The Huskers are likely down a linebacker this week, with junior David Santos doubtful for Saturday night's game against Illinois, Bo Pelini said.
That's the bad news for a player coming off one of his best performances, which included a team-leading 10 tackles and a flashy first-half interception in Nebraska's 41-31 win against Miami.
Santos had a brace over his right knee during practice this week.
The good news, Pelini said, is that the injury is "no big deal. It's not a long-term thing."
Senior Trevor Roach would be the likely starter at the BUCK spot in Santos' place, with Josh Banderas (MIKE) and Zaire Anderson (WILL) filling the other spots.
Roach saw a lot of action last week at MIKE, coming off the bench and recording six tackles and a forced fumble that produced a Husker touchdown.
“I’d say I just don’t get too flustered," Roach said this week, when asked of his strengths. "I make a mistake, I just forget about it and move on. That’s the key. You see a lot of times people make a mistake and they just let it keep riding and it gets to them. I’d also say I’m good against bigger personnel sets that like to run the ball in close space.”
After Saturday's win, Pelini said the Huskers need to get better play from their linebackers. After Thursday's practice, he said he liked how those players have gone to work.
"Depends on how they're (the Illini) going to come out and choose to play us. We could end up in multiple packages. We'll just kind of see how it plays out, but yeah, our linebackers have had a good week."
* DOUBLE DUTY: True freshman Drew Brown impressed his head coach in his first full game handling both place-kicking and kickoff duties.
Brown took on the latter role after junior Mauro Bondi broke a collarbone in a motorcycle accident last Friday. Even without that setback for Bondi, Pelini said Brown was pushing to have both jobs.
"Mauro was kind of in a funk with his footwork and technique on kickoffs, so before the accident happened, we were actually thinking about doing that anyway before last week," Pelini said. "Drew has been hitting kickoffs good. There are no issues there as far as we are concerned."
Brown was 2-of-2 on field goals last week, banging home a 39-yard kick off the left upright in the fourth quarter. And though one of his seven kickoffs went out of bounds, Brown showed a strong leg, with three touchbacks.
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"He showed that when we gave him a kickoff earlier this year. There was a slight breeze and he got (a touchback)," Pelini said. "Plus, not only that, but he gives you good hang time, which is a real plus."
* GOOD AS NEW: Pelini said Ameer Abdullah hasn't shown any wear and tear this week after carrying the ball 35 times last week.
"I've said this before: He's a guy who doesn't take a lot of big hits because of his style of running. He's so quick and he has such good vision. He's fine. He's ready to go."
* GROWING: Husker fans have already fallen for De'Mornay Pierson-El as a punt returner. The true freshman's role could also grow as a wide receiver.
"I think you're just going to see more and more of him as the season goes on as he gets more comfortable with the offense," Pelini said.
For now, coaches are making sure to not put too much on his plate. "A lot of our guys can play multiple spots, but we have him kind of locked in right now to just playing the slot."
* SMART CENTER: Offensive line coach John Garrison calls Mark Pelini “the human calculator.” And teammates Alex Lewis and Mike Moudy both credit the senior center for making the other linemen’s jobs much easier.
“He’s a genius, man,” Lewis said, noting how Pelini can quickly recognize blitzes, safety rotations and impending stunts by the defensive line. “He’s a genius.”
Moudy called Pelini the smartest player in the offensive line room.
“It’s always nice playing next to a guy who knows that the hell’s happening, what the hell’s coming next,” Moudy said. “I’m pretty good at reading blitzes and things like that, but it’s also nice to have that security blanket next to me, in case something happens.
“If he knows a blitz is coming, he’ll audible and change it to that way. It’s going against kind of our base offense, in that sense, but he knows when he needs to break that rule, he can do it because he knows for sure it’s coming. He’s got that instinct and he’s got those smarts.”
It’s probably no surprise then that Pelini on Thursday was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy. The award goes to a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, who has a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, and has shown “outstanding football ability as a first-team player or significant contributor and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.”