football practice

Thursday practice cancelled

Though scheduled to practice Thursday afternoon, Nebraska had an off-day as the team continues its preparations for the season opener against BYU on Sep. 5.

“I did not make the decision,” defensive coordinator Mark Banker said with a chuckle, opening his 15-minute press conference with the media.

The decision allows various players who have been battling through smaller injuries in camp a day to recover.

“We’ve been pretty regular with scheduled practices, and coach (Mike) Riley felt it’d be good to spend the day with some good, long meetings,” Banker said. “We’ve got some muscle strains and things like that.”

Those meetings helped players review offensive and defensive schemes, while taking a peek at BYU.

“We’ve done some concentrated work on BYU,” Banker said. “Defensively, we did a summation on the parts of the (BYU) offense we especially want to focus on.”

Though the season is just nine days away, the staff said a break couldn’t hurt.

“(The players) have done everything we’ve asked them to do, and they’ve been working hard,” Banker said.

Battle for a spot at safety

After a standout sophomore season in 2014, safety Nate Gerry has become an integral piece for the NU secondary.

But who will start alongside him remains to be seen. At the moment, it’s a battle between senior Byerson Cockrell, freshman Aaron Williams and sophomore Kieron Williams.

“Until he’s battle-tested, I don’t know about Byerson,” Banker said. “I would expect to see him improve physically as he gets more reps at full-contact.”

Cockrell is still recovering from shoulder surgery in the offseason, opening the door for both Aaron and Kieron Williams.

“Aaron Williams has done a very good job since he’s been here,” Banker said. “He’s grown a lot in the position.”

However, Banker wasn’t short on Kieron Williams, either.

“(Kieron) Williams has improved quite a bit, just over the last four days. From day one, he’s always been in the film room whenever he’s had a chance. He’s been studying film and studying himself.”

Like many positions, both defensively and offensively, the final decision may not come until hours before kickoff.

“It’s a real close battle between (the Williams’) to see who’s next.”

Blackshirts to be given out soon

Nebraska’s long-standing tradition of awarding 'Blackshirts' to defensive starters hasn’t changed under the new staff, and Banker is still planning on giving them out before next week’s opener.

“(Our progress) is good,” Banker said.

While the players jockey for positioning each day, Banker says he reviews depth charts and potential Blackshirts about once a week.

“When camp gets started, half the time you don’t know what day of the week it is,” Banker said. “But about every five to seven days, we talk about our depth chart, and we’ve also always talked about guys who would be deserving of (a Blackshirt).”

While some coaches in the past have elected not to award the Blackshirts until some point during the season, Banker’s maintained throughout fall camp that the tradition will continue before the season begins.

“It’s close to happening,” Banker said.

sports@dailynebraskan.com