Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, April 19, 2016
To put it mildly, Mike Riley?s debut didn?t go smoothly. Nebraska struggled, no doubt about it, but the squad finished 3-1 in its last four games with a bowl win vs. UCLA in an otherwise vexing 6-7 season that forever will be remembered by myriad tough losses.
There was plenty to work on this spring, as the Huskers welcomed back lots of talent on both sides of the ball, giving the staff a nice nucleus to work with.
The progression of quarterback Tommy Armstrong was key. Did he improve as a passer? The jury remains out. Armstrong has plenty of experience and is a primo athlete, but he still makes some dubious decisions with the ball. He had 16 picks last year; he has 53 career TD pass and 36 picks.
Here are five things I learned in Nebraska?s spring game.
1. The defensive line is a worry. Replacing departed tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine was a big worry. Now, the program also has seen Greg McMullen bolt. Not good. He had started 26 consecutive games and was being counted on to be a leader for the Husker front. Instead, he?s walking away from the game. With the inside under construction, the end spot also has something to prove. Who will be the pass rusher? End Freedom Akinmoladun? DaiShon Neal looked good on Saturday. Bottom line: The Husker front is on the spot.
2. The offensive line is developing. Four key players from 2015 are gone including tackle Alex Lewis, so this group has questions to answer. Coaches like emerging talents Tanner Farmer, Nick Gates and Jerald Foster. All three could land starting slots after arriving together in the Class of 2014. Michael Decker is another guy to watch, as he looks good at center. And Jalin Barnett-the top recruit in 2015–also turned heads. This could end up being a good front, as talent and depth dots the roster.
3. The passing game left something to be desired. It?s no secret: Tommy Armstrong needs to make better decisions and show more poise in the pocket. The aerial game didn?t excel in the spring game-and that?s not all on Armstrong. At this point, Armstrong may be who he is-just a solid quarterback. But the senior?s cause should be helped by what looks like a strong collection of receivers that includes Alonzo Moore, Stanley Morgan, De?Mornay Pierson-El, Brandon Reilly and Jordan Westerkamp. There won?t be many receiving corps better in the Big Ten.
4. The running game could be a strength. Nebraska didn?t have a dominant rushing attack early in 2015. But the run game come on a really flourished in the bowl win vs. UCLA. Backs like Terrell Newby, Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon all are capable, giving the staff some nice options. The trio combined for 110 yards rushing and two scores on Saturday. A guy to watch is the 225-pound Ozigbo, a tough and strong runner. The quarterbacks also can augment this rushing game. Tommy Armstrong ran six times for 120 yards in the spring game. He had a 44-yard jaunt and a 37-yard TD scamper. Add it up, and NU?s signal-callers totaled 174 yards rushing on 19 totes.
5. Freshman QB Patrick O?Brien isn't quite ready for prime time. Many anticipated his debut, as O?Brien is lauded as a special player and potential future star. But O?Brien had a bumpy debut after arriving as an early enrollee. He struggled handling the rush and made some iffy throws. He also was picked off. But, hey, this is a process. It?s gonna be fun to see how this staff develops O?Brien.
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