The clock hands never stop on our demand. They kept their steady move even Tuesday, when Danny Langsdorf, sitting in his office in the still of summer, said it'd be OK with him if time stood in place for just a while.
Nebraska's first-year offensive coordinator is enthused about what comes next, understand, but also doesn't sprinkle any sugar on the challenge that accompanies it.
For all those sitting at home who think the season can't get here soon enough, watching BTN reruns to fulfill your football fix, well, put yourself in the shoes of a coach teaching a new language to players who must speak it well in front of 92,000 fans and a national TV audience in two months.
“I wish we could sit in late June for a long time," a smiling Langsdorf said during an interview with the Journal Star. "We’re all excited to get going, but at the same time, it’s going to come fast, and I think they know what’s ahead. And we have a lot of work to do."
June found July, which will quickly find August, and then, gulp. The positive thing is that Langsdorf knows his team will hit the field this fall in a much better place than it was at the beginning of spring.
"Everyone was just trying to get to know each other, trying to figure out names, just putting a name and a number and a face all together," he said.
But with time, there was step-by-step progress. He started to see some plays made that were being missed just a few weeks before. He likes the depth at wide receiver. He sees the potential for solid depth on the offensive line.
Quarterbacks? "There’s a lot of learning going on there. It’s just different from what they’re used to. They all ask very good questions. I think they are becoming more comfortable in our system."
The clock ticks toward the grind ahead. On the last day in June, Nebraska's new OC took some time to talk about it — from what he looks for in quarterback recruits, to the misuse of offensive labels, to tempo, to how the Mike Riley/Langsdorf offense may have evolved more in the past 10 years than some people think.
Away we go.
LJS: Do you tinker with tempo?
DL: “We definitely do. I think the way we approach it is, we want to do what’s best for us as an offense but also what’s best for the team. I think if you just try to go as fast as you can all the time, which some people do and are very good at, I think there is a time and a place to slow down, whether the defense needs a break, whether it’s clock management, whether it’s a weather situation. You don’t want to be three-and-out going fast every time. You’re going to put a lot of pressure on the team.
"But I do think there’s definitely a need to change the pace, to change the tempo. So whether you’re a no-huddle, whether you’re a no-huddle with fast pace, whether you’re a huddle up and slower to get started, I think there’s benefit and value to each of those. So I think having all of those in our packages is important.”
LJS: How many different speeds do you want to have?
DL: “Really, three. Three is a good number. It’s kind of manageable. We’d like to be good at all three. We don’t want to have seven and be average at all of them. We want to be really good at three. That’s not to say there might not be a fourth. But I think there’s definitely a benefit to having a handful of tempo changes for different reasons.”
LJS: In these months just before fall camp, what’s the interaction like with Mike Riley as you form a plan and play off each other’s ideas?
DL: “I think we’ve had a really good chance to finish spring, re-evaluate what we did well, what we need to work on, what we need to add and subtract. And I think the benefit of us being together so long is that I think we see that the same way.
"I think a big deal for us was just getting to know our team and exactly what we have and what we can do well and what we need to improve on. So I think now, we can have a better feel of that, go back and develop some thoughts on some ideas we can improve on and incorporate. And as we do that, we can get together and say, ‘Hey, do you remember this from a couple years ago in the red zone?’ ‘And this may be a good route from this guy.’ ‘This may be a good play for the quarterback.’ ‘He runs this other play real well.’
"So I think there’s a lot of years of experience that we can reference, and kind of go back and draw from some different teams and different years to formulate for this group.”
LJS: Do you see yourself shifting from what you’ve done in the past?
DL: “A little bit. I think our core values, our core system, is definitely in place. We are tweaking some things, but we tweak every year. You go from a guy like Sean Mannion, who is the Pac-12’s career-leading passer who can’t run a lick. He’s not a running threat. He’s an athletic quarterback. He’s going to be a great pro quarterback. But he’s not a run threat. Now to some guys that are. So that changes things a little bit.
"They’re not going to maybe be as far along in the passing game, or as dynamic of throwers, but they have the element of being able to run the ball, which is a great weapon. So I think we have to capitalize on that and that will change us a little bit from what we’ve done the last few years. But I think, overall, you’ll see a lot of the same concepts, route combinations, the run game won’t change much. We will probably be a little bit more shotgun. But you know, Sean’s junior year, we were a ton of shotgun. So that’s not like it’s a new thing for us. But there are a few tweaks that we’ve added to benefit the strength of these quarterbacks.”
LJS: Everybody outside these walls is trying to analyze, "What are they going to do, what are they going to do?" Is it a little amusing to see the guessing game going on?
DL (smiles): "Everybody kind of feeds off the thought ... we’ve kind of stuck to our guns, we don’t just change every year and chase whatever’s the hot trend. We do what we do. So trying to figure out what we’re doing, we run what we run. But we have a lot of ways to attack people. So it may not look like a lot of change on the outside, but there’s enough where I feel like, ‘Gosh, we’ve evolved quite a bit in the last 10 years.’”
LJS: Do people get too caught up in labels?
DL: “Oh, yeah. I don’t think people even know what they mean. I think a lot of people, they reference a spread offense and a West Coast system and a pro style. Those are defined different ways for a lot of people. I think better definitions might be more multiple. For us, when you’re describing us, you’d say we’re more multiple, we’re more one-back, rather than just saying we’re an old-school, pro-style.
"It’s not like we’re running the Green Bay Packers’ sweep and the full-house backfield. We’re staying up with the times, but to just label us as a spread team or a West Coast team, that’s hard to just paint us in that one picture."
LJS: Press box or on the sideline during games?
DL: “I’ve done both and I haven’t decided yet. I was down on the field in the Spring Game. I’ve been both. I really haven’t decided that yet.”
LJS: For current QBs, what is a realistic completion percentage goal? Or do you set a number?
DL: “Not really. I think the biggest thing I talk about with them is if they have a receiver that is open and the protection is good, we have to be able to complete that ball to be successful. Sometimes protection will break down, sometimes there will be good coverage on a receiver. There are going to be some times where there are going to be some incompletes and there are some throwaways that aren’t going to be bad. But I think completing throws when the protection is good and the receiver is open, that’s what we really need to focus on. And to put a number on that I think is hard to say.”
LJS: With Tommy Armstrong, in the past he's completed some really tough throws and then missed on some layups. What do see there?
DL: “I think it’s just a consistency deal. I think it’s the same thing about, when the protection and everything is good, setting your feet, transferring your weight, following through, just all the fundamentals of throwing an accurate ball, is really important. I think that part for him, really for all of them, is just getting used to. They’ve got to throw that ball 1,000 times before they can get into a game and have all those fundamentals correct. Because, you can’t play like that. You can’t be in a game thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got to bend my knees more, I have to transfer my weight.’ All that stuff has to be just habit.
"That’s where the summer is so important. They have to throw these balls 1,000 times, to where we can get into a game. Everything is clean in the protection and complete a ball. That’s going to be a big part of our success.”
LJS: AJ Bush had a productive spring, but maybe didn’t show exactly what he wanted to when the fans got a peek in the Spring Game. How’d you see him react to that performance, and what do you expect from him moving into the fall?
DL: “He probably didn’t play real well early in that game, but got better as the game went longer. And the other thing is, he faced the No. 1 defense. That was the one thing, the way we had set up those teams, he was at a little bit of a disadvantage in terms of the defense he was playing. At the same time, there were a couple plays he didn’t make that he knows he should have made. I think just getting more comfortable with his footwork and where he’s starting with a read and with a play will help him move along. But he is very talented and I’m excited about his future. From where he started to where he ended, I wasn’t just looking at that Spring Game. There were a lot of practices in there that he made strides.”
LJS: Nobody outside these walls was talking about Zack Darlington at the beginning of camp, and then by the end he seemed to have grabbed everyone's attention. What’d you make of his spring move?
DL: “I think he had showed some consistency through the spring without taking as much (snaps) as many of the other guys. But he really played well in the (spring) game. You don’t just look at the game to evaluate a guy, but the game does hold a lot of weight because it’s full-speed, live-tackling, game situations. So they’re so hard to simulate besides that Spring Game, that if a guy plays well in that, it’s a good sign. ... He is definitely in the conversation."
LJS: When you're looking at quarterback recruits, what traits are you looking for first?
DL: “I think an accurate thrower with a strong enough arm to make the throws in our offense is most important. I think an athletic guy is always a bonus, especially with a little bit more shotgun that we’re running. The guy’s got to be smart. He’s got to be a football-intelligent guy. And we really have to get that from the coaches, the high school coaches that we’ve talked to, we need a guy that can make adjustments, that can read coverages.
"But I think the starting point is, 'Can he throw strikes? Is he an accurate thrower? Can he make the throws that we need to make in our offense?' And probably then, is how athletic the guy is. Because we’ve had them in all shapes and sizes. We’ve had them from 6-5 to 5-10 and they’ve all been good players for us. So we’re not too caught up on the height. But I think a big, strong, athletic guy is always a plus."
LJS: I know we can't get too specific here, but speaking generally, how big is it to get to a recruit first? And how crucial is it to have that confidence in your own evaluation even when no one is on a kid?
DL: “I think that in our past, we’ve had confidence in our ability to evaluate. In the past we’ve been the first offer, and some have kind of jumped on. And we’ve sometimes gotten that guy, and sometimes we haven’t. So you kind of put yourself out there, good and bad. If you give the first offer, there’s a lot to be said about the first offer. The other thing it does is, it might draw attention to the guy, alert everybody else. So there’s kind of a game you’re playing.
"I think we as a staff have a lot of confidence in our ability to evaluate, and I think we’ll take some chances. I also think we’ll take a guy that’s a little bit underrecruited. I think we feel like certain traits we’re looking for, and if we see that in a kid, it doesn’t matter if he’s rated real high, if he has a bunch of stars or he doesn’t. We’ll take him anyway. So we don’t get too caught up in the recruiting rankings. They are sometimes a helpful guide, but at the same time, we value our own opinion a lot, and we’ll take some chances on guys, and try to get that first offer and make them feel good without alerting too much attention to everybody else."
LJS: Is there a leader at running back?
DL: “It is pretty close. That’s a deep group. Lot of names there. I don’t think we have just a guy like Ameer (Abdullah), where you just feed him as many times as you can. I think we’ll be into a rotation situation with a handful of guys. That will really continue through fall camp."
LJS: On the O-line, you've got some younger guys trying to make their mark. How close, or far, do you feel you are to what you want up front?
DL: “I think we’re solid there with a few battles going on, personnel battles, which is a good thing. I think that will make us a better team. I do think we’ve got some good young talent. We’ve got some veteran guys that are going to provide great depth. I’m excited to see (Zach) Sterup and (Ryne) Reeves. I haven’t seen any of them at all except for last year’s film. So adding them to a pretty solid group already is going to be fun. We’re a deeper offensive line than I’ve been used to top to bottom.”
LJS: Mike Riley said in the spring that in an ideal world, he'd love to have a line that is 10-deep.
DL: “Exactly. And there hasn’t been many times in my career where there have been 10 available that are ready to go, whether it’s injury or talent level or age or any of that. But this group has a chance to have that.”
LJS: How are you liking that opener with BYU?
DL: “This is a team we have a lot of experience with and they are no joke. A very good team. They play hard. Older, mature, give you a lot of different looks. They’re athletic, they’re tough. It’s not a game that you feel like, ‘OK, we can go and just play a bunch of guys.’ We’re going to have to play very well to beat them.”