Els talks linebackers, special teams updates

2013-08-22T14:42:00Z 2013-08-22T15:53:34Z Els talks linebackers, special teams updatesBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON JournalStar.com

Nine days until go time.

Our guys at HuskerExtra will have more updates tonight after practice.

In the meantime, here's a few kernels from what special teams/linebackers coach Ross Els had to say last night on the Husker Sports Network with Jeff Culhane.

* Els highlighted sophomore David Santos as the peer leader in his room.

"There is a lot of youth in the room and when things start getting a little too loose for David, and maybe a little too jovial, or maybe a little bit lack of focus or a little bit too many errors, that guy will step up and say, 'Guys, you don't understand what it's going to be like on gameday, trust me.' And they listen to him," Els said. "Really been proud of the way he's taken over a leadership role."

Josh Banderas is impressing at the MIKE, but in listening to Els, Santos is still clearly the top guy there right now.

* About Nathan Gerry's move to linebacker, Els said: "We're putting him in a lot of tough situations to see what he can handle and he's responded well."

Els said he's been impressed but not surprised with Gerry's progression throughout fall camp.

"He's what we wanted," Els said. "And that burst he has ... I never saw him run in track, but I saw his times. His starts must have been unbelievable. He can just accelerate like crazy and that's really helping him."

* About Banderas: "Josh will play for us this year, which for a true freshman to come in and play more of an inside linebacker position is pretty impressive. ... He's really picking things up well. Just getting used to the speed of the game. He and Nathan both will do things for us special teams-wise also. The future looks pretty good here. We just got to get these guys ready to play -- for injuries, or maybe they're the best -- for every single down."

* Els said if his players can take the mental focus they've had in practice to game Saturdays, they'll be fine.

But he also knows the challenge in that, particularly for young players.

"What we keep preaching to them is, 'Hey, when you go out there for warmups, quit looking around.' It's going to be different. With Banderas, yeah, Seacrest Field and Memorial Stadium aren't too far away, but it's going to be a whole different atmosphere. Quit looking at the crowd. Play it like another practice ... because you're practicing well enough to perform well in a game."

* Courtney Love was out early in fall camp with a hamstring injury, Els said. Coaches have been easing him back into the mix in recent days.

* Els said Jamal Turner will probably be the punt returner. Terrell Newby and Ameer Abdullah will also get work.

"We've drilled that more than probably anything we've done special-teams-wise based on what happened last year," he said.

The coach said Turner has been very comfortable in the role in camp.

Els lists Abdullah, Turner, Kenny Bell and Newby as possible kick returners.

* Els said special teams is too important to not let Abdullah get some action as a returnman.

"He likes to do it, especially the kickoff returns. He enjoys those kind of things. Plus Imani Cross is going to be playing running back for us, Newby, Adam Taylor, King Frazier. ... We're very deep at running back. I don't think it's going to be a one running back (playing) every single down like Le'Veon Bell or something like that Michigan State. We're going to roll guys in which will keep Ameer fresh if we want to use him as a returner."

* As expected, redshirt freshman Sam Foltz will be the guy at punter, Els said.

"He's a powerful leg guy that has really improved his technique since the spring. You're going to see some boomers every once in a while."

* Els called the kicking battle between Mauro Bondi and Pat Smith "dead even."

"We chart everything they do," Els said. "We're trying to put them in pressure situations as much as we can."

Sometimes, coaches will have the kickers attempt a kick in the middle of practice. If the kick is good, the defense has to do a few pushups. If it misses, the offense has to knock out a few. It's a way of holding the kicker accountable.

Of course, trying to win a job is no doubt pressure enough.

"We need about another week to get that thing evaluated and see who we want to put in there."

* This has been an important week of practices for the Huskers because it's the last week where players can completely focus on football without classes, which start Monday.

The start of classes next week will present a challenge, especially with young players adjusting to taking everything on at once.

"Early in the week they're going to feel like they're overwhelmed a little bit because we have been spending so much time with football in camp," Els said. "Then all of a sudden now our time with them is a little bit limited. They have other priorities. ... It's going to be difficult maybe Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday they start getting used to it. But I guarantee you by Thursday and Friday, and certainly on Saturday the focus is going to be on the football."

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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Steven M. Sipple

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