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NU football practice, 8.7

Nebraska linebacker Mohamed Barry runs a drill during practice at Hawks Championship Center on Aug. 7.

Mohamed Barry has a sneaking suspicion about whom Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was referring to last week when he said he wanted some players to ease off the throttle at times in practice.

“Yeah, that’s something that probably he was alluding to me,” Barry said. “You want to go hard, so my goal is to treat every practice like a game. So I was really trying to go hard. I was really trying to make plays. It’s the 'want to' by everyone. We want to be the best and when you want to be the best, you don’t want to practice slow. You want to practice fast. Coach Frost loves that, he loves that what he’s talking about is ‘Whoa, calm down.’

“Even as a defense, you want some dogs over there and I think that’s what we bring every day.”

Barry raved about his side of the ball’s collective approach so far, saying it not only helps foster competition, but makes his job as a leader simpler.

“When you’ve got guys that want it, you’ve just got to say one thing and they’re on it,” Barry said.

“You’ve got people echoing you, other leaders, and having an understanding of what the goal is. One thing I like too is it’s pushing me. It’s making me better. These guys come out here and they show stuff and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m trying to be better at that than they are.’ It’s making everybody better.

“That’s the thing about consistency: It fuels growth for the entire team because people want it and they’re buying in and they’re getting better each time and building great habits.”

OL grades on the rise: As you would hope for with an offensive line group that includes a trio of experienced players, Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin is seeing improved fundamentals from the linemen during this fall camp.

The top group has included sophomore Trent Hixson and juniors Brenden Jaimes, Matt Farniok and Boe Wilson.

“The guys are honing in on their fundamentals and they’re seeing themselves successful when they work their fundamentals,” Austin said. “And the opposite occurs when their fundamentals break down. It’s unique, and cool to see considering where they were in spring ball, and all the way back to the first spring we were here (in 2018). I actually brought out the grades from our first spring scrimmage in the spring of 2018 and I compared the grades from a technique standpoint to the scrimmage that we just had on Sunday and you can see the difference in numbers in terms of the percentages. And you can also see it on the field as well. So they’re getting better, and as they get better our offense gets better.”

Austin shared some insight into how they evaluate the linemen. When Austin joined Frost in Lincoln, Austin said the grades were in the single digits.

“And when I say single digits, we grade every play and every player on assignment, technique and then their finish,” Austin said. “And technique you have to use the right footwork, their hands have to be in a good position and then obviously your body has to be on the body of the defender, either through the throw or run. And our guys’ bodies were on the bodies of their defenders more often this scrimmage than they were when we first arrived here for our first spring scrimmage of 2018.”

For the older players, they’ve seen a lot of improvement, Austin said.

“It was a testament to their footwork and their landmarks and hand placements and everything else,” Austin said. “So they’ve gotten a heck of a lot better from those. So no more single digits. Now we’re up to the 70, 80 mark in terms of our technique, which is a pretty damn good grade. To go from a 10% — so that’s one out of 10 plays you had good technique — to 80%, now you’re a pretty productive player.”

Austin also did the grades to show the true freshmen how much improvement they’ll be able to make in one year, and give them some optimism.

Punter competition: Nebraska has a good competition at punter, with returning starter Isaac Armstrong and William Przystup, a transfer from Michigan State who is eligible to play right away. Special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt called the competition even.

“(Tuesday) I really wasn’t pleased with how they kicked in practice today to be honest with you,” Dewitt said. “It’s really kind of the first off day they’ve had in terms of not being really good at it.”

Not only do the coaches chart the distance and hang time for the punters in practice, but also how successful they are at hitting the target.

Working for improvement in return game: The Huskers finished dead last in the conference in kick-return average (15.8 yards) and more than half of their 150 punt return yards (16 attempts) came on JD Spielman’s 77-yard touchdown against FCS team Bethune-Cookman in late October.

Naturally, Dewitt believes Nebraska can be better there.

“You got Wan’Dale (Robinson), who can catch a lot of things and go,” Dewitt said. “Mo (Maurice) Washington, obviously, and JD has proven himself to be really good back there. We got quite a huge selection of guys to go from. I’m actually pretty excited.

“I’m more excited about our ability to block for them. I thought we had good returners last year and we didn’t block great.”

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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