By Sam McKewon / World-Herald Staff Writer
LINCOLN — Periodically during his pre-spring football press conference on Wednesday, Nebraska coach Mike Riley glanced down at two depth charts that he and his coaches had prepared for the next five weeks. Being spring, such a depth chart is fluid, and Riley isn’t putting out such a chart for media and fan consumption, but he did go over several positions.
Riley said he will split NU’s 120-man roster into two groups and run practice on two practice fields. Riley said the split will help certain players get more snaps.
A brief positional breakdown:
» At quarterback, Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe will be with the top group, while AJ Bush, Zack Darlington and Patrick O’Brien will be with the second group. Armstrong and Fyfe are the only two quarterbacks in Nebraska’s program who have taken meaningful snaps in a college football game.
“That’s the hardest position, because there’s one spot,” Riley said. “There’s kind of a residual bonus to practicing with two teams.”
Riley said he likes having five scholarship quarterbacks.
“That would be what we would always want to keep it at,” said Riley, who said he’s been “guilty” in the past of having too many quarterbacks on the roster. “Five is — I don’t know if it’s a magic number, but it’s close to what we’re shooting for.”
» A committee of backs is likely again at I-back. Riley put Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo — two of the top three backs from last season — on one tier, with Mikale Wilbon and Adam Taylor on the next tier. At fullback, Harrison Jordan will get the first look, with perhaps Graham Nabity mixing in.
Riley said Wilbon should be “in the mix” athletically at I-back, and coaches are intrigued to see what Taylor can do now that he’s fully recovered from a leg injury suffered in fall camp 2014.
“Wilbon has ability — showed some spark last year,” Riley said. “He’s a real good kid and he’s been working hard. Just looking forward to him stepping up and seeing what he can do.”
» Along the offensive line, Nick Gates has moved to left tackle. Jerald Foster and Jalin Barnett are at left guard. Corey Whitaker and Tanner Farmer are at right guard. David Knevel and Christian Gaylord are at right tackle. At center, Dylan Utter, Michael Decker, Zach Hannon and Paul Thurston will compete, although Thurston has a class conflict and won’t attend every spring practice.
Should Thurston, Hannon or Decker emerge as the clear No. 1 at center, Utter could move back to guard, where he started last season. It’s notable that Whitaker will begin at guard, and not tackle. Dwayne Johnson is also at tackle, as are a couple of walk-ons, Sam Hahn and Cole Conrad.
“A guy like Utter ... we want him to have knowledge of the big picture,” Riley said. At right tackle, Riley said, Knevel is “an outstanding prospect — athletic ability, size, all that stuff that goes with it.”
» Riley didn’t delve much into the defensive line but noted that Greg McMullen could play at tackle and at end. McMullen may begin at tackle, though, considering Kevin Williams and Mick Stoltenberg are out this spring.
» At linebacker, Riley listed Josh Banderas, Michael Rose-Ivey and Dedrick Young as the top trio, but, with so much experience at the spot he expects some fluidity at outside ’backer with Marcus Newby working in there as well. Chris Weber is back in the middle behind Banderas, with Tyrin Ferguson in that mix, too. On the outside, watch Luke Gifford and especially redshirt freshman Mohamed Barry, who’s had a strong offseason, according to several reports. Riley mentioned walk-ons Brad Simpson and Jacob Weinmaster, too. The latter, originally from Colorado, is in his first spring on campus and was defensive scout team MVP last year. Riley said Weinmaster could contribute on special teams. His father is cousins with former NU middle guard Kerry Weinmaster.
» Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones are the No. 1 cornerbacks, and Nate Gerry is a clear No. 1 safety. Beside Gerry, Kieron Williams and perhaps Avery Anderson will get looks at safety because of injuries to Aaron Williams and Antonio Reed. Otherwise, NU has walk-ons there, including Reid Karel, the former Seward quarterback. Riley said Karel is a good athlete. At cornerback, Eric Lee and Boaz Joseph are in the mix. When the Huskers use five defensive backs, Kalu might cover a slot receiver as the nickel back, while Joseph or Lee might play cornerback.
The overall goal this spring? Riley wants to see the team get “fundamentally better.”
“Just trying to help the guys get better with their technique and fundamentals,” Riley said. “We can plug all that stuff into plays, but the key is just helping guys run better routes, get better technique in blocking, get better position to defeat blocks, and then make plays.”