LINCOLN — Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell stayed quiet — at least with the media — throughout training camp. He made up for that time Monday by talking with reporters for roughly 20 minutes as he sat on a red training bench near cold tubs inside the Hawks Championship Center.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior from Boulder (Colo.) is still preaching positivity and talking up teammates — especial senior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, whom the Huskers are going to miss, Bell said, when he graduates, and quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has taken full command of NU's offense heading into his senior year.
Bell still has the same goal, too: To record the Huskers' first 1,000-yard receiving season. He fell 137 yards short last year.
“You have to have goals in life or — I don't want to say you're going nowhere — but if you don't have a goal, if you're not working toward anything, what are you doing?” Bell said. “For someone to play football without goals, it's more like a hobby, I'd say. It's not really what you do. Guys who are serious about this sport, treat it like it's their job. That's what I try to do. I want to win football games. As I want to do that for as long as I can.”
And Bell remains comfortable with sharing his goals. Players who don't “care too much what other people think.” So long as the goal is reasonable.
“A thousand yards, I believe in my mind, is doable,” Bell said.
Bell said he tried to work on every facet of his game in the offseason while being his “biggest critic.”
“I try to and just do my job and help everyone else do theirs,” Bell said. “We try and talk about being a good teammate and obviously that's making plays for the team and helping us win, but I think it goes deeper. Once you're a fourth/fifth-year guy, I think it's important to bring those young guys along.”
Look out for Enunwa
Look out for Enunwa this fall. Martinez is predicting a big year for the 6-foot-2, 225-pound receiver.
Enunwa ranked second on the team with 42 catches last season, establishing himself as a regular third down target and an effective blocker on perimeter running plays. But Martinez has seen even more improvement from Enunwa over the past few weeks.
“A lot of people are going to be shocked about how good Quincy's going to be this season,” Martinez said.
Ask sophomore receiver Tyler Wullenwaber and he'll agree, saying that Enunwa's arguably the team's most precise route-runner and one of its most reliable pass-catchers.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Enunwa had a different presence about him this month. “Something about Quincy this year in fall camp really stuck out, in everything he did,” Beck said.
Martinez, meanwhile, marveled on Monday about Enunwa's strength once he gets the ball in his hands. It always takes more than one defender to bring him down.
“You should have saw a run by him in the scrimmage,” Martinez said. “It was ridiculous.”
Gregory makes O-line better
Senior Brent Qvale has certainly noticed the instant impact of Randy Gregory, who's ability to rush the passer contributed to the offensive tackles' preseason improvement.
“All of a sudden he came off the edge and it was kind of a nice surprise. He has made us better as offensive linemen,” Qvale said.
And that was by design, said defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski.
The plan was to limit Gregory's role early in camp, allowing him to establish himself and showcase his athleticism. The next step? Revealing the full responsibilities of the defensive end position and getting Gregory comfortable with them.
“It slowed him down a little bit,” Kaczenski said. “So he had some individual meetings with myself and (defensive coordinator John Papuchis), and he got a better handle on the details of the job. We want Randy to be a three-down guy, not just a pass rusher. And I think he's done a good job heading in that direction. He's a lot stronger than people think.”
Depth will be used on D-line
No significant change to how Nebraska intends to use its defensive line in Saturday's season-opener. Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said NU will play “eight to ten guys” along the defensive line — ends Jason Ankrah, Greg McMullen, Randy Gregory and Avery Moss and four-to-six interior defensive tackles.
“We have to — especially with the tempo we'll see (from Wyoming),” Kaczenski said. And also, we need to get some guys on tape and see what they can do. Get them under the lights and see how they handle pressure situations. See how they handle the pressure situations. See how they handle the tempo — looking to the sideline, looking for the signals, getting the call, getting lined up — and see how they handle the challenges and adversity of playing big-time college football.”
During his weekly press conference, Pelini said the ability for young defenders — whether linemen or linebackers — to communicate will be under evaluation. Pelini prefers a system that tries to match personnel and the defensive call to what the offense is showing before the snap, which makes precise communication crucial.
“Especially in this day in age with the kids texting and all the things that go on, sometimes getting them to communicate and be loud, you feel like you need a broomstick to get them to talk,” Pelini said. “It's interesting but I think they've gotten better. I think their understanding of what we're doing right now is pretty good. I think it's always a work in progress. Especially on the defensive side of the football, it's like playing defense in basketball. The really good teams are out there communicating and talking and anticipating things. That's the level you want to get to.”
Kicking spot up for grabs
Competition continues at two key special teams spots: Place-kicker and long snapper. At kicker, senior Western Illinois transfer Pat Smith and sophomore Mauro Bondi may take their camp-long battle into the season. Some pundits presumed Smith's arrival meant he'd have an automatic inside track to winning the job, but Bondi has stayed in the race, according to coaches.
“We've been putting them out there in as stressful of situations as we can put them in and see how they react,” Pelini said. “Toward the end of the week, we'll look at the statistics and our feel as a coaching staff and make our decision of how we are going to go into the first game. Just because we go into the first game like that, the evaluation continues.”
At long snapper, freshman Gabe Miller — specifically given a scholarship to long snap, and only that — and sophomore walk-on long snapper Joe Rotherham give NU what Pelini called two good options.
Carter to see plenty of action
Nebraska assistant coach Barney Cotton said the Huskers plan on giving freshman tight end Cethan Carter “extensive action” Saturday, partly due to what the staff has seen from him in camp and the current situation at the position.
“He's really got good hands and he's really a good route-runner, and little by little he's become more physical as a blocker,” Cotton said.
NU only recently got senior Jake Long back from an injury and redshirt freshman Sam Cotton is doubtful for the season-opening game with Wyoming. What would the Huskers have done with somebody like Carter last year, when they headed into the season with seniors Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed and Conor McDermott, as well as Long and David Sutton?
“Ideally we maybe would have redshirted him,” Barney Cotton said. “But he would have been good enough to play last year, just like he's good enough to play this year.”
Nickel fun for Evans
Nebraska will see a spread offense to start the season against Wyoming, and enough more in coming weeks that Ciante Evans often will be filling the nickel role that suits him so well.
The senior doesn't necessarily have any strong preference to nickel or cornerback, but admits the nickel comes with more responsibilities — run-stopping, blitz package, coverage, etc.
“In nickel you get to do a lot more things,” he said. “You get to show what you can do in the run game and the pass game. So it's a fun experience for me.”
Nickel and dime packages will put more defensive backs and fewer linebackers on the field, and that's OK with NU assistant coach Terry Joseph because of the depth, versatility and experience the Huskers have in the secondary.
It just will make some of his Saturdays more hectic.
“As a coach, you're excited about having so many guys out there,” Joseph said. “I think the toughest thing for me is maybe having five or six guys out there and being like an offensive line coach and trying to watch them all at the same time.”
While Evans is entrenched at the nickel spot, both Joseph and head coach Bo Pelini declined to say Monday who might play the dime position when it's utilized.
Pelini said redshirt freshman tight end Sam Cotton is “doubtful” for Saturday's game, but senior tight end Jake Long — who missed all of training camp with an undisclosed injury — will play and other significant contributors should be held out ... Pelini said he had concerns about his linebackers until the last two weeks, when players such as Michael Rose, David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Courtney Love and Josh Banderas made strides ... The defensive backs were the last position group off the field Monday night by 20 minutes, as assistant coach Terry Joseph took them through a final set of pointers ... Defensive coordinator John Papuchis' wife, Billie, baked cookies for the team and two of Papuchis' children handed one to each player as he walked off the field.
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