LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska coach Mike Riley opened up the 2016 season with a press conference on Monday morning. Of his 30 or so minutes of answering questions, here are the four biggest moments:
“Like I said, I think that it’s a very personal reaction from every different guy on the team. I also thought that the camp went, for the most part, very smoothly with our teams, and I think the focus was great.”
After weeks of bad news after bad news, including the death of punter Sam Foltz, wide receivers coach Keith Williams being arrested for his third DUI and the season-ending injury to presumed starting LG Jerald Foster, Riley seems genuinely pleased with how his team has responded. Riley even mentioned specifically he doesn’t think the team took a step back in any way during the process.
More than anything, Riley didn’t want to assume the emotions of anyone, as he said many times in fall camp. But he seems optimistic that despite a multitude of distractions, the team did not suffer.
“Tommy’s got a lot of skills. You know there’s one very obvious area that everybody knows that we got to pat down, and that’s interceptions. And, so through both learning and absolute practice of decision-making, we hope we eliminated that and have given him the chance to have the ball more.”
It appears Riley has on his mind what everyone else does: Senior QB Tommy Armstrong has to cut down the turnovers. The question of whether Armstrong will throw a lot this season is still up in the air, but it’s clear that every time Riley talks about Armstrong’s growth as a quarterback, he follows it up with the need to cut down turnovers.
Interceptions are not only drive killers but also momentum killers, and if Nebraska needs anything this season, it’s momentum. Riley gets that, and it’ll be interesting to see how he plans to keep Armstrong’s interceptions down, be it less passing or more conservative play-calling.
“He should be able to talk to recruits at the appropriate times, not during the game.”
Probably the biggest recruiting news out of the press conference was that Williams will be allowed to interact with the recruits who are visiting Lincoln this weekend. Jamire Calvin, a 3-star wide receiver, will be in Lincoln, as well as 5-star CB/WR Darnay Holmes. For Nebraska, it is vital that Williams be able to speak to them since Williams is a key reason why the two top-tier receivers will be in Lincoln.
Williams returns to work on Thursday after a two-week suspension but will not coach a game until the game against Northwestern at the end of September.
“He has a redshirt year to play with and so I only wanted him to play if he really felt confident and comfortable. As of right before that a week ago Saturday scrimmage, these discussions were ongoing, and frankly the decision is still up in the air. When he ran a fly sweep and he caught a bubble screen and he caught a touchdown pass I didn’t even talk to him afterwards, but that night when I was watching I said, ‘This guy is gonna wanna play.’ “
When the depth chart was released on Monday morning the biggest piece of news was that junior WR De’Mornay Pierson-El was back as the starting punt returner. Pierson-El made himself a household name as a freshman punt returner in 2014. After an injury-ridden 2015, Pierson-El was, apparently, almost redshirted this year, as Riley said. This is huge news, considering Pierson-El is a key offensive weapon this season. It shines a little bit of light on the decision-making process Riley went through to evaluate Pierson-El, and also how worried Nebraska really was about Pierson-El’s injuries.
Apparently, those worries are no more.
Chris Heady is a staff writer for Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He is on Twitter @heady_chris.