For the first time in eight years the Nebraska Cornhuskers will enter spring football without Bo Pelini. That means everything is fresh and new and exciting after the hire of Mike Riley as the new head coach this offseason.
It’s safe to say he wasn’t the first or second or even third choice of those in the media or the fanbase, but athletic director Shawn Eichorst apparently had him at the top of his wish list, as Riley was hired quickly following Pelini’s ouster.
That means the 2015 spring will be more about the going on’s on the field than what is happening around the spring game. We’re not likely to see a cat come out in the hands of the head coach or anything else crazy. However, this could also be the biggest spring game for action on the field in nearly a decade.
Spring Football Start Date: March 7
Spring Football Game Date: April 11
Key Returning Players: Tommy Armstrong, QB; Demornay Pierson-El, WR; Jordan Westerkamp, WR; Vincent Valentine, DT; Nathan Gerry, S
Key Losses: Randy Gregory, DE; Kenny Bell, WR; Ameer Abdullah, RB; David Santos, LB
Nebraska’s Spring To-Do List:
– Figuring out the QB situation: Normally having a starter returning for his junior season wouldn’t be a bad thing. However, given Mike Riley’s history with quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong may not be exactly what the Huskers are looking for going forward.
That said, Riley isn’t opposed to working with a non-traditional pro-style quarterback or two and Armstrong’s game experience has him at the top of the depth chart heading in to spring. Armstrong’s reign at the top may not be long if he continues to make the mistakes he did last season and has early on in his career.
Riley hired Danny Langsdorf as the offensive coordinator, and between the two they are considered some of the best quarterback coaches in college football. So, perhaps Armstrong benefits in a big way from their tutelage.
However, there is the looming presence of former Elite 11 quarterback Johnny Stanton to think about too. He appeared to have all the tools to be a star at the college level, but he hasn’t seen the field in a meaningful way. With a new coaching staff he may have the exact skill set that will make this offense work.
No doubt about it, the quarterback position is No. 1 on the curiosity list.
– Can Secondary Be Strength of Team Once Again: The Huskers made a huge move by signing Brian Stewart as the defensive backs coach earlier this week. He’s coming off coaching one of the best secondaries in the Big Ten last season and his experience at the NFL and college level is a massive upgrade to Riley’s coaching staff.
It just so happens there is also a lot of talent to work with, starting with All-Big Ten safety Nathan Gerry and Daniel Davie at cornerback. Still, there is the other half of the group to replace and Stewart’s coaching ability could pay off in a big way.
Over the course of spring there will be plenty of competition to be had, not only for the starting spots but throughout the depth chart.
– Who Will Lead the Running Back Stable: Normally losing a player like Ameer Abdullah would hurt a lot. In fact, not many programs could lose the second-best rusher in school history and not have some worry. Such is the case with Nebraska though, as they have built up a pretty good stable of backs behind Abdullah.
Some, like Imani Cross and Terrell Newby have proven themselves and then there are intriguing options like redshirt freshman Mikale Wilbon and Adam Taylor.
Lat season Cross put up 397 yards on 75 carries (5.1 yards per carry), while Newby impressed with 302 yards on 67 carries as well. Still, the duo didn’t exactly set the world on fire in the big chance last season when Abdullah went down with an injury in the Purdue game.
Cross had just 66 yards on 20 carries and Newby added just 42 yards on nine carries. Not exactly numbers that will give people confidence they can carry this team in the run game going forward.
Spring will be a big opportunity for all four backs to showcase their ability to be the one to carry this team in 2015 and beyond.
– Put on a Good Show for the Fans: It’s spring football and the score won’t ever be remembered, but spring football at Nebraska is unlike any other in the Big Ten. The school normally sells out the stadium and with a new coaching staff in town this could be a huge opportunity to get the fans all pulling in the same direction.
After all, not everyone was exactly on board with the firing of Bo Pelini and Rilely’s hire was seen as a pretty outside-the-box kind of hire. So, if this team can show that things are going well and key players are performing at a high level after 14 practices this spring it would be a huge help towards healing any wounds that still exist.
The coaching staff’s biggest job will be getting the players in to the system, but the secondary goal has to be getting everyone in Husker Nation pulling in the same direction heading in to the fall.