One way or another, inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud thinks Collin Miller is in for an uptick in playing time.
“He’s had a good week of practice, he really has, and he’s getting close,” Ruud said of the sophomore, who started camp as an outside linebacker but switched early on. “He was very unselfish moving over to inside being a guy that was kind of a life-long edge-type guy.
“He’s a talented football player and he’s a guy that’s going to start playing a lot more for us.”
Will Honas’ season-ending knee injury plays a role in any uptick Miller sees. So, too, it seems, does the fact that senior starter Dedrick Young didn’t play the entire fourth quarter against Wisconsin and Ruud referenced several players with "a nick here or there."
Some of it is performance-driven, too, both in other players faltering and Miller’s own ascension.
Young "solid": Asked to evaluate Young’s play through five games, Ruud said the senior has been "solid."
“Obviously there’s plays out there on the field he wishes he could have back, but at the same time he’s been really solid, really consistent,” Ruud added. “He practices well. We’ve just got to do a better job, and I’ve got to do a better job, of coaching him to finish off some plays.”
Balancing act with Washington: Maurice Washington's first kick return stat line won't wow anybody: Two returns for 35 with a long of 25.
But the freshman running back also had a return of 70-plus against Wisconsin called back because of a block-in-the-back penalty. Perhaps the tackler would have stopped Washington, but he did juke and spin out of two attempts in the hole before gliding up the sideline.
"It’d be hard to watch the film and say that every time he touches the football he doesn’t look different than some of the other people on the field," special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said Tuesday.
But Washington is also seeing more and more action on offense as he adjusts to the college game and also because of Greg Bell's transfer. So you may see No. 28 back there again, but perhaps not every time.
"As his role increases and as he matures through his development — and I don’t think he’s anywhere near his potential yet — but as he’s developing over the course of the season his role on the offense is increases, his role on special teams increases," Dewitt said. "It comes back to the balancing act of how much do you give him in each situation?"
Ferguson filling in: Nebraska’s depth at linebacker, which has become thinner as the season has worn on, will get a boost Saturday.
Tyrin Ferguson, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior from New Orleans, is back in the fold at outside linebacker after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury.
“I think he’s going to bring a little bit of consistency for us — he’s been in the chaos a couple times and a lot of times we’ve had to play some younger guys or guys who didn’t have as many game reps with the chaos of the game or the situation of things changing on the fly,” outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt said. “So when you’ve got a guy like him that’s able to calm the situation down, it helps everybody out.”
Ferguson had 17 tackles, including five for loss and 10 solo before being injured. He had a career-high 10 tackles against Colorado.
Special teams in flux: Nebraska’s special teams units remain open competitions, with Dewitt saying players are continuing to be moved around.
“It’s not a question of having enough guys that want to do it,” Dewitt said. “It’s a question of having enough guys that you feel can do it.”
The difficulty, Dewitt said, comes in balancing time for players already with roles on offense or defense and making sure not to wear them out on special teams.
“It’s always a fine balancing act, and at this point in the year it gets a little bit even more complicated because there’s going to be nicks and bumps and bruises and guys going down,” Dewitt said. “So you’ve got to be smart in terms of how you’re using those guys.”
Lightbourn responding after demotion: Dewitt was happy with how walk-on punter Isaac Armstrong responded when called upon Saturday, and even happier with how starter Caleb Lightbourn handled his demotion.
“It was a pretty cool thing to watch a kid go in like that, not expecting to have to kick, and then getting the opportunity and responding. And then the cooler thing was to see Caleb come and celebrate with him after Isaac hit that first really good one,” Dewitt said. “That was a good thing, and that breeds some really good culture. So I was excited about that.”
Lightbourn wasn’t excited about losing his spot, which was no surprise, Dewitt said. But the junior has responded in practice this week.
“I think like anybody that’s an athlete in any situation, they want to have more opportunities to do better, and I think he’s embraced that,” Dewitt said.