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Five practices into the task of finding replacements at two critical positions in the secondary, Bo Pelini seems to like a couple of his options.

Junior Charles Jackson has received the biggest look at the ultra-important nickel back spot that was manned by Ciante Evans.

So far, so good.

"You want to talk about guys that are light-years ahead of where they were a year ago? He obviously put some time in prior to spring practice," Pelini said. "I think things are starting to slow down for him and make sense for him, which is a good thing, because he's a really talented kid."

Husker fans have been eager for the hard-hitting 5-foot-11, 180-pound Jackson to emerge as an every-down player. And Jackson seems to be taking his opportunity to heart.

Pelini said Jackson has spent his share of time watching film and talking to Evans.

"He got his butt in the playbook," Pelini said.

The coach thinks Jackson's experience at corner and nickel also has helped. Pelini has spent a lot of time working with the nickel backs this spring and has been impressed with his interaction with Jackson in meetings.

"You can just tell by the questions he asks and his approach how far he's come in the last year," Pelini said.

Another defensive back who has stood tall during the first week of practice is junior college transfer Byerson Cockrell, who has been plugged in at both corner and nickel.

While junior Jonathan Rose has seen the lion's share of snaps at the corner spot previously manned by Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cockrell is showing the versatility coaches hoped for when recruiting him.

During Saturday's scrimmage, Cockrell made one of the biggest hits of the day, drawing a loud reaction from his defensive teammates.

"He's a talented kid," Pelini said. "He can really run. He's physical. He's tough. The game makes sense to him. He's a very instinctive guy. He's going to help us."

* BACKS SHOW THEIR STUFF: The Huskers took advantage of Saturday's nice weather and conducted their first live scrimmage of the spring at Memorial Stadium.

With running backs Ameer Abdullah and Terrell Newby both held out because of sickness, Imani Cross and Adam Taylor made the most of their reps, showing some tough running between the tackles to go along with elusiveness.

Cross' best run of the day came behind the right-side blocking of Givens Price and Zach Sterup. The run was as good as the blocking, as Cross broke through a tackle or two, then jetted past the defense for a touchdown.

The redshirt freshman Taylor showed the same toughness and moves. He also displayed good hands. His best play came on a swing pass, where he juked a linebacker in a one-on-one situation immediately after making the catch, then sprinted for about 15 yards.

"I think he's going to be a force for us," Pelini said. "He's got a lot to learn from the mental aspect of things, but I thought he had a decent day today. … And I think Imani Cross is playing at a really high level right now. Our running back position is in pretty good shape."

* O-LINE IMPRESSIONS: While Nebraska has very little returning starting experience on its offensive line, Pelini likes the depth that seems to be developing there.

"It's a good group, a physically talented group. And I think the competition is only going to make us better," Pelini said.

Alex Lewis continues to see snaps with the top unit at left tackle, working alongside guard Jake Cotton. Ryne Reeves and Mark Pelini have been swapping reps at center. Price (guard) and Sterup (tackle) have been handling the right side.

Price is an interesting prospect. He's a junior but still relatively young, having arrived on campus at the age of 16. Pelini sees the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder maturing between the lines.

It's important for Price to have a good spring, with Mike Moudy set to compete for the job after he comes back from a shoulder injury.

"I think he's hungry to play," Pelini said of Price. "He has some competition behind him and guys who want to play that spot. He’s trying to put his best foot forward."

* STANTON'S START: Quarterback Johnny Stanton is having the ups and downs you'd expect from a redshirt freshman. But he did have a feel-good moment Saturday when he hooked up with Taariq Allen for a long pass in the corner of the end zone.

Pelini said it's too early to tell how the team reacts to Stanton when he plays quarterback.

"Johnny is trying to figure himself out right now. He's got a lot to learn, but he does a good job, I think, of commanding the huddle. And as far as his understanding, I think he's doing a good job.

"I think he's at that point right now where his reads are good and he has a good idea what's going on, but putting it all together and actually finishing the play sometimes, it's all part of the process he's got going on."

* ALLEN'S EMERGENCE: The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Allen had about as good a day as anyone Saturday, making a few catches and looking full-speed after a long recovery from a serious knee injury in 2012.

Allen got plenty of reps with Sam Burtch missing practice to attend a funeral.

"Taariq just works so hard," Pelini said. "I think he's back to feeling like himself again. He's a guy who's a leader in the locker room and on the field. Tough kid. He's about the right things. The type of kid you want on your football team. It's a testament to how hard he worked. He worked his butt off and it paid off for him."

* LEADER'S VOICE: Senior cornerback Josh Mitchell clearly is the motivating voice on the defense. After giving up a touchdown drive, Mitchell challenged the top-unit guys with a fiery speech not fit for print. It should be noted the defense got a stop on its next series.

* NO TIME TO LET UP: Nebraska has three more practices (Monday-Wednesday-Thursday) before taking a 10-day hiatus during spring break.

Pelini challenged his players after Saturday's practice to not let up after what he felt was a successful first week.

"Like I told our guys, other than academics, especially the young guys, the guys that are still learning this thing, you gotta understand what your responsibilities are," Pelini said.

"We’re looking for progress. We’re not looking for the finished product right now, but we’re looking for progress. Not repeating errors, continuing to develop their understanding of what we’re doing on both sides of the football and special teams. That’s the challenge over the next three (practices)."

* THIS AND THAT: Defensive end A.J. Natter (swollen knee) sat out Saturday. Sophomore Ross Dzuris of Plattsmouth received snaps in his place. … Nathan Gerry made two big hits at safety while coming up to play the run. … Quarterback Zack Darlington did not take any snaps during the full-contact scrimmage. … Jamal Turner, who took snaps at quarterback the first two practices, once again worked solely at receiver Saturday.

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

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