Brandon Reilly was a freshman when he received some advice that he hopes pays off in a big way this weekend at Indiana.
Then-senior wide receiver Tim Marlowe told Reilly to learn every position in the wideout rotation. The more you know, the more you'll be on the field, Marlowe said.
"I kind of took that to heart and I've just done that ever since," said Reilly, now a senior.
Reilly has made the most noise as a deep threat for the Huskers. He entered the season with a career average of 17.6 yards per catch. Now with senior Jordan Westerkamp — Nebraska's top weapon on offense — out with a back injury, the Huskers are having Reilly fill in at the slot position.
"We always tell Westy it's easier playing slot, so hopefully I don't mess up and make him look too good," the Lincoln Southwest graduate joked.
Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams said he has no doubt that Reilly will make a seamless transition to the "R" receiver position. In fact, Husker coaches put an emphasis on rotating the receivers at all three — "R," "X" and "Z" — positions during practice.
Reilly played the slot some during the Huskers' 31-16 win against Illinois, and he expects to play all three positions Saturday. Sophomore Stanley Morgan, listed on the depth chart at the "X" spot, will likely see some time in the slot, and junior walk-on Gabe Rahn knows all three spots well.
"You try to get guys to learn them all, because you want to learn the plays as concepts," Williams said. "And so if you learn the play as concepts, then all you got to do is know the route.
"Everybody runs the same routes. They all should have the same breaks."
That concept has paid off this season for a position group that, though deep, has been tested physically. Westerkamp left during the fourth quarter against the Illini, and Reilly (hamstring) and senior Alonzo Moore (shoulder) have been sidelined for certain stretches.
"Keith does a nice job of kind of teaching these guys the big picture of the receiver position," NU coach Mike Riley said. "And Brandon is a very attentive guy, so he has paid attention and also practiced in the slot."
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Having Reilly play more snaps at the inside position gives Nebraska a chance to take more advantage of his skill set.
"He'll be effective because he has all the tools to play inside," Williams said. "He's smart, he's tough, he's fast, he can make tough grabs, he knows the plays, he knows the nuances."
Those nuances allow for more route options. Those routes are based on the defensive sets.
"The thing about that inside spot is that you have to know the nuances," Williams said, "because those routes are a lot of feel, and sometimes you got to make decisions on the move based on what you see the defense doing."
Reilly said there's more creativity and "there's a lot of different ways to get open."
As for Reilly's health, he's well past the hamstring injury that sidelined him against Oregon. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder said he spent 50 hours in the training room that week receiving treatment.
"Kind of got sick of those guys, but they did a great job getting me back," he said. "A lot of work went into it, but it was worth it."
A bigger role in the offense against the Hoosiers could increase Reilly's stats. He has four catches for 97 yards. Maybe not the start he wanted, but the senior only wants to see one stat increase. Wins.
"If I have one catch a game and we keep winning, that's fine with me, because I think I have four or five catches, whatever it is. We're 5-0, so I'm not going to complain too much there."
Moore also has been medically cleared and is set to go, Williams said.