LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska coach Mike Riley spoke for 43 minutes at his news conference Wednesday ahead of the opening of spring football practice om Saturday. And he continued to hit same point: The changes he’s made in the program the past three months, and the changes about to be made in the next two months, are intended to have huge consequences.
“I didn’t do any of this to have a setback,” Riley said, speaking generally about the firing of special teams coordinator Bruce Read, the firing of defensive coordinator Mark Banker, the hiring of cornerbacks coach Donte Williams, the hiring of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and the hiring of safeties coach Bob Elliott. “I am doing it hopefully to get better.”
Nebraska’s entire roster and coaching staff in 2017 will look drastically different, thanks to the new coaches, a new 3-4 defense to be installed by Diaco and a highly-anticipated quarterback battle between redshirt junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien.
“It’s sort of a new start,” Riley said.
There is, however, a sense of comfort despite the battle at quarterback and shift on defense.
Riley talked at length Wednesday about how excited he was to switch to a 3-4 defense. He reiterated, as he did during Diaco’s first news conference, that Riley coached a 3-4 defense in the Canadian League earlier in his career. He liked it then and likes it now, he said, and already feels like he has a grasp of where his personnel will fit in Diaco’s system.
Riley, not hiding his excitement, even brought a rough draft of the depth chart of the defense to share.
— Christopher Heady (@heady_chris) March 1, 2017
“As the personnel fits right now, it looks good,” Riley said. “When you change defense, I didn’t do that to start over in development. It’s going to take some extra work. There is a transition in learning. But we’re doing this for the picture to be better in 2017.”
As for the quarterback battle, which Nebraska hasn’t seen for a while now, Riley is also comfortable will evaluating two quarterbacks in the spring. He’s done it before. In the spring of 2013 at Oregon State, Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf had a quarterback battle between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz.
Mannion ended up winning the job and proceeded to throw for more than 4,500 yards in 2013. Riley said this season’s quarterback battle is similar.
There’s no timeline as to when Riley will announce the starter. In the 2013, Oregon State didn’t announce a starter until one week before the first game of the season.
Who will take the first snap on Saturday will probably come down to a coin flip, Riley said. Both quarterbacks have a legitimate shot.
“We can do this, we can make sure we get good competition and growth and chance to both to compete and learn with Tanner and Patrick,” Riley said.