move is Lincoln Southwest grad Josh Banderas. He's working as the No. 2 Mike linebacker behind David Santos. Michael Rose, who had been in the middle, slid over to Will linebacker and plays behind Zaire Anderson.
“Josh still has a lot of work to do — he's young guy, he's been here for 10 days — but I think he's going to push to get some playing time if he continues on this track,” Papuchis said of Banderas. “He comes in with an edge and he knows what this program is all about. I think he takes a lot of pride in being part of it — not necessarily any more than anyone else — but I know Josh is awfully excited to be a part of this program.”
Santos has “brought Josh along,” said linebackers coach Ross Els.
“Josh is a heckuva athlete and he's fundamentally a very, very good linebacker,” Els said. “You don't have to change a whole lot of technique with him. He's just got to get his reads a little bit faster.”
Ex-jucos show promise
Nebraska has anything but a spotless record with junior-college transfers thriving on the offensive line over the past decade, so it's worth watching Matt Finnin and Chongo Kondolo through fall camp.
So far, NU assistant coach John Garrison said, the Huskers like what they're getting from the pair.
“There's a learning curve, depending on where they came from and what scheme they ran,” Garrison said. “But we wouldn't bring them in unless we thought they could come in and compete, and all signs kind of point to that direction with these two.”
Finnin, from College of DuPage (Ill.), is trying to join the tackle rotation with seniors Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez. Kondolo, from Fresno City College (Calif.), has been working at both guard and center, but also has the option of being redshirted.
Also with Kondolo behind No. 1 guards Spencer Long and Jake Cotton are Ryne Reeves, Mike Moudy and maybe Givens Price. Garrison also mentioned Zach Sterup at tackle.
“You've got a lot of pieces,” Garrison said. “It's just where they fit and putting it all together.”
Moss hearing now Oct. 2
A Lancaster County Court judge Thursday rescheduled a motion-to-suppress evidence hearing for NU defensive end Avery Moss for Oct. 2.
The Husker redshirt freshman has been charged with a count of public indecency and disturbing the peace for allegedly twice exposing himself to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln female convenience store worker in December 2012. Moss is also charged with failure to appear for a January 2013 hearing on the matter.
Moss' lawyer, Brad Roth, filed the motion to suppress Moss' statements to UNL police. The motion claims police didn't advise Moss of Miranda rights.
At Big Ten media days, Pelini said Moss “is in good shape” with the Husker football program. Moss has practiced daily during training camp.