Riley and staff eager for spring practice
By Jack Housenga
LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska coach Mike Riley spoke with media members Wednesday to help set the table for the start of spring practices.
The Huskers will begin work on Saturday, six months from the start of the 2016 regular season.
In Riley’s first year in Lincoln, Nebraska finished 6-7, capping off the season with a 37-29 victory over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Riley said he is eager to use last year’s bowl win as momentum heading into what he hopes will be a productive spring.
“With all the adversity that we had in a transition year, where everything could have been a real catastrophe, we played our best ball in the last month,” Riley said. “We didn’t necessarily want that like that, but as we look back on it, I’m most proud of the fact that everybody kept going.”
All eyes this spring will be on senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who showed flashes of excellence in his first year under offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. However, Armstrong struggled as well, throwing 16 interceptions in 2015.
Riley said Armstrong will get first-team reps, but the quarterback knows he needs to improve.
“At the end of the day, this is the only team that matters,” Armstrong said. “We got to hold ourselves accountable. We have to make sure we prepare the right way.”
The Huskers’ strength should be in Armstrong and the offense, as Nebraska returns senior wide receivers Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore, as well as tight end Cethan Carter.
Nebraska’s defense will be another main fixture for attention this spring. The Blackshirts had notable struggles last season, giving up eight plays that went for more than 30 yards in eight Big Ten games.
The Huskers failed to generate much of a pass rush either, even with two future NFL draft picks in Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine in the mix.
Riley fired Hank Hughes after only one season in the program, and hired former Husker John Parella to take over the defensive line coaching duties.
Parella said in a press conference Wednesday bringing success back to Nebraska’s defense begins with the defensive line.
“It first starts with being dominant up front,” said Parella. “I think that our staff here is doing an excellent job letting the guys on the team know exactly what we’ve got to do to continue to get to the end result we’re all after.”
Despite many points of focus, Riley added the team won’t look to accomplish anything major during the spring.
“The focus for us is going to be playing better football within the framework of what you do,” said Riley. “I think you can come away with good fundamentals and not necessarily a whole volume of what you want to do during the season.”
Chris Emma, a reporter for 670 The Score in Chicago, and a former writer for Big Red Report, said he expects major improvement from the sub-.500 mark the Huskers posted a season ago.
“There’s plenty of talent in place for this Nebraska team,” said Emma. “If this talent reveals itself, this team should be Big Ten West division champs. Anything less than competing for a divisional crown would be a disappointment.”
The Huskers will conclude their spring practice session with a red and white exhibition at Memorial Stadium on April 16th.