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Husker football practice, 3/16/17

Nebraska quarterback Patrick O'Brien looks down the offensive line while under center during spring football practice Thursday at Hawks Championship Center.

The eyes did not deceive. That was indeed senior Joshua Kalu working at safety during Thursday's practice on the Hawks Championship Center grounds.

"Good shot," Husker head coach Mike Riley said of Kalu's chances there. "Good shot."

Kalu is Nebraska's most experienced returning defender, but has spent the reps during his career at corner or nickel.

"When you look at the big picture of our team and our secondary, we're looking at where he might best fit and where we might find the best strength," Riley said. "So it's a look-see at him playing safety."

During the practice, Kalu was working next to Aaron Williams at safety, with Chris Jones and Lamar Jackson first up at the corner spots.

The second group consisted of Antonio Reed and JoJo Domann at safety, with Eric Lee and Dicaprio Bootle at the corners.

NU's secondary had a good day all around, while quarterbacks Tanner Lee and Patrick O'Brien served up a few passes they'd want back.

"There was a step up," Riley said of the defensive backs. "We did a lot of red-zone work today, and they made some just great plays in the red zone."

Riley highlighted Jones as being outstanding, noting that Kalu made some plays and Bootle showed good instincts on an interception at the goal line where he beat the receiver to the ball.

Domann, a sophomore, also had a pick, a forced fumble and another near interception in those red-zone drills.

"Not so good quarterbacking and offensively in that way," Riley said. "Those windows get tight and guys are making some plays. I think that the secondary, it should be a strength."

Riley expects Lee and O'Brien will come back strong. "The thing about it, my guess is the next time we do the red zone it will all be better. But I think overall those guys have performed very well at a high level with a high percentage. Today was probably a good eye-opener for them."

Reed feeling fine: Reed was eager to start in Nebraska's bowl game against Tennessee, but left the game early in the first half with a health issue.

What happened?

Reed said he felt a shortness of breath. "Like I almost couldn't breathe at all."

Some tests were conducted, and it hasn't been a concern for Reed going forward. Not being able to play much against Tennessee was a true downer for the Memphis native.

"It was a game I was looking forward to for a month," Reed said.

Onward.

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This spring the junior has a change in not just his defensive coordinator, with Bob Diaco's arrival, but also with his new position coach, Bob Elliott.

Reed said he didn't Google search the coaches when they were hired. There's a good reason. He wanted to form his own opinion.

"I like meeting people in person," Reed said. "I don't really like that internet stuff. I just go with the flow."

One thing Reed does believe is that the energy of a defense trickles down from the top. In the case of Diaco, there's a whole lot of that.

"If you have a coach that doesn't bring energy to your defense, it will show. If you have coaches that will also bring energy, it will also show."

Some separation at I-back: Riley does see some separation at the running back position, but is going to keep some of the specifics to himself for now.

Tre Bryant, Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon are the lead contenders there.

"We're not going to announce anything about it. There is no need to because we want them all to think competition, and performance and production, and let them keep playing," Riley said.

Stanley's next step: Stanley Morgan Jr. enjoyed a nice sophomore season, ranking second on the team in both receptions (33) and receiving yards (453).

Through the early stages of spring practice, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior looks poised to take his game to a higher level.

“He has, and he should,” said NU receivers coach Keith Williams. “It’s good, but it’s not surprising. It’s expected. He and I talked right after the season. When you’re a good player, and you’re young, you have to take that next step when it’s time. And it is time now.

"It looks like he's decided to take that step."

Practice layout: The Huskers finished their sixth spring practice Thursday. It's also the last workout before a 12-day pause for spring break.

Coaches will meet players Friday to review the practice that just occurred. When they return to the field on March 28, NU will practice in shorts for the third time this spring. It's required that a team have three such workouts.

"So we elected to do it coming off of spring break, kind of getting back into it," Riley said. "But I think it's been great to this point. Really appreciated the enthusiasm for the work and I think we've had a lot of stuff go in."

Keyshawn Jr. cleared: True freshman wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr. participated in his first practice as a Husker on Thursday after recovering from aftereffects of an illness.

He has to practice twice without pads due to protocol. "And then after that, he should be geared up and practicing, which is great. If he can get the three weeks of practice for us, from what we thought earlier, that will be a bonus," Riley said.

Fellow true freshman Javeon McQuitty continues to do individual drills but won't be involved in any contact this spring as he recovers from a December shoulder surgery.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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