LINCOLN, Neb. — The Huskers put on the pads and got a bit more physical in Saturday’s practice as Mike Riley let the players get after it with a scrimmage to close out the day as approximately 400 visitors for the coaches clinic looked on.
“I thought we had a really good day of practice today,” Coach Mike Riley said. “We had about an hour-plus of just kind of regular practice with some periods and drills in it and then we had a scrimmage where we virtually let every guy here play … That’s pretty good. I think it was really good to let the guys finish plays. That’s always really important. I thought defensively, there were a couple early drives but except for one they didn’t allow touchdowns and made a lot of plays.”
The defense certainly had a strong day, giving up only a few big plays and holding the offense to field goals or turnovers most of the scrimmage. One of the young defenders who stood out was inside linebacker Mohamed Barry who ran with the second unit. Barry laid some big hits and helped force some turnovers as well.
“He’s an explosive athlete, one of probably the best kind of pure athletic guys like that on our team,” Riley said. “He’s got great intentions, too. His work ethic, his preparation for opportunity is at a high level. I think that he spent last year learning about playing at this level and now I think he’s learning some of the inside things about actually being good, the little details that make a guy better. I think he’s got the tools physically to do it so the more he can learn about what really makes a difference in making plays, I think he’s on track to do that. It’s exciting to see. Great kid, hard worker, wonderful guy, wants to play. And so all the stuff that happened for him today is just building his confidence to be a factor when he plays.”
Overall, the young linebackers played well and Riley is excited about what he has seen both from the starters and the back-ups like Barry and freshman Avery Roberts.
“I think that we have solid people that are in those positions as starters right now and that next group is very exciting athletically,” Riley said. “Let’s stand them up right here and it’s a great looking group of guys. So what we have to do is continue to grow them and coach them and get them game ready. All those guys are eager, excited about their opportunity, excited about playing, made some plays today, built some confidence, continued to grow. They’re really getting coached, and they’re taking it. I’m excited about that group. It’s very important that those guys as football players are ready to contribute not only as going in as the next man up but also they should be all over the kickoff team, punt team, those coverage teams, those big field-position changers that are a big, big deal. I’m excited about them.”
Roberts, an early enrollee, is making a strong push for immediate playing time this season.
“It’s going to be hard not to play him … He’s kind of one of those guys that reminds me of what Dedrick was like when he came in, just smart, kind of poised, pretty quiet but very tough,” Riley said. “He’s listening, paying attention.”
As for the secondary, Riley said he likes how the pieces look after moving Joshua Kalu from cornerback to safety.
“I think the movement and change of some positions will make us better,” Riley said. “I think that Kalu playing safety with Aaron Williams and then having Lamar [Jackson] and Chris Jones at the corners, that’s a good look to me. And then I think the look right behind those guys is developing and exciting. Some of those kids, like Eric Lee — Eric has not emerged until this spring. What we’re doing now and with his growth, he’s coming to be a guy that I think will play in the games and do a nice job.”
As for the offense, Riley said he is starting to develop a good picture at quarterback, although he is not ready to share just yet as both Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien continue to rotate. The first string only got one drive during the scrimmage, but Lee was the one behind center. With the second unit, Lee and O’Brien both got snaps.
“Even if I did I don’t want to say right now,” Riley said. “I think that it’s not necessary. I really like what both of these guys are doing. We need them both to be ready to start and play. The way we are alternating their work is very, very well-done by Coach Langsdorf. They’re getting almost identical turns and we don’t have too many where it’s all watered down, either. We only have four quarterbacks working, and I want to keep that room small so that they get the room like this, and I hope to continue it like this in fall camp. I don’t mean that I won’t say who the starting quarterback is; I don’t think we’ll wait that long. I don’t even really want to think about that at this time. I’m really happy with both guys.”
Riley said he also liked what he saw from freshman Tristan Gebbia, who got plenty of snaps during the scrimmage.
“We obviously recruited Tristan, gave him a scholarship, thought he was real good … The one thing you guys don’t see and most everybody does not see, you’ve got to stay in the office to see it, he’s the guy that’s in there watching film by himself at night,” Riley said. “I told him where the secret passageway was when the doors were locked so he could get into it. That’s the kind of guy he is. And today, that was all confirmed. The guy is a football player. He moves the ball, quick release, sees what’s going on, knows what’s happening, it was all very encouraging, upward trending.”
Riley said how quickly Gebbia sees the field and makes decisions is rare for an 18-year-old and “probably the key ingredient” for him.
At tight end, a depth chart is starting to form as the Huskers look to replace their top three at the position after all three graduated.
“I’ve been worried about that,” Riley said. “We all are concerned. No team that has lost three senior guys that have done most of the playing would think this would be easy. We’ve lost three guys that played a lot of football and were good players. I hate that; I wish we had those guys back because I really enjoyed those people … So we’ve got a guy — kind of the lone ranger and a guy that’s kind of older and has been around and played a little bit is [Tyler] Hoppes. I’ve really been impressed how physically he has picked up his game. So we need stability and continued growth by him and I think were going to get it. I’m excited about Tyler.
“I’m feeling real good lately about Matt Snyder and Jack Stoll. When you look at those guys physically, you think those guys look the part. This is kind of their entry point to opportunity. I think they’re taking advantage of it, I think their confidence is growing and I think we have to get out of them what we need to do with the tight end physically to be a good running team. I have been nothing but encouraged about that.”
Riley also said he hopes Connor Ketter can get healthy and that he will be a factor once he returns. He also said redshirt freshman David Engelhaupt one of the team’s best athletes at that size and the he needs to continue to learn.
Riley wrapped things up by announcing that interior offensive lineman Zach Hannon is leaving Nebraska as a graduate transfer.
“Zach is doing it for personal, family reasons,” Riley said. “I’m all for him doing it for the reasons that he’s doing it for. We’re actually excited for his apparent opportunity that he has out there, both to play and to be closer to his family.”
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.