Spring Practice Break Thread

jeans15

Head Coach
Feb 23, 2011
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Will be posting information about the first week of practice. Any information you would like to add will be appreciated.




Sam Mckewon

Nebraska's giant roster comes with advantages - but longer work hours if you want to evaluate all of it.

Riley's not used to running a spring practice with more than 100 guys on the team. Nebraska's roster tops 120 players, so Riley initially split the Huskers into two groups and staggered their practice times, which put the coaches on the field for four hours. And instead of getting treatment or resting, a lot of the players either showed up early or stuck around late to watch their buddies practice in the other group. By the end of the first week, Riley was back to overseeing two groups practicing at once.

Riley structured practice to get as much of an evaluation as possible. That's a solid thing to do and perhaps overdue, given that any former coaching staff, after seven years, can get in an evaluation rut. As linebackers coach Trent Bray noted, some of NU's walk-ons hadn't received a significant practice snap in some time. At least, after this spring, there won't be any stones left unturned. But it's probably not a sustainable model in fall camp. Riley seemed to know it by the end of the first week when he switched it up.

* * *

Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf appear ready for now to meet Nebraska's old offense halfway.

Nebraska's offense definitely looks different from 2014. There's a huddle, for one thing, and many more snaps under center. More defined pass routes. More instruction on where to throw the ball, and when, rather than solely a focus on completing the pass.

The Huskers have not abandoned the shotgun, though, and reporters have seen some quarterback run game in practice. Because Riley installed the fly sweep into his offense nearly a decade ago, some of the speed motion from the previous spread offense is still in this offense, too. There seems to be clear recognition that the new staff must mold itself around the parts on hand and not force its schematic template on the team.

Of course, the parts on hand are, as a whole, better than the parts Riley and Langsdorf had at Oregon State. Recruiting rankings, stats and season records back up that contention. It probably hasn't been as much of a struggle for them as fans imagine.

* * *

The Blackshirts are back - and loving the freedom in Mark Banker's defense.

Nebraska's defense was more often a strength than a weakness in the Bo Pelini era. But the unit suffered from identity crises and analysis paralysis when a bigger, stronger team dared the Huskers to match up man for man.

New defensive coordinator Mark Banker wants to unleash that speed and athleticism. He wants guys to get out of their own heads, run and attack. And Husker defenders are on board with that. The biggest smiles seem to be coming from the linebackers, who will play more downhill in NU's system. Find the ball and tackle the guy carrying it.

No scheme is flawless, and Banker's system had its share of leaks at Oregon State in the last two seasons, especially against spread offenses. That said, Pelini's old defense specialized against wide-open spread attacks. So perhaps the two styles can marry well.

* * *

It's open season for starting jobs on the offensive line.

Other than left tackle Alex Lewis appearing to be the top guy at his position, no starting jobs have been locked down. Nebraska needs to find a center who won't get hurt and can play the position more effectively than it was for all of last season, and position coach Mike Cavanaugh has to decidewhich of his many guards he likes most. He has plenty.

Cavanaugh doesn't have as many bodies at tackle, but he's been tasked with improving what's on hand. Other than Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska hasn't had much to boast about at that position since joining the Big Ten. Too many penalties. Too many misses on pass blocks. Cavanaugh is busy coaching up Lewis, Givens Price, Matt Finnin, David Knevel and Zach Sterup - injured this spring - on the finer points of the position. Great teams are almost always good-to-great at offensive tackle. Nebraska hasn't been. Ditto at center.

* * *

Brian Stewart has some tough choices to make in the secondary.

So much talent, so few starting spots. It's a great problem for Stewart - who joins NU as defensive backs coach after being a defensive coordinator at Maryland and Houston for the last five seasons - but it's still one he'll have to work out. In each practice seen by reporters, a different defensive back has tended to do something special. And even if safety Nate Gerry and cornerback Daniel Davie look like safe bets to come out of the spring as top guys at their positions, they're still getting pushed, and any combination of players could join. The issue is especially pressing at corner, where Davie and Jonathan Rose are seniors being chased by a variety of young studs like Trai Mosley, Boaz Joseph, Chris Jones and Josh Kalu. And one can't forget Charles Jackson, recovering from another injury.

It's hard to see all of these guys sticking around for four years, given the competition at the spot and the attrition needed on the roster to make 85 scholarships work.

* * *

Tommy Armstrong still looks like the guy at quarterback.

The junior already had the room on his side after starting for two years, and the quarterback has given Riley and Langsdorf a strong impression through two weeks. He may not have the most enticing skill set - that could belong to redshirt freshman AJ Bush - but he's looked as good as any quarterback so far this spring, and he's one of two scholarship quarterbacks - along with Johnny Stanton - facing what amounts to the top defense. Stanton hasn't looked bad, but his delivery takes longer than Armstrong's does, and his confidence level just doesn't seem as high.

Riley has handled the quarterback discussion with skill, and given his history with signal-callers, he'll continue to do that. But listen to Riley talk about the position, and he rarely talks about mechanics. Instead, it's the intangibles. Grasp of the system. Leadership. Effort. Attitude. Riley can't change the measurables of the quarterbacks in the program. But he can look for the qualities he likes beyond the physical stuff. And Armstrong has a surfeit of them.
 

TwinsRRUs

Graduate Assistant
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Oct 1, 2011
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I prefer it like you post it, rather than opening up different articles all the time, but that's just me.

Keep it coming jeans.
 

loper

Sophomore
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Jun 30, 2001
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Thanks for posting. I cannot open most articles because I do not have a subscription
 

Chidog31

All-American
Jan 11, 2007
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Thanks Jean for posting it like you did! I appreciate it. Each time I read something new about Spring practice, I get more excited about the new staff and realize it was a great change for the program.
 

whiplash

Senior
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May 29, 2001
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Originally posted by jeans15:

Originally posted by TFrazier:
You should link directly to the article...just a thought.
Would that be better protocol? Serious question.
To keep the content creator happy, generally you can provide a snippet of the article as an introduction and then provide a link to the entire article.
 

St. Anger

Assistant Head Coach
Dec 13, 2007
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Good update. The offensive system is by far the most intriguing aspect to all of this. I still question whether or not Riley and Langsdorf truly adopt a hybrid system to suit our QBs. Time will tell.
 

jeans15

Head Coach
Feb 23, 2011
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Originally posted by whiplash:
Originally posted by jeans15:

Originally posted by TFrazier:
You should link directly to the article...just a thought.
Would that be better protocol? Serious question.
To keep the content creator happy, generally you can provide a snippet of the article as an introduction and then provide a link to the entire article.
Makes since.

And you all are welcome
 

jeans15

Head Coach
Feb 23, 2011
12,745
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- Grant Muessel

From literally the first day of spring, when Mike Riley and a handful of players spoke at a press conference early in March, there's been a relaxed attitude surrounding the team that was almost never there in the last three years of football. I don't know if we can ever truly say whether or not there was animosity from the players and coaches toward the fans and media, but I do know you can say there's not so much as a hint of it right now.

The fact that it's spring helps - new beginnings and such - but I think the new coaching staff has really made the "clean slate" feeling real. Rarely did a week pass in Bo Pelini's final three years when job speculation didn't at least make things awkward but now everyone seems to be at ease.

At the first press conference, Kevin Williams spoke to reporters for more than 25 minutes, then hung around and simply chatted with some of us. Recorders and cameras were turned off, and we just talked about the weird tales Randy Gregory shared from the NFL combine and other random things. He talked to me for five minutes about the specific techniques of Mark Banker's defense for the linemen; a big no-no under Pelini. Later that afternoon, Alex Lewis did almost the exact same thing - fielded questions for more than 20 minutes, then shot the breeze with a couple reporters casually for another 10, talking about playing at CU with New England Patriot Nate Solder and churning through the new playbook. Needless to say, it's a good working environment for everyone involved when the constant feeling of ulterior motives isn't lingering.

Check the Technique - Erin Sorensen

In last week's mailbag, someone asked what the biggest difference/change there was in covering practice this year versus last. Essentially, they wanted to know how Riley's practice compares to Bo Pelini's.

The difficult part of that question is that there is no easy answer. No matter what you say, it sounds like you're implying one coach's technique is better than the other. That simply is not the case. Of course the practice styles are different, but that's to be expected with a brand new coach.

Riley's staff is very focused on providing individual attention and feedback. You see it at practice after every drill and every snap during a scrimmage. If Tommy Armstrong Jr. throws a pick or reads the defense incorrectly, he's not being yelled at. Instead, a coach (and it's not always just the offensive coordinator) will walk up and talk to him one-on-one.

There's still yelling (usually from wide receivers coach Keith Williams, who is exceptionally animated at practice), but I'd say 90 percent of the time, feedback is provided to each player on a more personal level. Even Riley will walk up to a player and put his hand on their shoulder and chat.

After two weeks of practice, people will make of that what they will. As I pointed out to someone last week, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Some fans will appreciate Riley's more personalized approach, and some won't. It is what it is.

All I know is that after the first two weeks, the players don't seem any less intense (they've had multiple fights on the practice field, after all). Instead, it's just a different technique and it's been fascinating to watch.

1-2-3 - Brandon Vogel

Sam Keller quarterbacked Nebraska for nine game and completed 205 passes. It only seemed like all of them went to his third option, running back Marlon Lucky. If there was one thing Keller was really good at it was getting through his progression. In fact, maybe he was too good at it. No receiver of the Bo Pelini era really came close to Lucky's 75 receptions in 2007, which tells you a little a bit about different offensive schemes and a little bit about "holy crap, that's a lot of catches for a running back." But, if Keller were around today he'd probably be Nebraska's starting quarterback again in 2015.

I don't normally go in for any more spring quarterback talk than I have to. One guy, the unknown, is almost always overvalued and the incumbent is almost always undervalued. The first two weeks of quarterback competition has drawn the standard amount of attention, but more important than the race itself is what the coaches have revealed about the position itself.

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf wants his quarterbacks getting through that progression more quickly. Riley wants a higher completion percentage. We knew this was going to be the case coming in, but it was still somewhat surprising to see the coaches spell it out so clearly in their last meeting with the media before spring break.

It's not wise to draw hard and fast conclusions based on two weeks of practice, but I couldn't help but extrapolate that out to next fall. Riley's and Langsdorf's concern, I guess is the word, told me two things: 1. Nebraska's going to complete a higher percentage of its passes this season, but it's still going to be lower than is ideal for this staff, and 2. The race at running back might be even more important. The Huskers are going to need a guy, or multiple guys, to really be effective on the ground to offer some cushion for a passing game that probably won't be hitting on all cylinders.

At least that's how I feel here at "halftime