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Spring Football Practice, 3.27

Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held in action on March 27 during spring practice at Hawks Championship Center. 

First, it was a competition day last week that the Nebraska defense took from the offense down the stretch. 

Husker head coach Scott Frost talked that day about wanting competitors and the fact that life has a scoreboard. 

Then it was a Saturday scrimmage which, by all accounts, the defense won. Then Monday it took half a practice for the offense to hit its stride. 

"When you take two days off, you’ve got to be able to come back on Saturday and the timing’s still got to be able to be there," running backs coach Ryan Held said. "Obviously offensively is a timing-based deal, so we’ve got to keep coming out here and grinding it out and getting more consistent in what we do.

"Today’s practice, we came out flat but then the second half of practice was really, really good. Unfortunately, in a game, you can’t come out flat because you could be down 28-0 and we can’t be doing that." 

Backup quarterback Noah Vedral said his position group struggled mightily on Saturday. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco wondered if his guys had been abducted by aliens, Space Jam style. 

"(The defense is) making us work and if we don’t bring our 'A' game, they’re embarrassing us," offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. "Today for the first half of practice they got after us. We didn’t have our game and it showed. Second half of practice, we competed and did some good things, but it's not up to our standard as an offense. We want to be the best offense in the Big Ten and today we didn’t practice like it. But hats off to the defense." 

Added Held: "We’ve got to come out swinging. That’s where the inconsistencies are and no excuses. We’ve just got to come out and put together four quarters instead of two and a half quarters of practice." 

RB consistency: Before the spring, Held made it clear this could be an important period of practice for sophomore Jaylin Bradley.

With three scholarship newcomers — Ronald Thompkins, Rahmir Johnson and Dedrick Mills — set to arrive this summer, perhaps Bradley could make a strong push for playing time. This could be his chance to prove himself.

“I’ve seen it in spurts,” Held said. “I’ve seen things I really like, then I’ve seen things I don’t like. He has to continue to understand what’s happening up front with the blocking scheme. I’d like to see him play lower. I think he runs too high. I use the Roger Craig analogy. He’s got to get low and get his knees up and run through the smoke, we call it — run through the hole. But he knows what he’s doing. I’d just like to see him be more consistent in his running style and not dancing and not going sideways.

“At some point, you’ve just got to go north and get what you can get.”

Belt continues to impress: Nebraska’s running backs room will see an increase in bodies over the summer, but in the meantime, redshirt freshman Brody Belt is taking advantage of his opportunity this spring.

Asked what running back has stood out, Walters was quick to throw out Belt’s name after Monday’s practice.

Belt’s versatility seems to fit what Frost and Walters are looking for.

“He’s doing an awesome job, not only as a running back, but also as a receiver,” Walters said. “We get him matched against linebackers, he’s going to win that most of the time.”

Belt, a walk-on from Millard West, worked with the practice squad last season, so Walters is getting his first true look at the 5-foot-8, 185-pounder this spring.

“He has the grit, he has the want-to that you like,” Walters said. “He kind of plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

Jurgens making strides: Walters said redshirt freshman Cameron Jurgens, who is competing at center, continues to make strides while also shaking off some rust from an offseason foot injury.

Jurgens’ transformation from tight end to offensive line meant an increase in weight, but Walters said Jurgens continues to show that athleticism that made him one of the state’s top high school athletes for several years.

“That’s what we want our centers to be, athletic guys that can snap, pull, get to the edge, but they got to be tough enough, sturdy enough to block a nose (guard),” Walters said. “Most noses in this league — Wisconsin and Iowa — they’re going to be over 300 pounds, so you’ve got be tough, strong, but you’ve got to be agile and athletic to get to the perimeter and he fits that bill.”

D-line improvement: Held gets a close-up view of the Husker defensive line in every practice, and likes what he sees.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” Held said. “I mean, Darrion Daniels gives us something in the middle. The Davis brothers (Khalil and Carlos) are playing well. So is (Ben) Stille.”

Held also praised Damion Daniels, whose nickname is "Snacks." Damion and Darrion Daniels share time at nose tackle.

“Ace (Alex Davis) coming off the edge is doing some things when we get in our even-front stuff,” Held continued, adding that senior outside linebacker Tyrin Ferguson is playing well.

“Those guys are really pass rushing,” Held said. “They’re getting to the edge and being physical.”

The defense has improved overall, he said.

Hoops buzz: Amid the Fred Hoiberg buzz, quarterback Noah Vedral was asked to name the five Husker football players he’d build a basketball team around.

The former Super-State basketball player from Bishop Neumann chose himself, naturally. The others: Austin Allen, Christian Banker, Alex Davis and Adrian Martinez.

“Adrian is a pretty good guard (but) he’s got to work on his jumper,” Vedral said.

As for Nebraska hiring Hoiberg, “Obviously, we’re excited,” Vedral said of the talk in the football locker room. “He’s got one of the coolest nicknames in college basketball as The Mayor.”

Parker Gabriel, Steven M. Sipple and Clark Grell

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 editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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