Both Guy Thomas and Avery Roberts are going to b studs. Probably be red-shirted but who knows.
Installed as an offseason conditioning group leader, Tanner Lee built up cachet with his teammates. “He’s a workaholic,” De’Mornay Pierson-El said.
LINCOLN — No word yet on whether it’ll win any more games, but the 2017 version of Nebraska is a bigger democracy among teammates than in recent seasons.
“It’s a lot more free,” junior left guard Jerald Foster said. “You’re able to get your word in. If you have something that’s really going to help out an older guy, just say it. Get it going. I’m happy with what we’re doing right now.”
Previously, Foster said, “the seniors would talk and everybody else would sit back and listen to what they say.”
Since that large senior class left after the Music City Bowl, it changed. Sure, Foster said, the true freshmen don’t know the lay of the land. But redshirt freshmen are able to get a word in.
On a team as young and inexperienced as Nebraska, that’s logical. Conventional wisdom about team building suggests that this squad might still be finding its way in terms of chemistry, culture and player leaders.
Coach Mike Riley sees just the opposite. The first week of training camp, he said, was “seamless.” Two practices viewed by reporters revealed much the same. Riley credited the player leaders, many of whom weren’t leaders in previous years.
“There’s no doubt that talent is respected, and that can cloud that real leadership deal sometimes,” Riley said. “But with this group, I don’t have to worry about anybody being misguided in that way. When your good players are doing the right thing and working at the highest level, that’s what you have to have.”
Riley likes it when he can steer young players toward the veterans and say, “Watch how he does it.” When the players, Riley said, are “the main teachers.” Sometimes he’ll call them “magnets.”
On Saturday, Riley pointed to inside linebackers Chris Weber and Dedrick Young as examples. Weber is a sit-in-the-front-of-the-class walk-on. Young is a shy interview who may be more chatty with his teammates, but is far from a screamer.
“There’s guys who are dynamic about ‘let’s go,’ but they’re not overly dramatic,” Riley said. “They’re just great example guys. Those two inside linebackers, you just don’t have to worry about those guys. The football phase, the school phase, life. To me, that’s tremendous leadership. They do everything they’re supposed to do.”
It’s hard not to contrast that with a 2016 captain who was suspended for the first and last games of the season because of academic issues. Or the 2015 captain who went on a Twitter rant after the loss to Miami, suggesting fans would “kiss my feet.” A few weeks later, he blew sarcastic kisses to fans after a loss to Illinois. He got to remain captain.
Nate Gerry and Alex Lewis are going to play in the NFL a long time, I’d bet. It wouldn’t surprise me if both make Pro Bowls one day.
But this Husker squad — less experienced than either of those teams and facing what I think is a harder schedule — needs as much smooth, seamless practice as it can get, especially as camp drags into that fourth week, when guys start school but are 12 days away from a game.
Coaches, players and training staff were prescient in understanding this team would need great chemistry. So it set up those offseason conditioning groups, with 11 captains, to help. And it appears to have worked. It probably benefited quarterback Tanner Lee the most; installed as a group leader months ago, Lee built up cachet with his teammates.
“He’s a workaholic,” receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El said of Lee.
Pierson-El’s on-field story is interesting, perhaps more so than any current Husker’s. As a freshman, he was a big part of that final Bo Pelini team. The edge that Pierson-El plays with easily fit into the old Bo-to-the-troops leadership paradigm.
Like all players under Riley, Pierson-El has more personal freedom to figure out where he fits in, and coupled with two injuries and a slow road back to full health, he seemed a little restless. At times last season he seemed, to this reporter’s eyes, to press a little. Like Jamal Turner used to, and not just trust that he was as good of an athlete as he was.
You sensed a big jump in the spring. Pierson-El had that extra gear back and he shifted into it often. His routes were cleaner and more exact; he seemed more confident Lee was delivering the ball where Pierson-El’s route was actually headed. Nebraska needs Pierson-El at the top of his game; this is not a deep receiving corps.
Though Pierson-El said he’s never been shy to speak up if something needed to be said, his answer about how he views his senior season is a portal into what might happen. “Getting back to the basics and just having fun, for real, for real,” Pierson-El said. “Enjoy myself, let things come to me, have a blast and enjoy the team, friends. Just have fun.”
Young guys speaking up. Seniors trying to find a good groove.
It’s a different culture inside Nebraska football.
On with the Rewind.
» Three: Years since Nebraska has been ranked in the preseason Top 25, in either the coaches or Associated Press poll. NU received votes in the coaches poll in 2017, but fell short of the Top 25. I don’t expect the AP to be any kinder. In 2014, NU was No. 22 in both polls to start the season. In 2013, the Huskers were 18th in both, and 17th (AP) and 16th (coaches) in 2012.
» Five: Ohio State Buckeyes projected in the first round of NFL analyst Matt Miller’s 2018 mock draft. Miller, who writes for Bleacher Report, has long been one of the scouts I follow. Four of the five Buckeyes play defense, and two (end Sam Hubbard and tackle Dre’Mont Jones) play on the defensive line. There may never be a better defense than 2011 Alabama — which gave up 8.2 points and 184 yards per game — but this OSU unit could make a run at 10 points and 250 yards, if it finds a way to slow down Oklahoma.
» 6.26: Average number of Nebraska penalties per game since joining the Big Ten. Over that same time, Wisconsin has averaged 4.42 penalties per game. Iowa averaged 4.52 penalties per game. Fewer penalties doesn’t always mean better teams, but it’s interesting to compare the three teams.
» Minus-10: Nebraska’s penalty margin in its last six games against Wisconsin and Iowa. NU has committed 39 penalties in those six games while Wisconsin (13) and Iowa (16) have committed a combined 29 penalties in those games.
» Minus-105: Nebraska’s penalty yardage margin in those six games. Divided over six games, that’s 17.5 yards, or roughly two first downs. NU is 1-5 in those games.
» You may remember last week when I wrote about Penn State embracing a quick-tempo spread offense and riding that to a Big Ten title. Under P.J. Fleck, Minnesota is going to run a similar style of offense, and its practices are being run at a furious tempo to accommodate it.
“We get in 90 plays a day within an hour and 20 minutes,” Gopher Carter Coughlin told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “That tempo is honestly faster than a game tempo, so it’s preparing us for a game. It’s going to slow things down for us in a game.”
Said Fleck: “We condition during practice and put them in a lot of very tough positions in practice. We put them in situations that you’d like to say will be harder here than in a game.”
Fleck’s a lot of PR flash and catchphrases, but this thing — how his offense runs — is what will determine his success in Minnesota. Pay attention to that. Fleck’s betting on not needing four- and five-star recruits to win. He’s betting on his leadership style and this system. I’m curious to see if it works.
» According to the Daily Chronicle, Northern Illinois opened its camp at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. The Huskies have a three-man quarterback race, and one player is Chad Beebe, whose last name might ring a bell: His dad, Don Beebe, played in the NFL for the Bills and at Chadron State.
After a week of all smiles, I’m guessing the training camp grind starts to settle in.
As a freshman, Husker wide receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El had 1,090 all-purpose yards, including 596 on 34 punt returns, 147 on on 10 kickoff returns, 321 on 23 receptions, 16 on one completion and 10 on five rushing attempts. Do you think he'll break that total this year?
I think DPE has a chance to be in a lot of discussions for late year awards. If he is and remains healthy he will be a force out on the field.
USA Today makes prediction for Big 10 Final records, Where do the Huskers Land
Tim Miles as a Big man from Iceland!