LINCOLN, Neb. — The Huskers took the practice field one last time on Thursday before the upcoming spring break, marking the midway point of spring football.
“We just finished our No. 6 practice for spring,” Coach Mike Riley said. “We’ll meet our players tomorrow, go over this practice and then they’ll be off for spring break for a bit.”
Riley said he has been pleased with how the team has progressed through the first few weeks.
“I think it’s been great to this point,” Riley said. “I really appreciated the enthusiasm for the work and I think we had a lot of stuff go in. Obviously everything defensively is install, and then after that, with the new quarterbacking and how that’s going, there’s been a lot of new things but I think it’s gone in fairly well.”
Wide receivers coach Keith Williams said he likes the way players have stepped up to fill the leadership void left by the departed seniors.
“I’m pleased with the approach of the offensive unit,” Williams said. “I think we’ve taken another step with new leadership. The older guys that were here, they’re gone, so we have new leadership and those new guys are doing a great job with the younger guys who haven’t played. We have a lot of younger guys at wideout and at other positions that are going to have to contribute now that it’s their turn.”
>> The secondary had a strong showing in practice on Thursday, particularly during the 11-on-11 period when they moved into the red zone. The defensive backs broke up or picked off a number of balls that were thrown into some tight windows.
“We did a lot of red zone work today and they made some great plays in the red zone,” Riley said. “I thought Chris Jones was outstanding, Joshua Kalu made some plays, [Dicaprio] Bootle made a great interception in the red zone. JoJo Domann made another interception in the red zone. Not so good quarterbacking and offensively in that way. Those windows get tight and guys were making some plays. I think the secondary, it should be a strength with some veteran players like we have the the growth of some young people like Lamar [Jackson], I’m excited about that group.”
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said a number of factors played into the rough day by the offense.
“Trying to force a few throws into those tight windows in the red zone; that was part of it,” Langsdorf said. “Some of it was not recognizing the coverage change as well. Some of it was the spacing of the routes; we were kind of bunched up so defenders were able to play two guys with one defender, so that was a little bit of it. There’s a lot of stuff there.”
Riley said the quarterback miscues were very uncharacteristic of what he’s seen so far this spring, and he does not expect to see them to that degree again.
“I think today with the red zone stuff, it was not the same as it had been for the quarterbacks … My guess is the next time we do the red zone it will all be better,” Riley said. “I think that overall, those guys have performed at a high level with a high percentage. Today was probably a good eye-opener for them.”
One noteworthy change at Thursday’s practice was that the coaches gave Joshua Kalu a “look-see” at safety. He played next to Aaron Williams while Lamar Jackson took his place as the outside corner opposite Chris Jones.
Riley said they are “looking at where he might best fit and where we might find the best strength.”
>> Linebacker Tyrin Ferguson was back at practice on Thursday after missing some time earlier in the spring after getting his knee scoped.
Freshman wide Receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr. tweeted on Tuesday that he had been cleared to practice following an illness that kept him out, and he was on the field Thursday.
“He has been cleared,” Riley said. “Remember the first two practices have to be in shorts so he’s still in that protocol. When he comes back we’ll have a shorts practice and then he should be geared up and practicing, which is great.”
Johnson stayed after practice on Tuesday to get some one-on-one work in with Keith Williams, and Williams said he is happy to finally put the early enrollee to work.
“He’s been eating free for about two months, so we need to get him out here running around,” Williams said. “It’s been good.”
Jaevon McQuitty, the other freshman wide receiver who enrolled early, will not be cleared for contact this spring according to Riley.
>> Tyler Hoppes was the early stand-out at tight end, and according to Langsdorf Matt Snyder has joined him as guys who have separated themselves from the pack a bit.
“I think probably Tyler [Hoppes] and Matt [Snyder] have shown the most from that position,” Langsdorf said. “Missing Connor Ketter hurt us a little bit; we’d have loved to get him a lot of work. Hopefully we’ll get him back as soon as we can. I think those two tight ends have shown the best so far. They just need constant improvement blocking. I think their strengths probably are catching the ball so we just have to get the blocking part of it improved. If we can do that, they’ll be fine.”
One player who has the potential to be a strong blocker is redshirt freshman Jack Stoll.
“He’s physical,” Langsdorf said. “He’s probably a little bit tougher on the line of scrimmage than he is as a threat down field, but I think he’s come along with his route running and his pass protection. He’s just learning and he’s a smart kid, so I think he’s picked up the system well and he’s done a nice job assignment-wise. He just has to learn the techniques and the fundamentals side will come.”
>> At wide receiver, Bryan Reimers has established himself as a key player in the rotation.
“He has had a really good spring; just a really solid football player, making plays and doing a nice job getting open,” Langsdorf said. “You’ve seen kind of daily improvement with him and I expect him to be in the mix for sure.”
“Reim-Dog’s a guy,” Williams said. “He’s a player. Whatever he does, is what he should do; there are no more surprises with him.”
Making the right play is exactly what Reimers is focused on and how he believes he will earn playing time.
“I think you just have to make the plays when you get put in,” Reimers said. “They’re giving you the opportunity; you only get so many reps per practice and then when you get that opportunity to go in there and play, just make the play when the ball is thrown to you.”