Andrew Rodriguez, one of the seniors on a veteran Nebraska offensive line, said Thursday the linemen take as a challenge the compliments being thrown their way of late.
Among the compliments is quarterback Taylor Martinez's assessment that the line is the offense's strength.
"We really just look at it as a challenge ahead of us," said Rodriguez, a tackle from Aurora. "We need to mold together and carry this team. Because, if you think about it, we have the most guys as a unit on the offense.
"We have to be leaders out there."
The line features returning senior starters in guard Spencer Long and tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale. Seniors Cole Pensick (center) and Rodriguez also have extensive experience.
Rodriguez played in every game last season, serving as the third tackle in the regular rotation.
The line helped Nebraska's offense rank 26th nationally in average yards per game (460.8) and 28th in points (34.8). But the ride wasn't always smooth, especially when NU faced teams with athletic edge rushers.
"We faced challenges last season," Rodriguez said. "But as practices go and time goes, we get more cohesive and bond as a unit."
Martinez's experience -- he is in his fourth season as a starter -- obviously helps matters.
"He's calm and collected," Rodriguez said. "He's patient and he's doing what he has to do."
* GREGORY GETTING READY: Just four practices into preseason camp, it's become clear defensive end Randy Gregory will be a primary storyline in the Husker camp as August progresses.
How does Nebraska plan to bring along the 6-foot-6, 255-pound junior-college transfer?
"Quickly," said defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
He wasn't kidding.
Gregory was widely regarded as the nation's top junior-college defensive end prospect last year, even though he missed Arizona Western's entire 2012 season with a broken leg.
"There's really no time to waste," Papuchis said. "Every day counts for him, whether it's in the meeting room or on the practice field. Whether it's me or coach (Rick) Kaczenski or coach (Bo) Pelini meeting with him one-on-one to catch him up to speed, that's what we have to get done.
"We'll find a way to get it done over the next few weeks. But time will be a factor."
* RETURN DUTIES: Assistant coach Ross Els said junior Jamal Turner has a "head up" early in camp on punt return duties, mostly because he's been secure at catching the football -- a problem for Nebraska last season.
"He came in at the end of the year and did a great job," said Els, who oversees Nebraska's special teams.
Turner returned six punts last season, for 34 yards total.
Els said Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell also are candidates on punt or kickoff returns, and that freshmen Terrell Newby and Alonzo Moore, a redshirt, could also get looks on return teams.
“There’s quite a bit of good speed back there,” Els said.
* STIFF COMPETITION: Senior Thad Randle is expected to hold down one of the interior defensive tackle positions. He has played well so far in camp, Papuchis said.
"Behind him, I think there is a group of guys battling to see who's going to line up in the spot next to him," the coach said.
Papuchis mentioned, in order, sophomores Aaron Curry and Kevin Williams, redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine, true freshmen Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice, and senior Brodrick Nickens, who switched to defensive line in the spring after playing offensive line.
Papuchis said he's determined to keep an open mind as the competition continues.
* COLLINS IMPRESSES: Maliek Collins of Kansas City, Mo., returned after missing Tuesday's practice because of a personal issue. He quickly has made an impression.
"Maliek is a guy I believe will have a chance to impact our team pretty significantly as a true freshman," said Papuchis, noting the 6-2, 285-pound Collins' toughness and desire.
"He's also extremely gifted athletically. I think his wrestling background helps him. I think he has a great power base. He's further ahead than most (freshman) defensive linemen that we've had an opportunity to have in camp. But he still has a long way to go."