There’s plenty of tough calls for coaches to make in the final days before an opener, but as tough as any can be deciding which true freshmen are playing and which ones are redshirting.
“Any freshman that comes in, there’s a learning curve, there’s physical development, and sometimes you have to play a guy out of necessity,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said after Thursday’s practice. “Other times you have a guy who you look at and say, ‘Yeah, he could play now, but how much could he benefit down the line?'
“What you don’t want to do is end up saying after four years, both as a player and a coach, is, ‘God, I wish I would have had that fifth year.’ So you have to balance that whole thing because it’s not just about us and our program. Because it’s about that kid individually and what’s in his best interest.”
Perhaps the best current example of that discussion involves true freshman wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who Pelini said has shown he could help right away.
But with Nebraska owning so much depth at the receiver position, it might not be worth it for the Huskers to play the 6-foot, 200-pound Westerkamp this year.
“Like I talked to him, ‘You have to balance what he could do now and how many snaps he would get and what that fifth year would mean to him personally down the road,’” Pelini said. “A guy like Jordan, no decision’s been made yet. We’ll see how the next couple weeks go and how it plays out.”
Pelini said Westerkamp’s situation compares with that of wide receiver Taariq Allen last year. Allen redshirted last season but is expected to play in his first game Saturday.
“I can tell you this, Taariq probably could have helped us last year at some times,” Pelini said. “But he’s a heckuva lot more prepared physically, mentally, maturitywise right now. So it’s a balancing act that goes on. One thing that I think that we do well is we communicate with these guys.
“I think we’re all on the same page as what’s the best. It’s not something where I just dictate. I say, ‘Are you on board with this?’ If a kid doesn’t want to redshirt, we’re not going to redshirt him. We’ll find ways to use him on special teams and special situations and packages. But most of them get it.”
* Called to action: Pelini gave the final word on the true freshmen he definitely expects to play Saturday, naming off running back Imani Cross and defensive linemen Avery Moss and Aaron Curry.
The fast progress of the 6-foot-2, 260-pound end Moss somewhat surprised Pelini given Moss doesn’t have a lengthy football background, giving a good share of his attention to basketball in high school.
“I think he’s going to be special,” Pelini said. “I think he’s going to be a heckuva football player in time.”
* That’s a wrap: The Huskers finished their last fall practice Thursday before the serious stuff begins Saturday when Southern Miss comes to town.
Pelini said a lot was thrown at his players in recent days as they prepare for the unknown against a Golden Eagles team with a new coaching staff.
“They reacted well to it,” said the Husker coach. “(Southern Miss is) going to do some things, I’m sure, that’s going to take some adjusting to, but as long as (players) have a baseline and something to apply their roles to, we’ll be fine. At the end of the day, it’s about playing hard, finding the football and playing with an attitude. I think our guys understand that.”
Another thing Pelini feels good about: His team enters the opener in good health. He ruled no one out of Saturday’s game.
* Jackson gets the nod: Senior Justin Jackson will get the start at center, Pelini confirmed.
It’s a monumental accomplishment for the Norris grad who was on the defensive line at the end of last fall.
Pelini said he feels good about his line heading into the opener, but noted that they’re going to have to prove themselves when it counts.
“It’s one thing about them performing in practice. It’s how they’re going to be performing in front of 85,000 people,” he said. “We’ll see how that goes. But we have a lot of guys that have gotten reps that I think are prepared, and we’re not scared to go to.”
* Dime options: Because of the uncertainty in what Southern Miss will do offensively, Pelini said he wasn’t sure how much he will use all three linebackers or if Nebraska will be in more nickel and dime defenses.
“Honestly, I really don’t know,” he said. “I have no idea what we’re going to see.”
If Nebraska does call on a dime defense, Pelini said there are “a lot of options there,” including everyone from newcomer Zaire Anderson to sophomore Corey Cooper to senior Jase Dean.