LINCOLN, Neb. — Spring football basically is the same everywhere. Installation of new plays. New leaders “stepping up.” Coaches pleased with new formations and new players. It’s really a Choose Your Favorite Cliché adventure.
Lincoln has been Cliché Central this spring. New defensive coordinator Bob Diaco insists he’s pleased with the installation of the new 3-4 defense and was adamant at his first spring practice press conference that he isn’t worried about a single position on the defensive depth chart. Plus, there’s a battle at quarterback, the first since the Taylor Martinez days. And what’s more cliché than a QB battle?
Plus, the routine of speculating on starting spots and the boosting of egos from coaches after every practice doesn’t seem like it’s going to end soon. It actually seems to be by design.
Last Thursday, at Nebraska’s final practice before spring break, Huskers coach Mike Riley was asked if he’s seen separation between the running backs, if one was becoming a clear starter.
“We do,” Riley said. “But we’re not going to announce anything about it.”
Riley has used the same approach when addressing the quarterback position. Redshirt junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien are locked in a pretty tight — and pretty public — battle for the starting spot. But Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have continued to say the QB competition is as close as it could possibly be.
On Thursday, while answering the question about the running backs, Riley gave a little insight into his approach to spring practice.
“There is no need to (name a starter). We want them all to think competition and performance and production and let them keep playing,” Riley said. “So that’s where it’s at.”
This isn’t a huge revelation. Coaches don’t announce starters during the season until the day before a game, or even the day of a game, to keep competition throughout the week high — or to throw off the opponent, which Nebraska did consistently last season with Tommy Armstrong. But it is one thing to announce a starter at a position the day before a game, and another to resist saying even who looks good at a starting spot in the spring.
Riley is playing the anti-hype machine. He’s done it before. This small revelation also makes sense as to why, in his last quarterback battle back in 2012 at Oregon State, he didn’t announce a starter until the week before the first game, despite the battle beginning in spring football.
So what does this tell us?
First, don’t expect a starting quarterback to be announced before fall camp. Riley’s going to ride this for a long, long time, it seems.
And second, don’t expect any sort of difference in tone this spring. Everything is great. Nothing is wrong. Nebraska is golden.
And though Riley isn’t necessarily lying (the quarterbacks do look pretty close), and though a coach saying things are perfect isn’t out of the ordinary, it’s worth nothing that Riley’s attitude is not to divert attention or downplay anything. It’s to instill competition from the beginning of spring to end. To maybe instill some battles at positions that might not be position battles at this moment.
So how’s the quarterback battle, coach? Tight.
How’s the defense? Perfect.
Does the team look better in 2017 than in 2016? Of course.
Will any of these answers change during spring practice?
Inside Riley’s head, probably. In public? Probably not.