Nebraska's youth-laden defense evidently took a step forward Monday.

"We could've beaten an elementary school this time," said defensive coordinator John Papuchis, referring to Husker head coach Bo Pelini's sharp criticism of the defense following Saturday's practice.

Pelini had said, "You could have put a grade-school offense out there against our defense and they would have been fine."

Pelini was much more upbeat Monday, the sixth day of spring practice, in part because Nebraska apparently dodged disaster on the injury front.

Running back Ameer Abdullah, the team's leading returning rusher, injured a knee Saturday. However, Pelini said Monday the injury isn't serious.

"He tweaked his knee a little bit, nothing big," the coach said. "He'll be back in a couple weeks full-go.

"He'll be back in time for part of spring. Whether we let him do that, I don't know. It gave us a little bit of a scare, but not a big deal."

Abdullah, a junior, rushed for 1,137 yards last season. His loss would have been, well, Husker fans don't even want to think about it. They suffered enough last season watching the plight of running back Rex Burkhead, who was slowed for most of his senior year by a sprained ligament in his left knee.

Pelini said Abdullah's injury is "kind of like Rex's, but to a lesser degree."

Abdullah "just kind of fell wrong," the coach said. "It scared me a little because of his reaction."

Nebraska has two more practices this week -- Wednesday and Thursday -- before taking 10 days off for spring break. The Huskers will resume practice March 25 in advance of the April 6 Red-White Spring Game.

Husker coaches entered spring drills intent on lightening Abdullah's load, mindful of his importance to the team. In addition to losing Burkhead to graduation, NU's backfield took a hit in January when Braylon Heard left the team.

Even with Abdullah in the fold, sophomore Imani Cross had been getting a long look from coaches this spring.

"Imani's really having a good spring so far," Pelini said. "Actually, King Frazier's doing some really good things."

Frazier, a redshirt freshman from Lee's Summit, Mo., walked on at Nebraska after declining scholarship offers from Indiana, North Dakota and North Dakota State, according to

Abdullah's injury "gives us a chance to look at some other backs," Pelini said. "Let's face it, Ameer didn't need a lot of carries this spring. If he's going to get tweaked and miss a couple days, now's the time."

Meanwhile, sophomore offensive lineman Ryne Reeves of Crete will miss the rest of spring with an injury "down around his ankle, on his leg bone," Pelini said. "It's not going to be anything long-term. He's going to be back (for fall camp)."

Junior safety Harvey Jackson and redshirt freshman defensive end Avery Moss missed Monday's practice, apparently with injuries.

Pelini, after his harsh words Saturday, said his team "made a lot of progress" Monday.

Papuchis agreed.

"The reality is, we're going to have some ups and downs," he said. "We want to limit the downs. But, for a variety of reasons, there were situations in practice Saturday when there were nine freshmen and sophomores running with the (first string).

"The upside is, I think they're talented players. Athletically, this is probably the fastest group we've had since we've been here. The down side is, there is some inexperience.

"That doesn't mean we're going to change our standard in terms of how we expect to practice and execute."

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or