LINCOLN — Some position battles at Nebraska may extend beyond preseason practice and into the regular season, coach Bo Pelini said Saturday.
And that's all right with him. He said he thinks the Huskers have more potential contributors on their roster than ever in his six years at Nebraska.
“There's a lot of guys that have earned playing time out there,” Pelini said after Saturday's practice, the 15th of the month. “Our job (is) to play a lot of guys, and see where guys are.”
The way Pelini put it Saturday, even some presumed starters on a veteran offense might get pushed by an improving second team in preparations for the Aug. 31 opener in Lincoln against Wyoming. Offensive line, especially, he said. Backups at receiver and running back have drawn compliments all preseason, as well.
Among the ongoing battles:
>> Without projected starter Jake Long practicing at tight end, several young Huskers have worked with the top unit. Long's getting healthy again, but coaches said freshman Cethan Carter, sophomore David Sutton and redshirt freshman Trey Foster are all getting better.
>> Aside from junior Zaire Anderson, none of the linebackers seem to have secured a place with the No. 1 defense. The continued positive reviews for Josh Banderas indicate that the freshman out of Lincoln Southwest is pushing sophomore David Santos at middle linebacker. Freshman Nate Gerry has made an impact after joining the group in the past week. But redshirt freshman Jared Afalava has a chance to emerge on the strongside.
>> Even with a season-ending knee injury to defensive tackle Kevin Williams, Nebraska appears to have enough defensive linemen to create a two-deep rotation. But the starting tackle spot next to Thad Randle looks wide open. Senior Brodrick Nickens and sophomore Aaron Curry are in the mix along with redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine and freshmen Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice.
>> Another battle is taking place at defensive end opposite senior Jason Ankrah. Contenders include sophomore newcomer Randy Gregory and redshirt freshmen Avery Moss and Greg McMullen.
>> Juniors Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson entered camp as the favorites to start at safety. But veteran Andrew Green and promising sophomore Charles Jackson appear in the mix, too.
>> Senior Mo Seisay, sophomore Jonathan Rose and sophomore Daniel Davie are trying to keep pace with top cornerbacks Josh Mitchell and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Ambiguity regarding players' roles isn't new for Pelini. The first depth chart typically isn't released until hours before the first game. Pelini is often reluctant to name starters before then, too.
His primary approach to player development has always hinged on creating competition. Never letting the first-teamers get comfortable, because their jobs are always on the line. Continually fueling the reserves by advertising the possibility of promotion.
It seems, though, that this year's team has more legitimate options.
“We're deeper than we have been probably across the board,” Pelini said.
Which means the next few weeks are important.
“We've got to handle that well,” Pelini said. “And we've got to figure out who fits best. See a lot of guys play and see who can do it when the lights come on.”
Pelini said the extended competition won't delay Nebraska's preparation for Wyoming. Installation of the game plan will begin toward the end of next week.
Twelve more practices are scheduled between now and the season opener. Fall semester classes begin Aug. 26.
“I'm liking the direction this football team's heading right now, but we've got a lot of work out ahead of us,” Pelini said. “We're not game-ready yet. Shouldn't be. But I'm seeing a lot of progress in a lot of areas.”