Spencer Long

Ex-Husker Spencer Long was picked by Washington in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Let's do this.

1. An intense scene unfolded in the Nebraska football weight room during a recent weekday morning.

Five mammoth dudes tossed around large amounts of iron.

Best to stay out of the way of five former Nebraska offensive linemen now in the NFL -- Matt Slauson (Chargers), Spencer Long (Washington), Brent Qvale (Jets), Zach Sterup (Browns) and Jeremiah Sirles (Vikings).

They've been working out together in recent weeks as preseason camps near.

"It's really nice from an accountability standpoint," said Sirles, who started 10 games for Minnesota last season. "You sometimes wake up in the morning and you're like, 'Sh--, man, I don't feel like working out today.' But you know those other four guys are going to be there, so I better be there."

"This time of year, some guys have vacations, so some guys will miss a day here or there. But I'd say 85 percent of the days, all five of us are working."

Sirles, Qvale and Sterup were undrafted.

Long, a third-round selection by Washington, started 25 games over the past two seasons. Slauson a sixth-round pick by the Jets in 2009, has been a regular starter in six of his eight years in the league.

Qvale started five games last season, his second with the Jets.

"He did the same thing that I did, man," Sirles said. "You just show up as a rookie, undrafted, and keep your mouth shut. You just go to work. Nothing against the (Husker strength) staff that's here now, but that staff that we were with, it was all about, 'Just show up and go to work.' We showed up to the league and we were like, 'What got us here is what got us here.' We just showed up to work.

"Both of us had to start out on the practice squad, which, being an undrafted guy, is all you can really hope for."

At this point, the 25-year-old Sirles almost feels like an NFL veteran.

The league tends to take a toll physically, he said.

"In college, shoot, you could play a game Saturday night, go out and booze all night, party, feel like crap on Sunday but be good-to-go on Monday," he said.

On the other hand, "After a game in the NFL, I can barely walk," he said. "I mean, I roll out of bed on Monday and my wife will be like, 'Are you OK?' I mean, you are in an all-out war with grown men."

In college, as a veteran, he said, you might on a given week be lined up against a freshman, and it might be a mismatch.

"You're like, 'I'm just going to beat the crap out of this kid,'" Sirles said. "But there's none of that in the NFL."

2. Sirles said the NFL defender who has caused him the most problems is Brandon Graham, the Eagles' eighth-year defensive end.

"There's one game when I can truly say I got beat up pretty much the whole game," Sirles said.

How did he bounce back?

"You have to watch the film. You have to make the corrections. And then you have to put it behind you because that week, guess what, it's not like you're going against Joe Blow. The very next week, we were going up against the Giants and I had Jason Pierre-Paul out there. You can't dwell on the past because if you dwell on the past … "

I'll complete the sentence: If you dwell on the past, you'll be talking about your career in past tense.

"When you're watching your film, you're seeing what (Graham) did to you, but so is the guy you're about to play against next," Sirles said. "That guy is going to watch the film and see what move caused you trouble. You have to be able to correct it. But at the same time, you have to be able to move on, too, because if you dwell on it, you’re screwed."

Seems like Nick Gates could learn a thing or two from Sirles.

3. Josh Banderas, preparing for the Broncos' preseason camp, didn't have a particularly smooth ride at Nebraska.

In each of his first two seasons in the program, he was a starter early on before being benched by Bo Pelini. No need to rehash it all.

Bottom line, the totality of Banderas' experiences at Nebraska -- he led the team in tackles last season -- could serve him well as he embarks on what he hopes becomes a substantial NFL career.

"Going out to Denver, I talked to someone who knows the linebackers coach (Reggie Herring) and the guy said he's kind of a hard ass, kind of a yeller," Banderas said.

"Been there, done that."

Banderas chuckled.

"I know how to handle it, I'll be all right," he said. "I've gotten that experience that some guys might not have had."

4. The Elijah Blades matter makes sense to me in at least one regard.

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Please flash back to last December in Nashville, when Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst told me, "We know this: We've come away from the regular season knowing we need to get better, and we need to acquire more talent."

Sounded like a directive.

If the boss wants the staff to get better players, the staff might take more chances.

With that in mind, it should be no surprise Nebraska's coaching staff took a chance on the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Blades, a coveted four-star cornerback from Pasadena, California, even though Husker coaches had to know all along that Blades becoming academically ineligible was a long shot.

Did Mike Riley and company really think Blades would come all the way to Lincoln as a partial qualifier -- meaning he would've have to sit out a season to concentrate on academics before becoming eligible to play in 2018?

Now that would've been a long shot.

5. Nick Bahe, the popular sports-talk show host on 1620 AM, tweeted out his best-to-worst rankings of Nebraska's position groups.

1. Defensive backs

2. Quarterbacks

3. Linebackers

4. Defensive linemen

5. Wide receivers/tight ends

6. Running backs

7. Offensive linemen

My reaction: If Nick is right about Nos. 6 and 7, forget Nebraska winning the Big Ten West Division.

My best-to-worst position-group rankings:

1. Defensive backs

2. Quarterbacks

3. Linebackers

4. Offensive linemen

5. Defensive linemen

6. Wide receivers/tight ends

7. Running backs

Comment: Nebraska's offensive line, waylaid by injuries last season, has all the talent and experience it needs to flourish in 2017. But NU needs its top three running backs -- Tre Bryant, Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo -- to make significant improvement.

Wyatt Mazour, the sophomore walk-on from Albion, is extremely intriguing.

He'll be a factor.

Eyes on No. 37.

6. Of course, eyes on this guy ...

Stay cool.

As cool as Lee.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


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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