Nebraska Football: What We’ve Learned Already About Huskers Under Mike Riley

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans were excited to see the start of spring practice, even if it just meant seeing new head coach Mike Riley and a number of chosen players answering questions from the media. And while press conferences generally are pretty dull affairs, we actually learned quite a bit about what Nebraska will look like under Riley’s leadership next season.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from those press conferences.

Riley needs to learn about his roster

According to a transcript from Huskers.com, Riley announced that spring practice for Nebraska this year would be a bit unorthodox. The team will be split into two units, a red team and a white team, each with a mix of younger and veteran players. The coaches will, basically, have two separate practices for each of the two “teams” each day. In between the two practice sessions, the entire team will work on special teams.

There’s a number of benefits for this split-squad approach. As Riley pointed out, splitting up the teams will make sure there is less standing around, where “22 guys were playing and 100 guys were watching.” While leaving the coaches on the field longer, the more focused practice sessions should help keep the players involved.

But it will also provide the new coaching staff with much more opportunity to observe the players over the spring. By increasing the number of players the coaches can observe, Riley’s split-squad approach will dramatically increase the amount of time the coaches can directly observe each player’s performance in practice. That should jump-start the staff’s ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and better inform them in making decisions on depth charts and game plans tailored to the skill sets of the players.

The defense will be simpler

Junior safety Nate Gerry was one of the players who spoke at the press conference before the beginning of spring football. And what he had to say (according to a transcript from Huskers.com) was certainly illuminating about what Nebraska’s defense will be like in 2015.

“My first impression is that I’m really excited for it. It’s a lot simpler than it was. … That’s the thing [new defensive coordinator Mark Banker] wants us all to do, to be able to get to the ball faster and to stay loose. Last year we had a lot of people overthinking. Mentally we weren’t as sharp as we were maybe supposed to be.”

A simpler defense, not paralyzed by a complicated scheme. While I’m sure Gerry wasn’t intending to, that’s a pretty stunning indictment of Nebraska’s defense last year, or at least how the defense was coached to the players.

While Nebraska’s offense got most of the attention when Riley (a pro-style quarterback coach) was hired, NU’s new-look defense might really be the big change in 2015.

The offense will be pro-style

When Mike Riley arrived, he brought with him a reputation of being a quarterback guru and purveyor of a pro-style offense. Since his hire, there had been some question as to how much of that offense he would bring from Corvallis to Lincoln.

Well, we’ve got the answer to that question, it appears.

According to a transcript of a pre-spring press conference from Huskers.com, junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong said the following about his preparations for 2015.

“Right now [offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf] is making us watch Oregon State’s offense. They are trying to get some of the things we ran similar to what those guys ran last year. Right now, the plays we have been studying and looking at are Oregon State’s (plays). That is kind of similar to what we were looking forward to running.”

In a separate transcript of press conference comments on Huskers.com from junior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, we learned that Nebraska’s offense will be “a pro-style type of offense.” And from a separate story by Eric Olsen of the AP, Armstrong said that Langsdorf told him that he would “not be a running back” and that his job as quarterback would be to “sit in the pocket, deliver the ball when I can and make smart decisions.”

It looks as if the option as a staple of Nebraska’s offense—along with the spread concepts introduced in the last few years—will be a thing of the past in Lincoln next season.

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