Dienhart: Here's what I'll be watching at Nebraska practice

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Here's what I'll be watching at Nebraska practice

Mike Riley’s debut didn’t go as planned. It seemed each week, the Cornhuskers found a new way to lose a close game. But the squad finished with some mojo, going 3-1 in its last four games to finish 6-7.

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The Huskers welcome back lots of talent on both sides of the ball, giving the staff a nice nucleus to work with. But some areas need to develop. In particular, keep an eye on the quarterback spot.

Here is what I’ll be watching at Nebraska practice.

1. How does the defensive line look? Tackles Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins both departed early, leaving two big holes. Try-hard end Jack Gangwish also has departed and tackle Kevin Williams opted to transfer to Michigan State. And there is a new position coach, with Husker icon John Parrella taking over for Hank Hughes. The staff must find better defensive end production. Who is gonna bring the heat off the edge? End Freedom Akinmoladun has potential and desperately needs to excel.

2. Is the o-line coming together? The Huskers lost four starters in guard/tackle Zach Sterup, guard Chongo Kondolo, center Ryne Reeves and tackle Alex Lewis. Line coach Mike Cavanaugh will have to build around Dylan Utter and Nick Gates. It looks like there is more depth at the interior spots than at tackle. Gates looks like the anchor up front at left tackle and a future star.

3. Is Tommy Armstrong sharp? His progression is key. Can the staff develop a winning formula for him? He seems better suited as a complementary weapon more so than a guy who is counted on to be the main weapon. 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.

4. Are the running backs sharp? Mike Riley has said he wants to commit to the run. He’ll need the backs to do their part. Not having a true No. 1 back really held back Nebraska last year. The only key cog gone is Imani Cross. Faces to watch include incumbent Terrell Newby, who lacks sizzle and leaves fans wanting for more. Keep an eye on Devine Ozigbo, a 225-pound force. Another back that could emerge is 5-9 Mikale Wilbon, who has a lot of potential.

5. Are these wideouts as good as advertised? Some think they may be the best collection in the Big Ten with the likes of Alonzo Moore, Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and Stanley Morgan. And I wanna see how De’Mornay Pierson-El looks coming off injury.


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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.