Joshua Kalu stays at safety, cornerback competition heats up as Huskers open fall camp

Joshua Kalu stays at safety, cornerback competition heats up as Huskers open fall camp
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — Nebraska already knew the start of fall camp would be early. Turns out it was productive, too.

Ideal conditions for football in July — the schedule moved up when the NCAA eliminated two-a-days last spring — greeted the Huskers as they took the field Sunday morning. NU practiced for two hours outside the Hawks Center in helmets and jerseys amid temperatures in the mid-70s and a slight breeze under overcast skies.

The biggest challenge, coach Mike Riley said afterward, was keeping the adrenaline from flowing too freely.

“I think these (no two-a-days) rules are good,” Riley said. “It’s a little bit hard sometimes because the enthusiasm always for the first day is at a high, high level and you’ve got to really pull them back on the physical part of it. We don’t have shoulder pads on, so you don’t want the big collisions.”

For a practice marked by fall debuts — true freshmen as well as safeties coach Scott Booker and cornerbacks coach Donte Williams — one status quo from the spring stood out. Senior Joshua Kalu continued to work at safety on Day 1 after moving to the position in the spring after three years at corner.

Riley said last week at Big Ten media days in Chicago that Kalu’s role remained in flux with starting corner Chris Jones out four to six months with a knee injury. On Sunday, he said it remains the staff’s “first option, obviously” to keep Kalu at safety; that continues to be possible with the emergence of a trio of corners: Lamar Jackson — already slated to start opposite Jones — as well as sophomore Eric Lee and redshirt freshman Dicaprio Bootle.

“We understand we have a little bit of versatility there with Josh, that his experience at corner is good,” Riley said. “We have been excited about his fit at safety, what he brings in that area. So we like that look, and we are hesitant to move it.”

On what he’ll be evaluating among the competing corners, Riley said: “What we’ll just be looking for immediately is being sound. Just being real smart. I think that’s going to be the way that they give everybody the trust that everybody needs for them to play.”

What that means for the nickel package, the coach added, is undetermined. Riley noted that when his 3-4 defense didn’t have defensive back depth during his time in the CFL, they didn’t use that grouping. Lee received praise during the spring for his nickel work.

Among the changes Sunday were Peyton Newell manning the nose tackle with the second unit. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior was slated to play defensive end, with sophomore Khalil Davis the presumed nose backup. Riley said both roles remain interchangeable.

“It’s a late thought and, I think, a good idea,” Riley said of Newell’s move. “We will continue to look at that. There will be movement naturally according to situations — like that might not be what it looks like on third down.”

Other quick hits from practice:

» Senior wideout De’Mornay Pierson-El was attending his sister’s wedding. Riley said he anticipates Pierson-El back for Monday’s practice.

» DPE’s absence allowed Stanley Morgan and freshman Tyjon Lindsey to shine even more during punt-return drills. Lindsey, the highest-rated member of NU’s 2017 recruiting class, in particular flashed reliable hands and speed during his work catching punts and passes.

Asked which true freshmen stood out to Riley, he deferred. “I think that I will reserve comment on that,” Riley said, “but there were some that certainly did (well) today.”

» Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco spent much of the early portion of practice with sophomore punter Caleb Lightbourn, who sent several balls 70-plus yards during drills. After drawing fans’ ire with some shanks last season, Lightbourn didn’t appear to misplay any Sunday.

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