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First day of spring football practice, 3.7.15

Linebacker Josh Banderas runs a drill during Nebraska's first spring practice Saturday at the Hawks Championship Center.

Things I know, and things I think I know:

Josh Banderas was mismanaged by the previous Nebraska football coaching staff. That's not exactly breaking news.

And no, that's not a cowardly, after-he's-gone slap at the previous head coach. Bo Pelini seemed to always strive for fairness. But roster management is an inexact science. In this case, one full-time member of the former defensive staff acknowledged his misgivings about the way Banderas' playing time was handled each of the past two seasons.

A 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior from Lincoln Southwest, Banderas was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman in 2013 before he was ready. In fact, he started early on in each of the past two seasons -- five of the first six games last season -- before being benched. How do you think such handling affects a kid's confidence? I can see it occurring once. But twice?

Banderas now gets a fresh start under Nebraska coach Mike Riley as the odds-on candidate to start at middle linebacker in defensive coordinator Mark Banker's 4-3 system. It'll be easy to monitor Banderas' progress. Same goes for the rest of the linebackers because there are so few of them -- only five scholarship backers are available this spring.

"If we keep practicing like this, they will get a ton of work," Riley said Saturday, referring to his unique two-tiered approach. "That's the group we have to watch the most, so we don't wear them out. That's the thinnest position we have ..."

"Thinnest" shouldn't be mistaken for least-talented. If the season began today, the three starters likely would be Banderas in the middle, surrounded by junior Michael Rose-Ivey and explosive sophomore Marcus Newby. Substitute senior David Santos for Newby when Santos returns from injury.

Rose-Ivey is practicing on a limited basis as he comes back from a major knee injury suffered in August. Remember, Rose-Ivey came on strong in the late stages of 2013, averaging 9.8 tackles in the last five games at middle linebacker -- yes, the spot at which Banderas started for three nonconference games that season.

Banderas, in an interview in September, acknowledged he "wasn't 100 percent sure of what I was doing" as a rookie. Last season, he started all four nonconference games and at Michigan State before backing up Trevor Roach the rest of the regular season.

However, with Roach injured, Banderas started the Holiday Bowl and produced a team-leading 14 tackles. It was a solid performance -- good enough to catch Banker's eye. Banderas has good size and speed. And keep in mind that in Banker's scheme, the middle linebacker is asked to run free, to make plays sideline-to-sideline, meaning speed and athleticism is more important than it was in Pelini's scheme.

Widely regarded as Nebraska's top prep player for the class of 2013, Banderas' rocky ride at NU includes a brush with the law in May 2014 (which produced some decent bike-stealing jokes but was nothing more than a "brush"). He's learned plenty about life, I'm guessing. His grade-point average is above 3.5. He's stayed the course. Hard not to root for the kid.

* Regarding Ndamukong Suh's apparent deal with the Miami Dolphins, this comes from Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald:

"Everyone knows Suh is a great player," Salguero writes. "There is no doubt when he is right and engaged, he is virtually unblockable by one offensive lineman. But a league source tells me the Dolphins had better have done their homework.

"My source said Suh is a 'very quirky individual,' thus not the easiest person to understand. One person that apparently did a good job of forging some kinship with Suh is Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell, so it is clear Suh is open to leadership and a strong, quiet authority figure."

At Nebraska, Suh evidently followed leadership, but his rough edges were disguised well by "handlers." He wasn't exactly Tim Miles in terms of dealing with the media. As for the Dolphins, it's too bad Richie Incognito is no longer on the scene. Talk about sparks in practice.

* Barring injury or something unforeseen, Nate Gerry is going to start at one safety spot for Nebraska. The other starting safety likely will be either LeRoy Alexander or Kieron Williams (or perhaps Byerson Cockrell).

Williams, a sophomore from Shreveport, Louisiana, has that "I want to be great" look in his eyes. And he's an extremely explosive athlete (see his blocked punt last season against Purdue).

Plenty of talent in that secondary.

* Somebody slap me upside the head if I keep mentioning AJ Bush's improvement as a passer. But he was awfully sharp Saturday. Let's see if it continues.

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

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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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