LINCOLN, Neb. — The Huskers busted out the pads for practice on Thursday as the first week of spring football rolls on.
“It’s more like real football now,” running backs coach Reggie Davis said. “Everybody knows they’re going to get hit a little bit at least; they’re not getting tackled to the ground. It always ramps up a little bit; the cream always rises.”
After practice, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf gave an early status report on a few of the offensive position groups.
He, of course, began with the quarterbacks including Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien.
“I’ve been impressed with, really, the group in general,” Langsdorf said. “I think the amount of time that they’ve put in since the end of the season really has shown in the first three days. We have a long way to go but we’ve done a lot of good things at the position, a lot of good reads and checks … Overall I’m impressed with the competition … They’ve got even reps and even looks with different people and they’re very, very close. If you look at the grades and the completion percentage and all that, they’re really similar.”
“It’s one of those things where every day you might think a little bit differently about a guy at practice,” Langsdorf continued. “I thought Tanner had an edge the other day; I thought Patrick played well today. We really have to take a good hard look at it. We have a lot of time before we have to make a decision and I’m hoping one of them will rise up and break away.”
Lee said the competition will only help the team to improve.
“I think it’s good for both guys to have competition and for us to just come out and try to have the best days that we can every day,” Lee said.
Langsdorf highlighted accuracy as the most important trait the coaches are looking for this spring.
“Accuracy — being able to complete balls,” Langsdorf said. “When we have a play that we’re going to throw the ball on and we have an open receiver and the protection is good, we have to be able to complete the ball. That’s going to be the biggest factor in winning the job.”
O’Brien had the benefit of traveling with the team and getting reps on offense while he redshirted as a freshman.
“Traveling, that’s obviously going to help a lot so I know what to expect from that,” O’Brien said. “We had the Sunday practices, so those helped a lot, helped me learn the offense even better.”
However, Lee ran the scout team and got to participate in the Sunday scrimmages as well, which he said were big for him.
“I think they were extremely important just to keep my mind on football, just getting used to the offense, trying to get it down as best as I can, just getting used to being coached by Coach Langs and being around those guys and developing a relationship with a lot of guys that we’re throwing to now,” Lee said.
Ultimately, Langsdorf said the experiences for both quarterbacks last year will help them as they compete for the starting job.
“I do think there’s definitely a benefit with the amount of work [O’Brien] got as opposed to Tanner really taking the scout team, but Tanner’s a sharp guy and he’s played a lot of football, so he’s got the experience factor which is good too,” Langsdorf said.
At wide receiver, Langsdorf said Stanley Morgan Jr. has stood out in the early going.
“I think Stanley Morgan’s looked really good at that X position,” Langsdorf said. “I’ve been impressed with Bryan Reimers. Keyan Williams and J.D. Spielman in the slot have shown up. We’ve got some depth there; maybe some guys that haven’t played as much, so they have to get their feet wet … We’re continuing to find that group, really that top three and then kind of working the depth from there. Stanley’s obviously played a ton and he looks like it.”
Similarly, Tyler Hoppes has looked good at tight end as the Huskers look to replace three seniors at the position.
“I think Tyler Hoppes probably has an edge there with the amount of time he’s played and being an upperclassman,” Lagsdorf said. “Matt Snyder’s been good; I think he’s showed up in practice. I think our young guys are really athletic; they’ve got a little ways to go in knowing what to do.”
At running back, Langsdorf said all three guys that played last season — Devine Ozigbo, Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon — have made progress.
“With the amount of reps those guys have gotten throughout the season, I think they’re a lot more comfortable. I think we’re better in protection with them already. I think we’re better with out footwork and running the ball, I think they’re hitting the holes faster and not dancing as much.”
Running backs coach Reggie Davis wasn’t exactly pleased with how the backs performed on Thursday, however.
“First few days were pretty good,” Davis said. “Today it felt like we took a step back. We have a lot of things to clean up but they’ll bounce back … It was focus. Energy was there, it was just focus, making mistakes we can’t make.”
Davis said all of the players looked to have taken advantage of their offseason in terms of building up their bodies.
“Tre’s looking good; he put on some good weight,” Davis said. “Divine’s leaned down, he’s looking really good. A lot of the guys we gave good target weights and body fat percentages that we wanted to get those guys at. A lot of them hit it or came real close. They worked really hard in the offseason; I’m proud of them.”
As of now, none of the backs have separated themselves in Langsdorf’s eyes.
“That’s a pretty even group,” Langsdorf said. “We’re trying to have one of those guys break away also. And we like them for different reasons. We want a guy that will be kind of an all-round player and break away from the pack.”
The Huskers will return to the field for a practice open to the media on Saturday.
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.