Spring football practice, 3.5.2016

Husker players go through warm-ups at the first spring football practice at Hawks Championship Center on Saturday.

Day One arrived again, met by sunlight and temperatures in the 60s, feeling not so alien as Day One of a year ago.

Nebraska's first spring practice was summed up succinctly enough by Mike Riley: "I thought it was pretty smooth. There was not a lot of drama."

Unlike last year, there was no time spent learning how to huddle.

The Huskers have plenty that will need solving in the months ahead, but Saturday wasn't like the first day of figuring out how to write in cursive either.

“Last year was a lot of learning," said senior safety Nate Gerry. "Now, especially for the upperclassmen, we're just trying to pick up on little tips, just go over some things that we might have missed on the early install, clean stuff up.”

And there was not one question asked about if players were "buying in," those popular words of 2015. The only question approaching the subject came to senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey.

Was too much made on the "buy in" subject a year ago? Can that phrase be put to sleep?

“Of course, when there’s change, everyone’s wondering if there’s going to be any resentment or hard feelings or whatnot. It’s good to ask it," Rose-Ivey said. "But when you keep getting asked that question, Week 9, Week 10, it's like, 'Man, I'm tired of answering that question.' So that’s kind of how at least I feel and I know a lot of other guys, too.

"You keep getting asked if there are guys not buying in, but there's guys on every team that don't buy in, maybe 'cause they're not getting playing time or something like that. But when looking at our team, there's definitely no sense of any outsiders. That's been taken care of."

And so the on-field beginnings of Year 2 feel a little more, let's say, normal.

Yet with that familiarity, the first practice day of a new Husker quest continued to reveal examples that NU head coach Mike Riley isn't afraid to shake things up.

Nebraska, having ranked 121st in pass defense last season, will now have defensive coordinator Mark Banker working with the safeties, with Brian Stewart putting all his focus on the cornerbacks.

Gerry said the safeties now have meetings separate from the cornerbacks, gathering twice a week with Banker. "A lot of us found ourselves using old technique in the new system, which was kind of hurting us," added Gerry, who Saturday had junior Kieron Williams working alongside him with the top unit, as injured sophomores Aaron Williams and Antonio Reed watched from the sideline.

Gerry noted he's already seen improvements in the understanding of the zone-coverage schemes.

"I just looked at this thing and I thought we have had it like this before, and I thought that we were missing the boat with more opportunity to break down the coaching," Riley said of the coaching twist.

"There's such diverse teaching between how you teach corner skills and how you teach safeties. I've done both ... and it's hard. Techniquewise, they're different. So we thought we'd get more individual drill work ... by having Mark actively coach the safeties and Stew can focus on the corners."

It's another tweak from Riley, who in the past four weeks has also changed his defensive line coach, bringing in John Parrella, shifted some roles in the recruiting department, and also agreeing to bring in Billy Devaney as Nebraska's executive director of player personnel.

Devaney spent his share of time standing next to Riley during Saturday's practice.

There were a couple of notable player personnel shifts, too. Zack Darlington moved from quarterback to wide receiver. Graham Nabity moved from I-back to H-back. The latter was a move Riley approached Nabity about, thinking he might have some traits to help fill the void left by the departure of Andy Janovich.

Husker defenders are also working on more of rugby-style tackling. "A lot of the reason behind it is to keep your head out of the tackle as much as possible," Rose-Ivey said. "I like it. I think a lot of guys like it. I think a lot of guys feel like it's easier to use your hips more, be a little bit more explosive."

Year 2 has already brought some twists.

What's a senior such as Rose-Ivey to make of it?

"The staff's doing a great job of looking at where we needed to do better, and where we were doing it right."

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


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