Nebraska Spring Practice Football

Nebraska defensive linemen Mick Stoltenberg, left, and Khalil Davis, right, battle during a drill in practice in March. 

Fall camp practice: No. 17.

Gear: Helmets and pads

Location: Memorial Stadium as the team simulated game situations.

Stoltenberg in concussion protocol

Junior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg, who hasn't practiced in recent days, is going through concussion protocol, Nebraska coach Mike Riley said Friday. 

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Gretna native has been a spectator at practice, but should return Monday "if it stays the course," Riley said.

In Stoltenberg's absence, true freshman Deontre Thomas (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) has gotten plenty of work at nose tackle with the top unit. Riley said Thomas is "cat quick" and offers "a good change of pace" compared to the mammoth Stoltenberg (6-5, 315).

Stoltenberg figures to be ready in plenty of time for Nebraska's season opener against Arkansas State, which is now two weeks away.

With the date getting closer, the Huskers Friday went through a dress rehearsal of sorts — working through gameday scenarios that included coaches working from the sixth-floor press box.

Near the end of Friday's workout, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco briskly jogged past reporters and into the stadium with several assistants following behind.

Riley said he normally waits until later in fall camp to simulate game conditions, but was happy to get the work in Friday.

"Because it wasn't necessarily real clean — there's a lot of stuff we can work on," Riley said. "The game components of the play clock and all that, we've got a lot of work to do there."

As far as whether coaches work from the box or the sideline, Riley said he generally discusses the options with each coach before leaving the final decision with each individual.

Riley used the example of of former defensive coordinator Mark Banker, who preferred the sideline, while Diaco "immediately" asked about working in the press box.

Butler rising in defensive backfield: Riley praised the work of redshirt freshman defensive back Tony Butler, who has worked at corner this fall after starting his Husker career as a safety.

A 6-foot-2, 210-pound native of Lakewood, Ohio, Butler's improvement has been important, Riley said, as the Huskers work to build depth at the cornerback position after the loss of Chris Jones to a knee injury.

"We need another couple guys to surface there," Riley said.

He also mentioned sophomore Avery Anderson as a player who has "elevated" himself starting in the spring.

"So it's made us feel better about that position," Riley said.

Running back spot still unsettled: If you're waiting for Nebraska to announce a clear No. 1 running back, well, keep waiting.

"I don't have really any further thought on it," Riley said of the running back situation.

Last Saturday, Riley said he hoped to see some separation among NU's top four backs — Mikale Wilbon, Devine Ozigbo, Tre Bryant and Jaylin Bradley — and if he didn't see that separation, NU would move forward with a running back by committee approach. So, it appears the evaluation is still ongoing.

Bryant, who had been held out of recent workouts, returned to practice Friday and got "a little work" Riley said.

More situational work: Nebraska's top units mostly did situational work Friday, but did not go "live" — that is, no tackling. Among the situations were red zone, opening drive and working to get into manageable third-down situations.

Reimers eases back: Wide receiver Bryan Reimers wasn't a full participant in Friday's practice, but did go through individual drills while recovering from a head injury that required stitches. Reimers was in full uniform, minus his helmet.

Decisions coming: Nebraska has yet to decide on its in-season captains, who will redshirt and which walk-ons will receive scholarships this season.

Much of the work toward finalizing those decisions should come in the next few days, Riley said.

"We have a list of guys that we think won't redshirt," Riley said, emphasizing the word "think." "Those decisions will come over the weekend as we head into these two weeks before the game."

On awarding scholarships, Riley said the coaching staff has met "three or four times" but has not finalized anything.

"We have to be careful, numberswise and peoplewise," Riley said. "We've got to do the right thing."

Game prep beginning soon: Nebraska will begin working on the game plan for Arkansas State starting with Monday's practice, Riley said. 

It will be a change of pace from the past few weeks, which has been "the most camp-like setting that we've had since we've been here," Riley said.

The last three weeks, players have met for breakfast at 6:45 a.m., followed by a short meeting and practice. After a four- to five-hour midday break, the team returns to have dinner, watch film from the day's practice and install the next day's practice plan.

By the time everything is done, it's usually 8:30 p.m.

Those are long, monotonous days. But Riley has more than once praised his team for its enthusiasm and ability to stay with the grind.

And, with practice turning toward game prep beginning Monday, the energy should kick back up a notch.

"When we get past tomorrow (Saturday), the change of pace of what we're going after will be energizing to the team. We'll start looking at their game film, we'll start putting our game plan stuff in place," Riley said. "So all the stuff we're doing will now gain a new purpose as to what this is all really about."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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