LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska football team was back on the practice field on Friday for the first time since the end of the regular season as the Huskers began their bowl preparation. Nebraska will play against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 30.
“We’re excited about the match-up and the city,” Coach Mike Riley said. “There’s no doubt that Nashville will do this thing right. So we’re proud to be playing in the Music City Bowl. I think playing against Tennessee in the state of Tennessee will be exciting.”
Senior safety Nathan Gerry called the break “needed.”
“We’re banged up a little bit,” Gerry said. “It’s always nice to get your body refreshed, get in the weight room, get back some of that strength that some of us lost during the season. A lot of us, with injuries and stuff like that, you can’t fully gain strength.”
After the layoff, Riley said the coaches eased the team back into the swing of things in Friday’s practice.
“I thought it was good today,” Riley said. “It was a different start than I’ve had almost every bowl year because it’s been a full two weeks and I hadn’t seen these guys for a while. We went actually pretty light today with the varsity, the guys that have been playing in the games. We had an individual period, we had a specialty period and after that we had about 30 minutes of what could be called Tennessee prep but it was general football play. And then we kept the young guys out for a little bit of extra work. We’re going to take advantage of what we have is 16 practices. We’re going to, as we go, progress with our game plan and we’ll do a little bit more interaction with our offense against defense as we go forward and we’ll continue to work the young guys at the completion of practice to just help with their development. That’s kind of one of the bonus features that we have with being in a bowl game.”
Riley provided an update on the quarterback situation as starter Tommy Armstrong Jr. is still dealing with the hamstring injury that limited him in the regular-season finale at Iowa.
“Right now, Tommy is not practicing,” Riley said. “We are going forward as if Ryker [Fyfe] is going to start. Until we gain any new information, we have to look at it that way, obviously, health-wise. [Fyfe] is getting the reps, Zack Darlington is getting some turns and that will be our quarterback situation. We are hopeful to gain more information too about Tommy, but today he did not practice.”
Riley said center Dylan Utter (leg), linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey (back), running back Terrell Newby (leg) and wide receiver Alonzo Moore (leg) were all out or limited on Friday, although Riley said he anticipates the first three will play and he is hopeful that Moore will recover in time as well.
Riley also shared the thought process that led to the hiring of Donte Williams as the team’s new cornerbacks coach, filling the hole created by the firing of special teams coordinator Bruce Read.
“We’re proud to have Donte join our staff,” Riley said. “We have been doing as fast of research as we could have accomplished I think during a period of time to kind of pinpoint a guy that we were interested in out there. What we were looking for — as you know I made a dramatic change in our staff, and one of the reasons for that is I thought it would be important to add a defensive coach to our staff and a guy that with that had an expertise in the secondary position and would bring us a little different element in recruiting than we had, not necessary are but just personal element and success in recruiting. So we needed kind of that whole package as we looked at it.”
Williams will coach the corners while Brian Stewart will take over the safeties, freeing up defensive coordinator Mark Banker to focus on the defense as a whole and any other responsibilities he may have. Gerry said that transition on the practice field hasn’t quite happened yet, however.
“From what I’ve seen today, Bank is still coaching us and what I saw over there, I guess Stew was in the film room and Coach D was in the back,” Gerry said. “I saw him just shadowing in the bank and I saw him pull over some of the corners and kind of talk to them and I think give them some of his coaching points and things like that.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.