Things I know, and things I think I know:
I’m a sucker for a good underdog story, which is why I write a lot about Lincoln Southwest graduate Brandon Reilly.
It’s very possible his story is on the brink of a breakthrough chapter.
A former Nebraska walk-on — who had zero scholarship offers from FBS programs — Reilly has an excellent chance to make the Buffalo Bills’ regular-season roster this season from the jump.
He was elevated to the franchise’s 53-man roster for the final five weeks of last season, but never appeared in a game.
“The top two spots this year, with Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones, are pretty locked,” Reilly told me last week. “After that, it’s open. I love to see that. I like my chances. I’m confident.”
Jones’ 27 receptions are tops among Buffalo’s returning receivers. Benjamin, after being acquired in a trade last season, caught only 16 passes in six games.
Veteran Andre Holmes (13 receptions) also is back. As was the case with Reilly last year, Holmes came into the league in 2011 as an undrafted player.
All told, the Bills’ returning wide receivers combined for 56 catches and 653 yards last season. That’s it. So, yes, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Reilly is in a good position to make the 53-man regular-season roster, and be among the 46 players who suit up for games.
“His best football’s ahead of him,” said former Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams, who regularly trains a cadre of NFL receivers in Lincoln — including Reilly. “I told him, ‘Bro, they won’t be able to guard you.’ He’s big, fast, quick, smart and strong, and he can catch. Plus, he isn’t an idiot. When he comes to practice, he gets to work. He’s focused.”
However, at the moment, Reilly is a fringe NFL player. That's a fact. But doubt him all you want. He’s used to it.
“He’s a lot like guys that you sometimes hear stories about,” Williams said. “Once they got their opportunity, you realize how good of a player he really is.”
Williams watched Reilly prove doubters wrong at Nebraska, where he finished his college career with 70 receptions for 1,275 yards (18.2 per catch) and six touchdowns.
The coach recalls arriving in Lincoln for the 2015 season. Jordan Westerkamp and De’Mornay Pierson-El were the leading returning receivers from 2014. Kenny Bell had just graduated.
Reilly had been limited to seven games in 2014 because of hamstring issues.
“I didn’t know if he was even on the team when I got there,” Williams recalls. “Once we were able to start working out, I put him on some drills and he flies around the field. He looks like a freakin’ five-star guy. I was like, ‘Who’s that? That ain’t DPE or Westy. That ain’t the two sweet dudes.’ I didn’t know anything about Brandon.”
Nor do NFL fans, although I think that’s about to change
To his credit, Reilly proceeds with the same underdog mentality he had last preseason, when he led the Bills with 11 receptions for 139 yards.
Yeah, he’s used to being an underdog. It was that way at Nebraska, too.
The pressure ramps up in the NFL.
“It’s more stressful, that’s for sure,” he said. “In college, if you had a bad day, you kind of just put it behind you and worried about the next day. But in the NFL, if you have a bad day or miss a meeting here or there, you could be looking for a new job.”
I have a feeling his story will continue in Buffalo for a while.
* Consider the following an epilogue to my Sunday column (“Requiem for fullback”) regarding Nebraska’s new offense eschewing use of a traditional fullback.
Ron Brown, the former Nebraska assistant, watched a portion of the Huskers’ spring season. He noted that in a sense, the team’s tight ends now fill the role of a fullback.
“You might say the fullback is gone, and maybe in title he’s gone,” Brown said. “But a lot of the same type of responsibilities can be found in the type of (spread) offenses that are out there nowadays. There are a lot of similar responsibilities — not exactly — that the modern-day tight end has with fullbacks in our offense of the 1990s.”
* I just know this: In the new Husker speed-oriented spread, you’re not going to see a Willie Miller (6-1, 250 pounds) lined up in front of Dan Alexander (6-1, 245), as was the case in 1999.
* Was there anything in particular about Scott Frost’s practices that made an impression on Brown?
“I just loved the way Scott quietly had his fingerprints on what was going on,” Brown said. “I loved a lot of the similarities that I saw that dated to the early days of (Tom) Osborne. Scott reminded me a lot of Tom in that sometimes you couldn’t spot where he was, but he had tremendous influence on what was going on in the practice.
“He worked in a quiet way.”
* Great to see Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos making it a priority to have Nebraska and Iowa play on Black Friday for years to come (following a break in 2020 and 2021). I hope Frost gets on board.
Iowa has been thumping Nebraska lately because the Hawkeyes seem to prioritize the game. They clearly play with an edge. They seem to want it more.
Moos and Frost have to change that mindset, pronto.
Iowa has won three in a row, and gets Nebraska in Iowa City in 2018. A fourth straight loss in the series would be flat-out embarrassing for Big Red.