LINCOLN — Nebraska defensive tackle Aaron Curry doesn't want to waste a moment. He did enough of that as a freshman.
These days, Curry said, he's trying his best to keep his mind plugged into the game. Especially during preseason practice — when there's no class, no upcoming exam, no homework. Campus is just starting to stir.
He relaxes at home by running plays through his head, or glancing at some game film, or flipping through the playbook. That's the goal, anyway.
“When you have free time, just be in your books,” Curry said. “Just be strictly football. Don't worry about anything else.”
That's Curry speaking from experience. He sees the bigger picture now.
For a sophomore who now seems to grasp exactly what the coaches are asking of him as he competes with at least five others for a starting job, the urgency to improve has been heightened for months now.
“I grew up a lot,” Curry said. “When I get that free time, I'm just trying to find a way to get myself better.”
The commitment does show up on the practice field, according to the Nebraska staff. The coaches want more, though.
Coach Bo Pelini said he's seen “flashes” of productivity from Curry. But defensive coordinator John Papuchis didn't say Thursday that Curry has separated himself yet. Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski indicated that Curry's progressing positively, but no drastic jump just yet.
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Curry is well aware of their reviews. That's why he's so focused on improving, every chance he gets.
“I just try to come out every day in practice and show the coaches that I do have that potential to be on the field — and have them trust me to be on the field and play every down, or whatever you need,” Curry said. “It's my mindset.”
Listed at 280 pounds last fall, Curry added about 12 more during the offseason, Kaczenski said.
“He looks like a completely different person,” Kaczenski said, noting that Curry trimmed body fat while adding more muscle.
Curry seems to be carrying himself with confidence because of it.
He does have some in-game experience to fall back on, though it was initially believed he would contribute more than he ultimately did last season. He played in the first four games before injuries slowed his progression while he admittedly struggled to understand the playbook.
But Curry's playing faster now that he comprehends how to apply certain concepts on the fly, Kaczenski said.
“I think he's starting to figure out what it takes to be successful,” Kaczenski said. “'If I learn exactly what I'm supposed to be doing, I could play a little bit faster, I can study my target a little bit more, I can see the backfield sets, I can anticipate some things.'”
Papuchis mentioned Curry on Thursday as a player who could earn the other top defensive tackle spot next to projected starter Thad Randle. But he added that Nebraska could rely on a “group effort” to fill the role alongside Randle.
Senior Brodrick Nickens, sophomore Kevin Williams, redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine, freshman Maliek Collins and freshman Kevin Maurice are taking practice reps with Curry on the first and second teams.
All could be part of the rotation, Papuchis said.
Curry's fine with that, if it's what the coaches decide. But for the next couple of weeks, he'll embrace the competition. “Everybody's going hard, trying to do their best,” he said.