When Mike Riley met with the media Monday morning for the first game week press conference of the 2017 season, one thing stood out: youth.
Nebraska released its depth chart early Monday morning, and there was youth running up and down the list. And when Riley started talking for what would be a 30-minute press conference, the young freshmen came up immediately.
“Tyjon Lindsey will play, Jaylin Bradley will play, Avery Roberts will play, Deontre Thomas will play,” he said.
Bradley, the freshman running back, has seen his status up in the air during fall camp. Will he redshirt or will he play? Riley seemed to all but silence those questions when he announced Bradley will not only be available to play, but will see time all over the field.
“We’ve been really impressed with the ability Jaylin Bradley has shown as a runner, as a receiver [and] playing on special teams,” Riley said. “He’s playing on other teams besides the return team too. We’re excited about him as a football player.”
Thomas, the freshman nose tackle, is also someone that has impressed during camp. When nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg was held out of practice earlier in the month, Thomas absorbed those first team reps and wowed the coaching staff.
“He worked his way into a position where he looked like he could make a difference for us playing in the games,” Riley said.
Then there’s Lindsey, who can’t seem to help but hear praise heading into the season.
“I don’t think Tyjon Lindsey will blink at all when put in the game,” Riley said.
Overall, Riley isn’t worried about the young guys throughout the depth chart, because they’ve all shown they’re capable enough to produce in game situations.
“We certainly appreciated their talent to recruit them, but the other part was they had to show during the fall camp that they could fit and play, that they would be comfortable with what they had to do and how they did it,” Riley said.
“The other thing is some of them took advantage of opportunities where we weren’t real deep. They forged their way in, proved that they could be that guy and then were able to earn that spot on the depth chart where they would play.”
The Huskers open their season on Saturday against Arkansas State at 7 p.m.
Other notes and quotes from Riley’s time at the podium
>> Redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien will be the Huskers’ second-string quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said that spot was still up for grabs several weeks ago, with freshman Tristan Gebbia pushing to steal the spot from O’Brien, but Riley said Gebbia will be the No. 3 when the season opens on Saturday.
“Like we did last year with Patrick O’Brien, Tristan will be our No. 3,” he said. “Our goal would be that he redshirts but he will be active in getting game ready.”
>> Riley knows who he likes at running back.
Even though the Huskers didn’t list an official starter on the depth chart (sophomore Tre Bryant, junior Mikale Wilbon and junior Devine Ozigbo were all listed as possible starters), Riley said that the workload wouldn’t be even in the first game, and he knows who will get the first carry.
“We certainly have a plan and I don’t know that it’ll be equal in all terms,” he said. “They have all at times in their past done good things. We looked for that consistent growth within that group and we feel good about all those guys. My guess is they will all play, and some of them will be situational guys.”
>> During the Huskers’ mock game in Memorial Stadium last Saturday, they ran through more situational things than anything else.
“That game was very non-physical, mostly mental,” Riley said. “A lot of substitutions, a lot of situations, a lot of situation substitutions, some time clock stuff, end of the half, end of the game, two-minute, onside kick team.”
Now, they’re turning to put the finishing touches on things this week.
>> Three freshman make up the kickoff return squad: Lindsey, Bradley and JD Spielman.
“We certainly feel good about the abilities of those guys,” Riley said. “Spielman and Lindsey and Bradley all have ability to run in space and create something special.”
>> Riley was complimentary of the work that new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has put in since arriving in Lincoln.
“What Bob did was studied the players on the team as best he could, gathered as much information as he could and did a very thoughtful job of the placement of players,” he said. “There’s a profile in the 3-4 defense. He has a very specific idea of what the profile of a guy looks like at each position.”
Riley added that Diaco hand picking players to play certain positions has been a confidence boost for guys who have “found new life” in the 3-4 defense, especially the linebacker group. Riley said junior Luke Gifford has benefited the most.
“Luke Gifford, who really hasn’t played that much, all of the sudden found a spot in this 3-4 defense and grew because of that confidence put in him,” Riley said. “He grabbed onto it, he was taught well, he’s now playing the best football I’ve ever seen him play.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.