A confident Marcus Newby is an explosive, playmaking Marcus Newby.
That’s what teammate Josh Mitchell has discovered about the redshirt freshman linebacker during spring practices.
“That was the only thing we had to get with him, was just get his confidence up, because before, he wasn’t playing with much confidence,” said Mitchell, a starting senior cornerback.
“Now that it’s up, he can play like himself. He’s one of the better athletes out here, so you put his skill set on the field and he’s confident, there’s really not too many people on the field who can stop him.”
That’s why coaches have been giving the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Newby reps as a rusher off the edge during spring practice. Newby has looked pretty dynamic in the role, twice getting to the quarterback during Monday's practice from that position.
Husker coach Bo Pelini has said Newby could potentially be used as a third-down rusher, offering a comparison to what 215-pound Demorrio Williams provided when Pelini was NU's defensive coordinator in 2003.
“He’s coming off the edge faster than anybody else, and he’s got the strength to bull rush, too,” Mitchell said. “When you have someone come off the edge fast, especially pairing up with a guy like Randy (Gregory), it makes it easier on the linebackers and the secondary.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Vincent Valentine said the way Newby uses his hands is also impressive.
“He actually has real good hands — a real good inside move," Valentine said. "He got a couple sacks during the two-minute, move-the-ball drill. He’s working it.”
And when lined up opposite Gregory, Nebraska's defense is as fast as it can possibly be, says defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
It's also a good way to get Newby on the field in a year when there's quite a crowd at linebacker.
"He's probably a year away from being able to truly help us out at 'backer," Papuchis said. "It's just a lot to learn in a short amount of time. But there's no reason not to have a guy like that on the field somewhere. So we're trying to get our best athletes on the field and get as fast as we can, especially in those pass situations."
* TURNER HEATS UP: Senior receiver Jamal Turner is in a tight battle with sophomore Jordan Westerkamp for the starting slot position.
After practicing some at quarterback early this spring, Turner has helped his cause at receiver in recent practices, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.
The 6-1, 190-pound Turner flashed big-play ability Monday, catching a couple of passes in stride, including one from Ryker Fyfe that very well might have been a 75-yard touchdown in a game. A whistle was blown when a defender got a hand on Turner at about the 40-yard line.
“The last week or so, he’s had real good practices,” Beck said. “We’re able to reward him and get him a little more time with the 1s.”
Westerkamp is playing well, too, according to the coach. “We’re going to have to have depth."
* BALL SECURITY: Beck likes the consistency that's starting to develop with the offense.
As much as anything, he's proud that his unit has avoided the turnover bug during two key tests this spring.
"In those two big scrimmages, we've had 200-some plays and one turnover," Beck said.
The turnover, it should be noted, came on a pass by the fourth-string quarterback.
He also likes the way Nebraska's O-line has held tough against a D-line that is pretty salty when its ears are pinned back. "We see a lot of things from our defense, and for a young offensive line, until today -- today I think we got a little bit rattled -- they hadn't been rattled."
Rattled? Third-and-long against this defense and its pass rush will do that to you, Beck says. "It's been hard, man. Whew. It's been hard."
* DEPTH FUELS INTENSITY: Nebraska’s improved offensive line depth has translated into heated competition, with players doing all they can to gain an edge, Beck said.
“They’re studying their playbooks, they’re attentive in meetings, they work hard in practice. You see a lot of improvement across the board — the first through third group."
Transfer Alex Lewis, the projected starter at left tackle, has brought experience and physicality to the group, Beck said.
And such depth is important, because Monday the Huskers had three O-linemen -- David Knevel, Zach Hannon and Ryne Reeves -- out with ankle injuries.
Mike Moudy also is out this spring, recovering from a shoulder injury. While Moudy sits, a good battle is waging at right guard, with Chongo Kondolo and Givens Price splitting reps with the top unit Monday.
* BETTER ON FILM: Nebraska defensive tackle Vincent Valentine was disappointed as he left the field after Saturday's 100-play scrimmage.
The offense moved the ball well at times against the first-team defense. But after watching film of the practice, Valentine felt much better.
“We were giving a lot of effort,” he said Monday. “It was just a couple technique things. And a lot of big plays. We’d get to third down, and they’d get a big play — because of a technique thing or a busted (coverage) or something like that.”
Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski evidently isn’t panicking.
“I talked to Kaz, and he felt the D-line had a better scrimmage than he (originally) thought we did,” Valentine said.
* TRANSFORMATION: The difference between Valentine this spring and last?
"Night and day," Papuchis said. "And I don't know that it's as much that he's in that much better shape as I think he understands the expectations and what it takes to be successful now.
"Last spring, I think he was a guy who just didn't quite get how hard playing college football can be. After going through the spring and the whole season, I think he gets the type of effort and focus that you need to bring on a daily basis."
* NICE HANDS: Sophomore tight end Cethan Carter had the day's best catch, when he one-handed about a 40-yard pass from Tommy Armstrong. What made the catch even more impressive was that it came in tight coverage against a linebacker.
* QB TRACKING: Fyfe had another good day and continues to make a case to be the backup QB. The 6-2, 210-pound walk-on not only had a couple real nice throws, but also showed nifty footwork on a first-down run.
* THIS AND THAT: As the quotes show, Beck and Papuchis met with the media Monday, the first post-practice interviews from any assistant coaches this spring. ... Athletic director Shawn Eichorst was among the spectators at Monday's practice.
— Brian Christopherson, Steven M. Sipple and Brian Rosenthal