LINCOLN, Neb. — After nearly two months of practices and scrimmages, here are 10 takeaways from the Huskers spring:
1. Tanner Lee is much better than he was at Tulane
The main knock on Lee coming into the spring was his passing percentage, which at Tulane wasn’t great (51.8 percent in 2015). But during the spring game, the redshirt junior completed 13 of 19 passes (68 percent) and completed more than 70 percent of his passes in practice, according to offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf.
Sure, it’s a small sample size. But if it’s an indication of what’s to come, Lee has improved since transferring.
2. The offensive line storyline will haunt
Mike Riley said Nebraska needs to be “very, very” concerned about growth on the offensive line, a position that returns almost everyone. That’s not a great sign.
The offensive line struggled late in the 2016 season and continues to be an issue in 2017. With returners Nick Gates, David Knevel, Cole Conrad, Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster, you’d think the line’s experience would take over. But it sounds like the line still needs to improve drastically for Nebraska to be successful.
3. Depth at wide receiver might be a problem
Mike Riley said it in his outgoing presser of the spring: Depth at wide receiver could become an issue. Senior De’Mornay Pierson-El and junior Stanley Morgan Jr. are locked in as starters. Redshirt freshman JD Spielman will likely fill in at the slot. But last year’s receivers were good because of their depth. If Jordan Westerkamp or Brandon Reilly or Alonzo Moore went down, there were receivers to fill in. Now there’s not a safety net. Nebraska will need a freshman, likely Tyjon Lindsey or Jaevon McQuitty, to step into a major role for the 2017 season.
4. Bob Diaco is never going to give away anything
Diaco press conferences are a little like pulling teeth. The guy won’t give away anything, won’t say anything specific about the defense and will hardly talk specifically about players or position groups. It’s all about the defense trying hard, all about effort and learning. Heck, Diaco and the Huskers didn’t even run a 3-4 defense in the spring game.
Mark Banker was an open book last year. That has changed.
5. There was something missing from last year’s defense
Speaking of defense, multiple players have said Diaco has filled a void that was missing last year. You’ve heard it 100 times, but it’s true: Diaco brings energy to this defense.
It sounds like the talent on the defensive side of the ball didn’t necessarily play inspired football last year. Now, Diaco’s lit that fire and there’s definitely a different attitude and look to this defense.
6. There are unanswered questions about Devine Ozigbo
The running back battle seems to be between sophomore Tre Bryant and junior Mikale Wilbon. Which makes you wonder: Where is Devine Ozigbo?
Langsdorf and Riley have said the junior back was “dinged up” but didn’t (or wouldn’t) elaborate. Last we heard he was struggling with an ankle injury in October 2016. A few months later he was cleared and fully healthy, yet still couldn’t get on the field. So the question becomes: Is Ozigbo in the battle for the starting spot, or is the third back, and injured?
7. Tristan Gebbia needs the weight room, but other than that…
He looks great. Gebbia threw for 268 yards against the first-team defense at the spring game. That shocked nobody on the team. Redshirt freshman QB Patrick O’Brien said he expected that kind of performance because of how hard Gebbia is working off the field. And Riley’s said a few times that he can’t get Gebbia out of the film room. A good sign for Nebraska’s future.
8. Mike Riley can keep a secret
For two years (two years) Riley kept the secret that 4-star cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles was silently committed to Nebraska. It’s understandable why that was a secret. But it’s impressive that Radley-Hiles stuck to his word after he told Riley after his first visit to Nebraska that he was going to commit. That doesn’t happen a lot in college recruiting, and it says a lot about Riley and Radley-Hiles.
9. Ready or not, Lamar Jackson is getting a chance
It looks like senior Joshua Kalu is solid at starting safety after being moved from corner. That means sophomore Lamar Jackson and all his hype will be on display at the starting boundary corner. Just a few weeks ago cornerbacks coach Donte Williams told fans to be cautiously optimistic about Jackson. Williams essentially said wait a little bit for Jackson to come around.
Well, his opportunity is here. We’ll finally get to see what the 4-star prospect from Elk Grove, Calif., can do.
10. 2017 season predictions will be all over the place
Nebraska’s schedule seems to be set up for another 9-win season. But the ESPN FPI says not so much. And some analysts say the 9-win prediction is not enough. So it seems like, yet again, Nebraska’s upcoming season will not be predictable. It’ll depend on the starting QB, whoever it may be, how well the 3-4 defense gets put together, and whether Riley can inspire his troops to win some of the big games.