Nebraska’s annual Red-White Spring Game, 4.12.14

Nebraska red team quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. hands of to I-back Imani Cross, who ran it in for a touchdown during the Red-White Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014, at Memorial Stadium.

CHICAGO — Nothing has changed for the Nebraska football team since the end of spring.

When fall camp begins next week, sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong will begin in the lead car in front of redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and sophomore walk-on Ryker Fyfe.

"Because of his starting experience, I would say Tommy has a bit of a leg up going in,” coach Bo Pelini said.

But the coach also referred to Stanton and Fyfe as “tremendous talents” and that “an open competition” was in the works.

That said, Armstrong is still clearly favored to start the Aug. 30 opener against Florida Atlantic. Pelini praised Armstrong for having improved his strength and speed this offseason.

“He kind of earned that right (to be No. 1) through the spring,” Pelini said. “But I think the competition is, gosh, very good. I think it’s going to make all three of those guys better. And like I tell our guys at every single position, nobody has a guaranteed spot ever, and you’ve gotta put it on film every day. … And when you have that attitude, that makes everybody around you better. And that’s going to make them better.”

* IN-HOUSE PUNISHMENT: Judging by Pelini’s words Monday, it doesn't appear punishment for linebacker Josh Banderas, wide receiver Jariah Tolbert and defensive back Boaz Joseph will include any game suspensions.

The three Huskers were involved in separate offseason incidents, and the one involving Tolbert is still working its way through the court system.

Asked specifically if Banderas would sit out any games, Pelini said: "We've already dealt with (that). The guys that had some blips during the summer, that's already been dealt with. ... We don't wait around on things like that."

Banderas, a sophomore from Lincoln Southwest, entered the pre-trial diversion program for his role in the theft of seven bicycles May 12.

Joseph had initially been accused of stealing a “bait bike” on campus June 7, but charges were dropped, with the redshirt freshman also going through diversion.

Tolbert, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to a marijuana charge two weeks ago and not guilty to obstructing an officer for a June 12 incident on campus. Lancaster County Judge Matt Acton fined the freshman from New Orleans $300 for possession of marijuana less than an ounce.

Tolbert said at the time he would represent himself on the obstruction charge. But Monday, he appeared in court with an attorney, with his hearing continued to Sept. 29.

* RECEIVER WEAPONS: Quincy Enunwa is gone. And you may hear some suggest Nebraska has question marks at wide receiver.

For what it’s worth, senior receiver Kenny Bell feels the position is in very good hands heading into fall camp.

“We’re deep,” said Bell, listing the names of Alonzo Moore, Jordan Westerkamp, Sam Burtch, Brandon Reilly and Taariq Allen. “That’s a deep receiving corps. That’s six or seven guys that can play and we rarely play six or seven guys. So it’s going to be a competition this year, that’s for sure.”

Moore is back after a shoulder injury that Bell said “was pretty good and messed up.” But now, the sophomore is full-speed.

And Reilly, a Lincoln Southwest graduate, has speed to kill. Bell said “it’s pretty accurate” to say Reilly ran the fastest 40-yard dash during recent tests.

“Now, is he the fastest dead-ahead sprinter? Who knows? We’ve got tremendous athletes. But formwise? Running the 40? Yeah, I’d believe he’s the fastest in a heartbeat.”

* BREAKFAST WITH THE ENEMY: OK, that’s an overly dramatic headline. Foes can be friends for a couple of days here at Big Ten Media Days.

That’s why Bell found himself eating breakfast with Melvin Gordon and some of the Wisconsin players. They didn’t talk much shop. Or about that championship game in 2012.

One of the few highlights for Nebraska in that game, of course, was Bell’s crushing block on a Wisconsin defensive back. The play has become a YouTube sensation.

“No, they never bring up the block, just like I would never ask them what it felt like to win 70-31 in the championship like that,” Bell said to laughs.

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* YOGA TIME: Bell makes sure to get a yoga session every day. But now the whole team is doing yoga once a week as a way to help recover.

“We bring these really nice ladies in. They’re really cool,” Bell said.

Even the big boys, like senior offensive guard Jake Cotton, get in the act.

“Yeah, Butch (Cotton) is actually right on my left when we go,” Bell said. “He does a good … he tries to do a good job.”

* PELINI ON RECRUITING: Pelini is holding firm with his idea, which he suggested a couple of months ago, that national signing day should be eliminated.

“Hey, you come to an agreement, somebody commits to your school, you've made a commitment to a young man to come play in your program, why do we have to wait to any certain day?” he said. “Why don't we just go ahead and let's sign on the dotted line, let's get it over with and move forward. … I think it would slow down some of the early offers. I think it would slow down some of the ridiculous things that go on on both ends, on the institution's side of things and as far as the recruit's.”

Pelini said the big picture should be considered when discussing the issue.

“Sometimes, the way the recruiting process works is contradictory to what we're trying to teach these kids and how we're trying to develop these kids in the long run to be successful, not only as football players and as athletes, but beyond, as husbands, as fathers and their professions.”

* FEW SECONDARY WORRIES: Pelini continues to be high on the potential of his defensive backfield. And it’s not just the veterans.

The coach cited incoming freshmen such as Trai Mosley, Chris Jones, Luke Gifford and Joshua Kalu as players who all have the chance to play right away.

Perhaps adding to Pelini’s optimism as much as anything? The offseason development of junior nickel back Charles Jackson, whose play could be one of the biggest factors in what level this defense can reach in 2014.

“A big piece of that puzzle was how Charles Jackson came through the spring,” Pelini said. “He’s not the finished product yet, but I like where he’s heading."

* MENTAL REPS: It wasn’t the easiest spring for senior safety Corey Cooper. He loves playing the game. Watching it? Just not quite the same.

But because of a turf-toe injury, precautions were taken with Cooper, who didn’t practice this spring.

“I hate watching guys playing football and I’m not part of it,” Cooper said. “But I still got a lot out of it. Seeing the game from a different angle. Being able to help young guys out and line up. Just staying in tune with the film work. I never missed a meeting, never missed a practice. … It helped me out a lot in the mental aspect of the game.”

Cooper also saw the benefit of it for his teammates — sophomores LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry — who took all the snaps with the top defense while the senior was out.

“They learned a lot and I think that’s valuable and I think that’s going to add a lot of depth,” Cooper said.

* SPREADING THE WORD: Ameer Abdullah seems to be loose regarding his Tuesday speech, in which the Husker senior running back will speak on behalf of the Big Ten players.

While Abdullah seems a natural for the role, he admitted he had reservations when first approached to speak.

"It was like, 'I don't know. I'm not a big talker in front of large crowds like that,'" Abdullah said. "But (Husker assistant athletic director of communications) Keith Mann was like, 'You know it'd be a good opportunity to just let the Big Ten as a conference know you.'

"The Nebraska fan base knows who I am at this point pretty well. But the Big Ten Conference, they don't really. So it's a good opportunity for me to spread some wisdom."

No, Abdullah has not watched the highly praised speech by Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins three years ago.

"I didn't want to do that because I didn't want to psyche myself out," Abdullah said. "I heard it was really good, so I'm, like, 'I'm not watching that.' Because then I'm going to feel extra pressure to do something extraordinary like make a rabbit appear."

​Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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