Photo by Nebraska Communications

Blackshirts Are Back

By Brian Rosenthal

Monday wasn’t the first time Dicaprio Bootle found a Blackshirt hanging in his locker.

Yet Bootle, a sophomore cornerback, felt more of a sense of accomplishment this time.

“I think it’s safe to say I felt better this year than I did last year,” Bootle said. “I just felt like I really earned it, especially with them holding out on the Blackshirts for the first game, not just giving them to everybody, I felt like I really earned this one.”

Not only did Nebraska’s coaches wait a game until awarding Blackshirts -- the coveted, traditional practice jersey reserved for top defensive players -- they were very selective in determining who whey felt deserved one. For now, seven players – Bootle, Tyrin Ferguson, Mohamed Barry, Dedrick Young II, Luke Gifford, Mick Stoltenberg and Freedom Akinmoladun – are back in black.

“We want the Blackshirt to mean something,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said Monday at his weekly news conference. “We’re not just going to give them to everybody that plays because they’re playing. It’s not a one game thing; it’s a body of work thing.”

Several other players, Frost said, are on the verge of Blackshirt status. He mentioned defensive linemen, in particular, junior twins Carlos and Khalil Davis, who played hard and made plays against Colorado.

“We had a lot of guys on defense that played well enough to earn Blackshirts,” Frost said.  “We’re just not going to give them all out at once. Several more deserved it from the game, but I expect them to get it soon.”

Bootle had two pass breakups, including a near interception of a deep pass, and collected three tackles against Colorado. Frost said Bootle played physical and was in the right position all the time.

“Obviously there were a couple great plays by (Colorado), honestly, on fades with throws and catches that he was involved in,” Frost said, “but just taking his full body of work from spring ball and camp and how he played in that game, I’m glad to be able to give him (a Blackshirt).”

Bootle also played every play on defense.

“I anticipate playing a lot. Playing every snap, I’m not complaining about it,” Bootle said. “I’m happy to be out there every snap. That says a lot about our strength and conditioning program, for me to go out there and be able to play 100-plus snaps."

Barry, a junior inside linebacker, had a career-high 12 tackles against Colorado in his first career start. He also had a tackle for a 6-yard loss.

And who better to receive a Blackshirt from than the program’s all-time tackles leader, linebackers coach Barrett Ruud?

“He did a lot for this program, so for him to give not only me, but me and Dedrick our Blackshirts … I know it means a lot to us because I know it means a lot to him,” Barry said. “It was a great feeling.”

Nebraska collected seven sacks – already halfway to last season’s total – against a Colorado team that allowed no sacks in its first game of the season. The Huskers came at the Buffaloes with pressure from all angles, and sometimes with just a surge up front.

Senior running back Devine Ozigbo said he’d never seen the defense play with such energy.

“That was cool to watch,” he said.

Now that players understand the standard of energy and effort, it’s time for the next step, Barry said.

“We have to tune up those fine details,” Barry said. “The third down, just the small things that got us beat. We had the opportunity to put away the game, and as a defensive player you pray for moments like that, to put away the game.”

The fact Nebraska didn’t – Colorado scored late for a 33-28 victory – left players with an empty, hungry feeling come practice time Monday morning.

“There was a really good sense of urgency,” said Gifford, a senior linebacker who had a career-high 11 tackles. “Starting off in the weight room this morning, we got after it. We went out to practice and got after it again. I was proud of the guys and how everyone responded. It was definitely a good start to the week.”

Said Bootle: “I know we’re definitely headed in the right direction because of how everybody felt after that game and the just sour taste we all had in our mouth.”

 

Sore, But OK

The manner in which Adrian Martinez gingerly walked off the field in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game left a couple of days of worry and panic for fans uncertain about the freshman quarterback’s health.

Frost alleviated many of those fears when he said the news on Martinez is about as good as can be expected, given the initial scare. Martinez suffered no ligament damage to his knee and is listed as day-to-day.

In fact, Martinez could possibly play Saturday against Troy.

“He’s a little sore,” Frost said, “but doing a lot better today than I expected and I don’t think it’ll be very long.”

In the meantime, walk-ons Andrew Bunch and Matt Masker will see increased reps in practice this week, with the possibility of a third new player joining the fray, Frost said. He wants to enter Saturday’s game with at least three quarterbacks.

“We have a couple ideas,” Frost said of a third possible quarterback. “Obviously we don’t have the depth there that we’d like to have, so we have to have somebody ready to go in in case the worst case happens. We are kind of sorting through options there right now.”

Martinez was 15-of-20 passing for 187 yards and a touchdown, and ran 15 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns, including a 41-yard run against Colorado. When Martinez hobbled to the sideline, Bunch entered and was 4-of-9 passing for 49 yards.

“Bunch, when he’s gotten his opportunities, he’s done a great job,” Frost said. “I was really pleased with how he performed when he came in. Quite frankly, he threw a ball that probably should’ve put the game away for us if we get a first down on the throw that he made.

“We’re not going to change because of who he is, we’ll try to alter it a little to make sure that he’s comfortable with what we have. There’s not going to be wholesale changes and he knows our stuff and he’s done a good job running it.”

Frost said he may wait until game day Saturday to make a final decision on who starts at quarterback.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get other guys ready. (Martinez) is going to do everything he can to get healthy and learn the game plan.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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