Sophomore Josh Banderas received an interesting phone call right after the Huskers broke camp March 20 for spring break.
It was one of Nebraska’s assistant coaches telling him that, when practice resumed, he was going to begin playing more middle linebacker in the base defense.
“They said, ‘We don’t know if it’s going to be for a day, for a week. … Just kind of study it and we’ll see how it goes the last part of spring ball,’” Banderas said Wednesday.
The Lincoln Southwest graduate started at middle linebacker last season in three nonconference games before moving into a reserve role. Through the first half of this spring, he had been playing BUCK linebacker in the base defense and rotating in at middle linebacker in the nickel package.
Fellow sophomore Michael Rose also plays middle linebacker in the base defense.
A BUCK linebacker generally heads to the sideline in the nickel defense, which is used against spread offenses.
“BUCK is a little easier to know and get used to,” Banderas said. “I pretty much got the gist of that. So it’s nice to know another position and kind of re-visit what I already knew (from last season).”
As the middle linebacker, he makes the calls, much like a quarterback.
“I like that aspect of it,” he said.
Banderas has been working with the No. 1 defense this week. Wednesday, he joined Zaire Anderson as the two linebackers in Nebraska's top-unit nickel package.
But the linebacker competition is ongoing, with coaches mixing and matching this spring. Rose said spring is the time for such experimentation.
"The biggest benefit is working with different guys and being able to see how one guy communicates compared to another guy," Rose said. "Last year we had so many different rotations at linebacker, it was confusing at times. … But (this year), we have a lot of versatility in the room, a lot of guys who can do different things. That's going to pay off big time."
* PRAISE FOR NEWBY: Banderas said fans at the Red-White Spring Game on April 12 will enjoy watching the young and unproven players.
He singled out outside linebacker Marcus Newby, a redshirt freshman from North Potomac, Md.
“I mean, the kid can jump out of the building and is freaky athletic,” Banderas said. “I think people are going to be really, really excited to see what all the youth brings to the defense.”
Given Newby's athleticism, it makes sense coaches are using the spring to test him in different roles.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Newby and 6-1, 240-pound Courtney Love, also a redshirt freshman linebacker, have seen a few snaps at rush end in recent practices. Newby has appeared suited for the role, too, beating the offensive tackle across from him on multiple occasions during a one-on-one drill Wednesday.
* D-LINE DOMINANCE: Randy Gregory said Husker defensive linemen were determined to set the tone during Wednesday's practice.
The defensive line was nasty throughout. Gregory. Vincent Valentine. Maliek Collins. Greg McMullen. All played downhill. All took their turn getting to the quarterback, leading to frustration from some offensive linemen.
Gregory has had some good battles with left tackle Alex Lewis this spring, but nobody could stop the junior defensive end Wednesday. He showed the moves and speed that made him an All-Big Ten player a season ago.
It was the defense's best practice of the spring, Gregory thinks. He also believes going against Lewis each day is making both of them better.
"It's nothing personal or anything like that," Gregory said. "I think a lot of people think it's that, and it's not. We talk every day in the locker room, and he's a great guy."
Valentine looked about as dominant as Gregory, driving center Mark Pelini 5 yards back during one matchup in individual drills. Collins said the front four is only getting better as it continues to gain chemistry.
"We're just getting accustomed to each other on the D-line, and as a defense period, just how each other plays," Collins said.
* CORNER BATTLE: Junior Jonathan Rose has formed a strong connection with newcomer Byerson Cockrell, which is more interesting when you consider they're both fighting for the same cornerback spot.
"I see kind of a similarity between myself and him," Rose said. "We're both long, athletic guys, pretty fast. And I like the competition. Competition drives everybody to be their best."
There's another reason the two have connected. Cockrell comes from Mississippi. Rose comes from Alabama. Teammates like to jokingly compare their accents.
"Two Southern guys fighting for the same position," Rose said with a smile. "It gets kind of hectic some times, but we're friends at the end of the day. But when we're out here, we're both competing as hard as we can."
* INJURY UPDATE: The offensive line took its lumps figuratively and literally, with Ryne Reeves and Zach Hannon both suffering ankle injuries. Bo Pelini said both are day-to-day.
Other players who remained out included safety Corey Cooper (turf toe), defensive end A.J. Natter (knee) and safety Drake Martinez (illness). Defensive end Joe Keels, who missed Monday's practice, returned to action.
* GERRY IMPRESSIVE: While Cooper is out, Nathan Gerry and LeRoy Alexander continue to make the most of his absence. Gerry was especially tough to miss, energetic throughout. He also intercepted a pass by securing the ball between his legs after great pressure from Gregory forced an errant throw.
* ON THE MONEY: It wasn't a big highlight day for the offense, but there were a couple throws that stood out. Johnny Stanton may have made the best one when he rolled to his right and threw a laser to Brandon Reilly for a completion.
Tommy Armstrong also connected with Sam Burtch on a 50-yard pass play to the goal line. Burtch continues to put together an impressive spring that has had him working with the 1s.
* TV TALK: The Spring Game will be televised by NET (channel 12) on tape delay at 2 p.m. April 13, and will repeat at 10:30 p.m. April 14. BTN will show the game April 12 at 7 p.m. on tape delay.