First day of spring football practice, 3.7.15

Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf (left) talks to head coach Mike Riley during Nebraska's first spring practice on Saturday, March 7, 2015.

Things I know, and things I think I know:

I referred to it as the "interception drill."

Problem was, it wasn't an interception drill.

Flash back to April of 2004, Bill Callahan's first spring as Nebraska football coach. If you're a Husker fan, perhaps you just threw up in your mouth a little. Sorry about that. Bear with me.

On an otherwise fine spring day in '04, Nebraska's quarterbacks tossed so many interceptions in practice that I thought they must have been doing it intentionally.

I was wrong. But any doubts I had that Callahan was trying to pound a square peg (his West Coast offense) into a round hole essentially vanished.

Of course, Mike Riley finds himself in a similar situation this spring, but he's approaching it much differently than Callahan did — perhaps a wise move considering Nebraska's 5-6 record in 2004.

Riley is a teacher of a pro-style system. But at Nebraska, he has capable dual-threat quarterbacks left over from a spread-option offense that operated out of the shotgun. Might Riley become tempted to turn those quarterbacks into something they're generally not, as Callahan tried to do with Joe Dailey in 2004?

Sounds as if Riley can resist such temptation.

"We all really know it's not about us," said Riley, referring to Nebraska's new coaching staff. "Like I've said, we can adapt a lot of what we've done (at Oregon State) to shotgun stuff. …"

"We all really know it's not about us."

That acknowledgement is critical. Of all Riley's statements this spring, that's the one that resonates loudest in my cranium.

"We have what we've done as coaches and we have a new skill set at quarterback almost all the way around," Riley said. "We are trying to blend the two as best we can together so we can help them be comfortable.

"This is not about what we (as coaches) want to do; this is about giving them (the players) the best tools to play fast and win games. It's kind of interesting, and kind of fun for us, too."

The offensive players had their new playbook a couple of weeks before the March 7 start of spring practice. It seems the greatest challenge for the players is mastering a new language — that is, new terminology for plays, techniques, et al. Defense obviously isn't as affected.

As one would expect, the offense is trying to find its footing as players learn at different rates. Yeah, you see interceptions. Coaches get frustrated. Players get frustrated. It's only natural.

Credit Riley for attempting to make the coaching change as painless as possible for the players, even if it tests his patience.

Callahan tried a different approach; he chose to force-feed his system in Year One. It seemed awkward during his first spring and it carried into the season, when Dailey completed only 49.4 percent of his passes and threw 19 interceptions.

Make no mistake, the "interception drill" was a portend.

* Riley's hire of Chris Brasfield as director of high school relations surprised some folks because of his lack of Nebraska ties. One of his main duties will be crafting each year's walk-on class.

Coming from Oregon State, where he spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach, Brasfield will be unfettered by previous relationships or politics. I like that. Plus, his extensive resume fits the wide range of other duties in his new job description, including serving as liaison between NU and NFL teams.

Is there an in-state person who was interested in the job with a resume as wide-ranging as Brasfield's? I'm betting against that.

* BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo attended Saturday's practice and followed with a series of tweets, including this one: "Some challenges (at) QB, RB, LB."

Depth is the obvious issue at linebacker. There's better-than-adequate talent among starters.

Depth is not the issue at running back. It's the lack of a proven big-time talent, someone who might merit all-conference consideration. NU doesn't have that guy right now.

Quarterbacks? Well, see the first part of this column.

* Speaking of quarterbacks, long-time Nebraska fans will remember Van Brownson and Jerry Tagge battling for the quarterback job in the late 1960s-early '70s. There was a third QB in that group — Chuck Osberg of Omaha, who has been a regular at Riley's practices.

In the spring of 1973, Osberg was 22 years old when he took over as head football coach at Omaha Ryan, the youngest Nebraska Class A head football coach in modern times.

Osberg seems to like this Riley guy.

* I finally watched the "There is no place like Nebraska" video sent out by the Nebraska athletic department (with Riley narrating). I thought I would have something snarky to write about it, since that's what old sports writers tend to do after watching propaganda. But the video is beautifully made and has substance. If Riley doesn't buy the things he says (and writes) in the video, he's a wonderful actor.

OK, fine, a bit of snark: I don't need a video to tell me there's no place like Nebraska.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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