CHICAGO — Nate Gerry believes the Blackshirts are about to rise again. One of the reasons he thinks that? The junior safety believes Nebraska has some unproven players who are about to grab people’s notice.
"I think we have a lot of depth that some people don't know about,” he said Friday at Big Ten Media Days. “We've got a lot of young guys that are ready to play."
Among those who have made a big impression is true freshman Aaron Williams, who is likely to be a key contributor at safety. But Gerry also mentioned summer arrival Antonio Reed, who he thinks could also play this year.
“I think there’s probably four freshmen that I think will play on our defense this year,” he said. “Antonio, he’s picked it up pretty well. He and Aaron, they’re two different-sized bodies, so that’s kind of nice.”
Reed was regarded as a hybrid recruit who could play linebacker or safety.
“I think he’s probably bigger than the linebackers we brought in,” Gerry said. “He’s a big boy. He’s like 220 (pounds).”
Gerry also pointed to the linebackers Dedrick Young, Tyrin Ferguson and Mohamed Barry as players who could perhaps see the field and have important roles this fall.
“I haven’t really seen Barry play that much, but I know he can move really well, and that’s one thing you need out of the 'backer spot,” Gerry said. “And I know that Ferg can run, and I know that Dedrick can play football, and I know that Aaron and Reed can play.”
Barry arrived on campus in mid-July after finishing a final class that made him academically eligible.
According to coach Mike Riley, the linebacker is cleared to participate when fall camp begins Thursday.
"I think we're actually in great shape academically with our incoming people," Riley said. "I don't think there's anything yet that we have to clean up in that regard. It's about as smooth a group as I've ever had, actually."
* DEPTH CHART SOON: Riley expects to release a depth chart soon, though he didn’t specify exactly when.
“I’m not going to tell you who the backup quarterback is because it’s actually a pretty good battle in there,” Riley said. “I think AJ Bush did some real good things. I think Zack Darlington did that. Obviously, we’ll probably announce one of them as being No. 2, but we’ll really let fall camp be another determination of where they stand in that regard.”
Riley then mentioned junior Ryker Fyfe, who was the backup last season, as being in the mix. “He’s a little bit unconventional as a player, but he’s effective as a player. We’ll see where he goes with this.”
There was some speculation about Fyfe’s status after reports that he wasn’t around the program much this summer.
“I think there’s been some personal things with him going on, that that’s the No. 1 reason,” Riley said. “But like right now, for instance, it’s kind of a voluntary time for him. But I think everything is stable for him starting camp. Our expectations are for him to be at camp and compete for whatever you can get at quarterback.”
Riley said Fyfe is currently on scholarship. He did say there were still some “scholarship decisions” to be made.
“Some guys have been on a one-year (scholarship) deal that have the ability to be renewed,” he said. “That kind of thing might end down the way, but that's the way it was with this group for some guys. So those decisions will be made as we go probably before and into fall camp."
* PUT IT IN A BLENDER: Riley made it known since he took the job in December he was prepared to adapt his scheme to the talent on the roster.
He said Friday he’s excited about molding different thoughts to come up with what hopefully is the right cocktail for success.
“I think one of the keys in coaching is not necessarily what you want to do — what you have in your book as your system — but what is best to do with the people that you have,” Riley said.
“Now, then you have to blend your knowledge of it too, and how that filters into the equation. Because you can see something that might be real good, but if you don’t know much about teaching it, you might be going through the wrong path. So all these thoughts are crossing your mind, and then the key issue is what are you going to select to do? What are you going to select to create that identity that you need to have so the team understands their identity of, ‘This is what we’re going to be really good at. We’re going to do this stuff, and this is going to be us, and these are our curveballs and this is who we are.’”
It’s kind of fun, Riley said. Also a little scary.
“Because you don’t know exactly after you stir it up. But I do think we’re on the right track with approaching this with a blending of concepts of what we’ve done with talent and skill sets we have at Nebraska.”
* CRUCIAL OPENER: Riley knows the first game Sept. 5 against BYU is no treat. He also knows how much importance there is in getting a good jump from the blocks as Nebraska’s head coach.
“I think we all want to get off to a good start, there’s no doubt about that, and it probably multiplies by many-fold how that feels being the new coach on the block,” he said. “You want to set a good tone. You want to make it look good. You want to make it look like football, and you want to win right off the bat. That’s always an interesting thing.”
You’d have to go back to 2003 to find the last time Riley had a first game at a new school, and that even was his second stint at Oregon State, having been the head man there from 1997-98.
“It’s all been brought back a little bit. But it’s also exciting. It’s being new and having those expectations of winning, and wanting to win that first game. But also there’s an intrigue, a newness to it in playing in new stadiums, new teams, all that that’s kind of motivating and exciting and energizing.”
But he knows BYU will be tough: older players with an explosive offense led by playmaking quarterback Taysom Hill.
You have free articles remaining.
“You don’t tinker around with this team,” Riley said.
* PHONE SMACK: Comments from Wisconsin running back Corey Clement about Wisconsin being an iPhone and Nebraska being a flip phone found their way back to the Husker camp.
The response from Gerry? “I have an iPhone 6.”
Riley was amused by it.
"I imagine some of our players will latch onto that a little bit, but that's the kind of stuff this time of year brings about, so it's not surprising,” he said.
With a smile, Riley added: "Most of the people who know me well would say I'm a flip phone guy."
* RUNNING BACK WATCH: Four-star running back Jordan Stevenson isn’t in Lincoln yet as initially hoped, but told 1620 The Zone on Friday afternoon he plans to be there in two or three days.
He announced Thursday he planned to join the Husker program after being denied admission to Wisconsin last week.
Riley couldn't comment beyond saying: "At this time I can confirm only that we're recruiting him."
Stevenson would give the Huskers six scholarship running backs.
Riley said junior Terrell Newby was the leader of the pack coming out of spring. "Whether or not he plays every down all the time, that's where the competition in the rest of fall camp will play out. I sure like the group in total, and the talent that's there. Can someone else surface that will share time or be a role player? We've got some different styles in that group where guys may fit into some different roles as we go forward."
* INJURIES: The coach said his team is generally healthy, and senior safety/nickel back Byerson Cockrell continues to progress well from a shoulder injury.
Riley believes junior Charles Jackson is healthy for fall camp, after suffering a knee injury in the spring.
Jackson, who has taken a spin practicing at every position in the secondary during his Husker career, is expected to begin this fall at safety, Riley said.
* LOSS OF SANTOS: David Santos, Nebraska’s most experienced linebacker heading into 2015 with 19 starts, was considered the biggest of the summer losses from the program.
No specific reason was stated in early June when it was announced he was no longer with the team. Riley called it “unfortunate” Friday.
“And it’s one of those things — I won’t disclose the reason — but he was just not able eligibility-wise to come back,” Riley said.
* RECEIVING PRAISE: True freshman wide receiver Stanley Morgan has made a quick impression on both Tommy Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp.
Armstrong said the 6-foot, 185-pound Morgan has been a tough matchup for even some of the top corners.
"I like how he runs his routes," Armstrong said. "He gets off contact. He's that type of guy who likes to learn, and he learns fast. He takes what you say and fixes it right away. That's how you can tell a great player from the rest — he wants to be better even when he runs a route the right way.
"He's been giving our DBs some trouble here and there running certain routes."
* HOUSE HUNTING: Riley and his wife, Dee, are still looking for a house in Lincoln.
Riley said he’s seen a lot of nice houses, but there are some specific requirements because his wife has an adverse medical reaction to chemicals in some paints.
“It’s taken us a little bit longer, but I think we’re close,” he said with a smile. “That’s what I was told today.”
* WHEN BARRY CALLED: Riley was asked about being approached by Barry Alvarez about Wisconsin's head coaching job two years ago to see if he was interested in the position after Bret Bielema left.
Riley was flattered but never interviewed for it.
“Yes, I was obviously interested in that because I really like Barry, and I know the history, obviously, of Wisconsin, and my best friend, Paul Chryst, was coaching there, so a lot of things were interesting to me about that for sure,” he said.
“But the only way I can describe in taking this job and not taking the other opportunities like that is just the timing of how I felt, which probably sounds not good enough, but that’s really it. Dee and I were actually at a point where we were excited about trying something new. That’s pretty simple. But that’s all there was to it. It’s just not that big of a drama. It’s just a guy taking another job and that’s about it.”