Saturday notes: Huskers hold first fall scrimmage
With college football eliminating the usage of two-a-day practices starting this season, one of the potential advantages as a result is that teams now get the opportunity to hold an additional live scrimmage with the extra week of fall camp.
Nebraska had its first fall scrimmage on Saturday to cap off the opening week of camp, going about 86 plays total and getting the first-team offense and defense about 25 or so snaps.
Head coach Mike Riley said it was “a mixed bag” overall in the scrimmage, noting that the first-team defense had a number good plays on the day. Riley said the first-team offense also made some plays, but it wasn’t as consistent as he’d like.
“I thought there were a lot of good plays with the one defense in there,” Riley said. “I thought that was good. I thought the one offense made some plays, and, not consistent, but had some nice runs. I was excited about that, too. All four quarterbacks actually functioned OK. It was pretty good.”
It certainly wasn’t a perfect effort on either side of the ball, as could be expected. Riley said the offense, particularly the lower units, struggled with procedural mistakes and had too many false start penalties.
On defense, Riley said there were far too many missed open-field tackles that turned short gains into big plays.
“You’ve got to make the plays that come to you,” Riley said. “A guy comes and you’ve got an open-field tackle, if you want to be efficient defensively, you’ve got to make the tackle, or a play that should have been three or four yards turns into 20. Those things always kind of confirm themselves as you play football.”
While the first groups took part in about a quarter of the overall scrimmage, Riley said the staff made sure to get the top cornerbacks a little more work than the others given their inexperience and the need to get them up to speed in a hurry.
Another positive takeaway for Riley were the handful of big running plays produced by the offense. As someone who has stressed the importance of the offensive line leading the way this season, those flashes were definitely good for Riley to see.
“You know the goal (for the offensive line), and that absolutely made me feel encouraged,” Riley said.
Riley notes early fall camp surprise players
It may be just one week into fall camp, but some players are already starting to stand out to Riley as guys beginning to take the next steps in their development.
In particular, Riley singled out redshirt freshman defensive end Ben Stille, junior outside linebacker Sedrick King, redshirt freshman wide receiver J.D. Spielman, and true freshman running back Jaylin Bradley as players who have really jumped out through six practices.
Riley called Stille someone who “has really caught everyone’s eye over the last few days”, and noted that King has really taken to the new defensive scheme and his new role at linebacker.
After first mentioning Bradley last week as a young player who had caught his attention, Riley followed that up again on Saturday by saying Bradley “has been impressive all week long physically.”
Riley added that Spielman was one of the standouts offensively during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Some of the plays that we need made from the slot, some of the stuff he can run the ball with, pretty good,” Riley said.
Huskers emphasizing 'body maintenance' more than ever this fall
After his team was plagued with one soft-tissue injury after another during his first two fall camps at Nebraska, Riley and his staff decided to change things up a bit this year in an effort to reduce some of the wear and tear on players.
Following each practice, the Huskers have broken up into three groups, and they rotate throughout the week between extended on-field stretching, soaking in the ice tubs, and doing resistance band work.
“That's a fun thing about this, is we learn a little bit more every year of what you should do,” Riley said. “I think things like this will forever be looked at and probably tweaked a lot. For us, this part of it is new.
“We used to just stretch in groups after practice, and now this is much more organized and much more probably thoughtful about the day-to-day of what you should do. It’s been interesting.”
Riley said because there are no longer two-a-day practices, the team goes through even more “body maintenance” work in the evenings after their morning practices and afternoon meetings.
“I think (not having two-a-days) might be better for these guys,” Riley said. “It might physically be better. We can spend more time with body maintenance than ever because we don’t have a practice at the end of the day. I think it’s good…
“There is no reason for me to say that we should be doing two-a-days. When the medical people say you shouldn’t, I don’t ever find myself in a position to argue that.”
Riley already leaning on Darnell's input
Much has already been made about Nebraska bringing former head coach Gary Darnell as a defensive analyst onto the staff this fall.
After the passing of former safeties coach Bob Elliott, who was moved to an analyst role this summer, the Huskers realized how valuable having a veteran coaching mind like his could be as a resource for the entire staff.
Riley said he’s already personally leaned on Darnell for advice and perspective after each practice during camp.
“Gary is really good for me,” Riley said. “In the evenings I say, ‘OK, what did you see today? What did you think about the team? Where should we emphasize it?’ He’s been around football for as long as I have, so I love talking to him.
“He spends the whole day in the office with the defensive staff, so he’s a big part of opinions and thoughts. I think for what we needed - when everything happened with Coach Elliott - Coach Elliott brought an expertise and experience that was unique. We’re very fortunate now to have Gary bring his expertise to us.”
Riley remembered back to when Oregon State unveiled its new football facility back in 1997. There was the head coach’s office, nine assistant coaches’ offices, a graduate assistant’s office, a football operations office, and one full-time secretary.
Now, with 40 people listed on Nebraska’s football staff, Riley he never would have imagined having the amount of resources at his disposal as he does at NU.
“I don’t know if I can even name everybody in our staff meetings,” Riley joked.
***Riley said receiver Bryan Reimers left practice after falling on his back while going up for a catch on Saturday. Riley said they don’t think it’s anything longterm.
***Riley said receiver Ty Chaffin has replaced Kade Warner (broken hand) on the 105-man roster.
***Riley noted that this fall has been a “seamless” and “smooth” as any fall he’s been a part of. He said the retention from the players has been excellent, and everyone just seems to know where to go and what to do.