They made decent progress this spring.
That was my read on the Nebraska quarterbacks from watching practices and listening to their coaches' assessments.
If you watched the quarterbacks in last week's Red-White Spring Game, you saw a group that showed promise at times in a new system. They combined to complete 50 percent of their passes (34-for-68), with three interceptions versus four touchdowns. The performance seemed representative of their play throughout the spring — OK, but not good enough.
Which is why first-year offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said "a ton" of work remains this summer. When fall camp begins in August, the sense of urgency will escalate dramatically, especially considering the relative difficulty of the opening game, Sept. 5 against BYU.
"They're going to have to put in a lot of time (this summer) throwing a wide assortment of routes in a route tree," Langsdorf said of the QBs. "We have that detailed pretty well for them. They've had a lot of work up to this point, and they'll need to carry that over to the summer in their workouts and really get used to the timing with receivers, the depth of the routes, and the footwork that matches the routes."
The "unofficial" summer workouts — beginning in early June — are an integral part of a team's developmental process that often get overlooked. The summer becomes especially critical when there's a coaching staff transition and everyone is working to get on the same page.
In the summer, NCAA rules prohibit coaches from being involved in the workouts. Langsdorf describes it as "a player-driven deal." So, on the offensive side, it'll largely be up to the quarterbacks to organize workouts — to essentially run practices.
Depending on players' dedication, the summer months could be the difference between a decent season (nine-plus wins) or rough start for Mike Riley's tenure as head coach. The quarterbacks, particularly returning starter Tommy Armstrong, must set the tone.
Say what you want about Armstrong's passing ability — he completed 53.3 percent of his throws last season, with 22 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions — he's a forceful and willing leader. He's earned teamwide clout with his physical and mental toughness. He's intelligent. He'll understand exactly what Langsdorf wants the offense to get accomplished this summer.
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"They can kind of match and marry what we've done, in order, from spring ball," Langsdorf said. "They have the ability to repeat the progression of teaching. It's, 'Here's the starting point, and this will take you through.' So if you follow along our installations through the spring, it will carry over into summer and then into fall again."
"They have enough experience to know what to focus on," Langsdorf added. "A lot of times, guys will get together and run against the defense a little bit. But we really want them working on individual routes with each receiver. That's what's most important right now."
Nearly midway through spring drills — which consisted of 15 practices — Langsdorf said coaches decided to scale back the implementation process on offense. The quarterbacks responded well, he said. Around that time, Armstrong said, the quarterbacks were completing about 50 percent to 55 percent of their passes. If they're going to reach the level Riley desires — the 60 percent range — summer repetition will be critical.
Armstrong experienced back soreness during the early to middle stages of spring drills, but kept studying his playbook and watching video. He said the primary challenge is knowing his reads — where he needs to go with the ball. From Day One until the end of drills, he acknowledged the difficulty of the challenge.
The entire offense faced it. But as a team leader playing the most important position, he bears a sizable responsibility in the program's transitional process. Teammates will continue to look to Armstrong to set the tone.
"It can be a problem if you don't get in your playbook, if you don't study, if you don't know what you're doing," Armstrong said. "You can tell the difference between the guys who actually study and fix their mistakes because other guys come out and make the same mistake twice.
"That's the thing with this coaching staff, they don't allow you to make the same mistake twice."
That mindset will remain this summer, with the pressure of the fall ahead.