Randy Gregory is the first Husker defensive lineman with an interception touchdown since 2008.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Pelini: Gregory is Probably Ahead of David

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider 

Official Blog of the Huskers

Three-fourths of the way into his press conference Monday, a reporter asked Bo Pelini about Randy Gregory, and Nebraska’s sixth-year head coach was more than willing to use the ultimate bench mark to compare one junior college transfer to another. Even though Gregory is a defensive end and Lavonte David was an All-America linebacker before becoming a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pelini didn’t flinch an inch putting those two Huskers in the same sentence. “Lavonte is a special player and did some special things when he was here,” Pelini said before indicating that Gregory is “probably ahead” of where David was in his development after four games. “It didn’t happen for Lavonte right away. It took him a little bit of time,” Pelini said. “Obviously they play some different positions but I feel really good about Randy Gregory. I think he’s going to be outstanding. There’s a ton more out there for this kid. He’s a talented guy who can do pretty special things. I like him.”

A 6-foot-6 sophomore from Fishers, Ind., Gregory has started three of Nebraska’s four games and has 17 tackles. He also has a sack, five tackles for loss, one pass broken up, four quarterback hurries and an interception that he returned 33 yards for a touchdown. He’s the first Husker defensive lineman to return an interception for a TD since Ndamukong Suh against Colorado five seasons ago. “He’s a very bright kid,” Pelini said Monday of Gregory. “He understands football. He’s an instinctive guy. He’s just got some natural football instincts to him.” When Nebraska’s head coach was recruiting last week, he talked to some high school kids about the instincts required to play defense. “High school football is so much different now. It’s kind of really spread out,” Pelini said. “One thing I saw was where one team was empty the whole game and the other team was running a veer scheme the whole game. There’s a lot of spread out there. You wonder why it’s easier to have freshmen come in offensively because everyone is doing the spread. Defensively, you see the spread but you don’t see as much variety.”

Defensive Players Require More Development

That’s why “it kind of hit me when I was sitting there watching the game,” Pelini said. “Defensive guys kind of have a lot more development that needs to happen. On offense, you can have a guy and put him in a scheme to run plays and do all those types of things. You run out 10 yards; you run an out route. It’s kind of more assignment football on offense.” It’s a different story on defense. “You have to be able to react to things,” Pelini said. “You have to be able to understand concepts and make quick decisions fast. Guys are a little more prepared to play offense at a young age and prepared to have success than you are defensively. It’s more reactionary. It’s more finding your keys and reacting to what the other team is doing than just playing assignment football.

“Don’t get me wrong. It takes some instincts to be able to play offense, too, and even special teams,” Pelini said while adding that the growth curve is a little bit higher on the defensive side. “Even though you’re seeing spread in college, you’re going to see some variety defensively. That’s just the way it is. The growth curve is a little bit higher. I think that’s one of the reasons you’re seeing a lot more offense out there.”

Martinez’s Availability Remains Questionable

The Huskers had a productive bye week and got a lot of work done while using the opportunity to heal up. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska’s four-year quarterback starter and career total offensive leader, did not practice last week, but he’s “getting closer” to the 100-percent description needed for him to play against Illinois Saturday in a nationally televised game at Memorial Stadium. “I would assume Taylor wants to play,” Pelini said. “At the same time, I deal with the doctors and the trainers. Taylor knows I’ve talked to them. We’re not putting him out there until I know he’s going to feel 100 percent.”

If Martinez is unable to play against the Illini, practice will determine Saturday’s starting quarterback. “Last time (before the South Dakota State game), it was what we saw in practice that led us to Tommy (Armstrong) being the guy to start the game,” Pelini said. “That’s probably where we would lean right now going into it … a lot of it depends on the next three days of practice, too.” Pelini sees the Huskers’ sense of urgency “going up” in terms of how they execute in practice, how they respond to details and how they’re competing for playing time. “Sometimes, you have to get hit in the mouth to take notice, in a number of different ways,” he said. “I’m not talking about the score, or yards. I’m just talking about being able to have success and that understanding. Also that level of commitment you have to have when you walk on the practice field to give yourself the best opportunity to play well on Saturday.”

‘If It Was Simple, Everybody Would Be Doing It’

Pelini had a conversation with a couple of his young defensive players last week about competing, succeeding and having fun. He told the players that confidence is based on learning, preparing and understanding defensive keys and reminded them that it’s not fun when you’re guessing. The only way the game becomes fun is when it slows down, and the only way it slows down is when players learn their keys. “It would be like anything else,” Pelini said. “The more success you have, the more fun you’re going to have doing it. If it was simple, then everybody would be doing it. This goes back years and years, and that’s why you practice. It takes time, discipline, focus. It takes failure. It takes a lot of different things. Every single guy is probably at a little bit different level of development. That isn’t just defensively. That’s offensively, special teams and that’s football. And, in my opinion, that’s sports.”

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