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Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, 9/2/17

Nebraska offensive tackle Tanner Farmer mixes it up with Arkansas State defensive back Justin Clifton (10)  and defensive lineman Donovan Ransom (91) in September at Memorial Stadium.

Barrett Ruud is not one to mince words.

On Saturday afternoon after Nebraska finished its 10th practice of the spring, the Husker inside linebackers coach made it clear that sophomore Avery Roberts has a critical summer ahead if he plans on pushing for playing time.

"He's got to get in shape and he's got to get his movements a lot better," Ruud said. "He's a smart kid and he's worked hard at it, but his movements aren't where they need to be and his conditioning's not where it needs to be, so the summer's going to be huge for him. I think he needs to lose a little bit of weight and I think he needs to really, really buy in to what Coach (Zachary) Duval wants him to do this summer."

Roberts was one of four true freshmen to play in 2017, though most of his action came on special teams as he was the No. 4 inside backer behind Dedrick Young, Mohamed Barry and Chris Weber. Replace Weber with Will Honas, and you have this spring's apparent top trio.

Ruud recently tabbed Roberts as part of a top four as well, but made it clear that the former four-star prospect from Wilmington, Delaware, has a lot of work to do.

"A lot of it is going to be up to him," Ruud said. "If you're in shape and you can move, all of a sudden he's a different player. If he doesn't reach that point, then we're stuck where we're at right now. Summer's going to be big for us as a whole team. Specifically for him, it's really going to be a difference-maker for him, I think."

Farmer getting acclimated to center: Tanner Farmer's been a guard throughout his Husker career, but the senior is manning the middle more and more as spring progresses.

"I just have to learn it more and more," the Highland, Illinois, native said. "Just learning that position and the slight differences between that and guard are what I'm working on right now."

Farmer is seeing increased work at the position because of offseason surgeries to Michael Decker (knee) and Cole Conrad (shoulder). That leaves a current de facto top group of Brenden Jaimes at left tackle, left guard Jerald Foster, Decker and right tackle Matt Farniok. Boe Wilson backed up Farmer at right guard in 2017 and is a likely option at right guard while Farmer is in the middle.

"They do a very good job of teaching these plays, so I'm understanding the line calls very well and everybody on the line knows the line calls," Farmer said. "They make a point that everybody on the line can play any position. We have to be able to call any position and any blocking scheme."

Jackson making strides: Asked who was standing out on the back end of Nebraska's defense, NU defensive backs coach Travis Fisher quickly pointed out Lamar Jackson.

The 6-foot-3, 210 pound junior "is a competitor," Fisher said.

"If I had to say there's one guy that has improved the most, it's him," Fisher added. "As far as in the run game where he struggled more last year, and just being more competitive in the back end, I think he has improved.

"He's not there, but I think he's improved a lot."

Lightbourn adding kickoffs to repertoire: Junior Caleb Lightbourn likely has a stranglehold on the punting job. Now he's trying to add kickoff specialist to his duties.

For the first time since high school, Lightbourn is working regularly on kickoffs under new special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt.

"It's one of my favorite things to do because you don't have to think about it too much," Lightbourn said Saturday. "You just go and kick the ball as hard as you can. It's a lot of fun."

Lightbourn said he's competing with freshman Barret Pickering and redshirt freshman walk-on Cole Frahm for the job.

"(Dewitt) just tells us, whoever's going to kick it through the end zone is going to get the job," Lightbourn said. "So that's pretty much what it's about, and that's what I'm going to try to do."

Young placekickers in competition: Pickering and Frahm have the tall task of attempting to replace four-year starter and NFL hopeful Drew Brown as NU's placekicker.

Pickering is an early enrollee and a scholarship player, while Frahm is a redshirt freshman walk-on from Omaha Burke.

"I'm going to be honest with you, there's a lot of guys on the team, I don't know if they're scholarship or walk-on because it's truthfully just a full evaluation," special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said Saturday.

He probably knows the status of Pickering and Frahm, because they're under his careful watch, but he definitely knows that they're pushing each other.

"Every day there's a new competition for those guys and they're battling it out pretty good," Dewitt said. "I think we had missed one that was a little bit short from 51 yards the other day, but it's a constant battle every day for those guys and we evaluate them every day."

Seeking consistency: Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander assessed his unit's week of practice.

"I thought Tuesday we were pretty good, I thought Thursday we were down and I thought today we were a lot better," Chinander said Saturday. "Right now, I'm trying to get some consistency out of everybody, out of the whole unit — a little more fight.

"We went outside and got a little cold. I think both sides of the ball went down a little bit. We're used to practicing inside. I need to see a little more fight when things get rough."

More vocals, please: Erik Chinander would like to see more vocal leaders emerge on defense.

"Nobody's been good enough," he said. "I wouldn't say right now we have a bell cow, we have a guy we can rally around."

Chinander did say injured senior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg "has done a nice job on the sideline getting some guys going even though he's been a little banged up and a little sick."

"But we don't have a guy on the field yet that we can rally around. Sometimes that's a byproduct of not knowing your job well enough. They're trying to swim in deep water right now. But that part has to improve, too."

— Chris Basnett, Parker Gabriel, Steven M. Sipple

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