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Mike Riley quotes
March 1, 2017 | Nebraska pre-spring press conference

Opening Statement
Opening day for the 2017 Huskers, a really exciting time for everybody. We’ve obviously been working prior to this through the off season program and I think everything there has gone well. It’s almost like this thing happens in stages for sure. This session of the off season program is ultimately for the season, but it’s also really getting ready for spring ball. And then you know when you’re done with spring ball, you have that next stage that you get ready really for the season. So we’re in that second stage, a really important time as you guys know for a lot of reasons.

I would say that there’s two big reasons at the top of that. The installation of the new defense, with three new defensive coaches so it’s kind of a big transition time in that way for sure. And then of course on the other side of the ball is the transitioning of quarterback. We’ve graduated our one person, second string quarterback from last year, so we’ll be new there. And that’s a major transition as we go forward. So this practice, they’re always very important, they’re always very big, they’re always vital parts to the development of the team. But this has kind of carrying a little bit more of the juice here for sure and it’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be fun to see this thing take shape.

As we have looked at our team with the 3-4 defense, you know now all of the sudden you’re looking at what are the possibilities here on where these guys can fit, physically fit the play. I am excited about how it looks currently. You guys will get a chance to see it take shape. As the personnel fits right now it looks good, as we head into the future with our additional freshmen coming in, and then the recruits. The recruiting will change a little bit for sure as we go recruiting a little bit different style linebacker, outside linebackers, inside linebackers, more linebackers, so a lot of things change with the advent of a new front and it’s very exciting.

I started out coaching in a 3-4 defense, and when I was in the Canadian league, the only 3-4 team in the league and it was fun to be that team in the league. And we in our way recruited to that team and that fashion--3-4 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, 3-4 inside linebackers. And then with that you add that many more kind of athletes that are going to be good for your punting, and good for your kickoff, and good for all the special teams in general. So there’s a lot of parts of it that I’m excited about as we go forward. Of course the initial part is we got to get lined up, teaching these guys how to play in this new format. 

And then the quarterback part, you’re going to ask this question anyway, but we’re going to try to give Tanner (Lee) and Patrick (O’Brien) even turns. The other day, Danny (Langsdorf) and I were talking about flipping a coin for the first snap. And on all the positions at this time of year, who goes first, in any position it really doesn’t matter and I try to pass that on to the players. Somebody’s got to take the first snap, but what’s going to be determined as to who is playing in the game will happen over a long period of time. Our job is to create opportunities, and to make sure they get repetitions and get coached and practice. That’s what we have to present to them. Who is first string right now, okay somebody’s got to line that up. But the competition, the growth, the development, the production, that will tell the tale down the road going forward. And that’s always challenging, fun, and a big formation of the team. That’s it in a nutshell.

On if there is a built-in need for fans to be patient:

I didn’t do any of this, what we are doing to have a setback. I am doing it hopefully to get better. So I’m not looking for any of that. I think that what happens naturally is you lose a quarterback who graduates, you need to be prepared. And if you’re not then it’s on you. That’s the way it always will be. When you change defenses, I didn’t do that to start over in development, it’s going to take some extra work. There is a transition in learning. But we are doing this in the picture to be better in 2017, that’s what we want to do. 

People ask me all the time or they’ll make a comment, “You had a good season” or “You had a good recruiting class.” And my answer is yes it was good, but in my mind what it was for me was more of a chance to learn where we have to go in both of those aspects, football in season and recruiting. And some of those are fairly obvious in the football end of it, where we succeeded, where we failed, what we have to do better. Same thing with recruiting actually. I think it was good, but we also learned a lot about where we have to go. So, that is a long answer to that, but we made these moves to try to be better. And we want to be better this year.

On key moves after switching to a 3-4 defense:

That’s actually kind of fun, when you look at your team and who fits and what it looks like. And for that reason I brought in depth chart, so I can go over it a little bit with you. Now again, I don’t want you to put too much stock into persons. Like Marcus Newby is going to line up as an outside linebacker, or a field outside linebacker, and so is Luke Gifford, so is Quayshon Alexander. And then short side outside linebacker Alex Davis, Sedrick King, Ben Stille, those guys like that, Alex Boryca, those guys are going to line up as outside backers. 

You asked about the nose, Mick Stoltenberg’s going to be a nose tackle, Khalil Davis, Fyn Anderson and Joel Lopez are nose tackles. And then there’s field end, where Freedom will line up in that position. Freedom will be the field defensive end. Short side defensive end Carlos Davis will line up over there. So there’s a little different body types there and a little bit different responsibility. If I say this right, the short field boundary side defensive end almost can be like Carlos played a year ago, almost like a 4-3 defensive tackle, going to play inside the tackle a lot and outside the guard. And then the field end is going to be more in space, so Freedom Akinmoladun and Carlos, different body types.

On working who is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarterback:

At the quarterback deal we’ve got two separate divisions there. The first one is that we’ve got two guys that were here all last year and neither one of them played. We’ve got Patrick O’Brien who redshirted and we got Tanner Lee who transferred and had to sit out. And those two guys will be our 1s, in saying that they will get even repetitions, they’ll flip who goes first for the day. And we actually believe it or not, our second to last year at Oregon State we did that with Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion. We went all spring and all fall camp just like that, flipping the coin, who’s going first for the day. And we tried to provide them even opportunities to grow. And then we want to get the next two guys, Andrew Bunch and Tristan Gebbia, we want to get those guys opportunities too. Tristan [Gebbia] came here for a reason early, and that was to get some repetitions and start his development. And with that number, we can do this. We can make sure that we get good competition, growth, and the chance to learn for Tanner and Patrick. And we can provide Tristan in particular, with Andrew, the time to get some repetitions and start growing too. So that’s a nice number, four guys.

On what he learned about last season:

I think that some of the points there defensively, will be kind of the things that I’m a broken record on. One thing is for sure is that big plays killed us at the end of the year. Iowa had big plays that won that game. Tennessee, we crawled back into that game, get down by seven, I think that we get the ball back, score and make that a real good football game in the fourth quarter, but they get a big play and finish the game. Big play defense, that’s where we have to go. If you take it a step farther and talk about the ability to get the ball back defensively, get off on third down, get some turnovers, and be efficient on third down. Those are all special parts. 

Offensively, we only improved offensively in one very important category. That category that we did improve on was great and that was turnovers. And maybe that was the main difference in our record. That’s how important the turnover facet is and we improved that area dramatically. We did not productivity in any other way improve. So we want to improve all of the other parts being that efficient team that doesn’t turn the ball over, that takes care of the ball, and defensively gets the ball back and doesn’t give up big plays and points. And then offensively, our production, running, passing, everything, was less than average or average at best. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.

On improving productivity:

Well I think first of all, we’ve got to do a better job and I talked to the coaches about this, of establishing an identity and running the ball. When we turn on the film and it looks like this, and my daughter can say, “Oh that’s Nebraska right there.” That’s how it’s got to look.  We do that enough that we have a signature. When I say that, you got to have balance to that too. I always talk to you guys about the fact that whatever you do well you better have curveball to it. But before you get the curveball you have to establish who are we and then repeated runs that we run and are productive. And so I think we were less than average on that a year ago. 

So I think the big answer to your question is all of this stuff is balance. We don’t have Tommy’s legs, so what we have to do is be very aware of allowing the quarterback to succeed. First of all the line has to do a nice job. Anybody in protection, whether it’s the line the tight end or the back, they have to do a good job. Now with that we have to have things that help the line that then help the quarterback. If you have a quarterback who’s not going to be a primary runner like Tommy (Armstrong) was then you better have a draw game, a screen game, you better have a quick game, you better have some stuff that helps the line and those things do. And I love that style of offense, when we are going to be at our best, we’re going to be a good screen team, good draw team, we’re going to be a good quick team and then we’ll call in the protection and we will run the ball with some signature runs and we play action pass, and we take our shots. That’s what we want it to look like. But those are very good questions about losing a quarterback. We were very good, I mean one stat we had looks great is that we didn’t have many sacks against us last year. And we will all give our line credit for that, but we all know Tommy [Armstrong] bailed us out of a lot of stuff. And that’s not going to happen automatically, we have to help the quarterback with a good line play, good tight end play, good running back play, but then we have to help the line too with some good change ups.

On defensive staff and players trusting each other being new:

That’s an interesting point, the dynamics of change in our rooms a little bit there’s obviously different faces in there. And I think that the initial stages, we have to be professionals here, we all have a job to do, everybody understand that we have to be open to a new person that we have to work with. The dynamics that I’ve seen so far have been outstanding. I think that some of those guys that have to be the big adjusters are here, the new guys come in, let’s just be blunt about it. Trent Bray you know he’s got a new coordinator, John Parrella has a new coordinator, are they professional enough to handle this change and trust what’s going on. They have actually embraced it, been energetic. And truly for those guys that are young in the coaching world, it is the greatest opportunity in the world because of the different perspective of having football, different football, learning football all that is really good for their career. And as we all know as I already said we are doing this however, to help this team 2017.

On where he expects Tanner and Patrick to be Saturday:

That is a great question about where we expect Tanner and Patrick to be. I think we did a great job with the development of the guys that didn’t play in the games last year, working with them after practice. Most guys got 20-25 plays each scrimmage every Sunday. They have played with a lot of the guys they’re going to be playing with this week. They have called out plays, they have broken the huddle and gone through the cadence, and made their reads, done some of that stuff that we do. Of course we stay pretty basic on Sunday’s, but they got to play. And I say that theme get better and better almost weekly, so they’re not coming in here with our offense as total novices, it’s not going to be brand new to them. 

Tanner Lee is going to be a bonus for us because he has been in games. There’s nothing like being in the game. He’s not going to blink, this guy is poised, he’s smart, I’m excited about him. Patrick [O’Brien] is a young talent. Patrick was many times equally productive to Tanner in those Sunday scrimmages. So I think that we’ve got two guys that can be productive players, that now will take a step up in what we’re doing, you know the inventory and what we do and how you have to play you know as we get ready for the season is a lot different than playing on Sunday scrimmages with the young guys. But I think that the chance for them to do that will make them more comfortable starting on Saturday.

On Bob Diaco’s coaching style
“I think that my take on Bob is that I enjoy being around him. He has a great enthusiasm for his job and for football. He’s a pretty contagious guy listening to talk about football and be a teacher. I really enjoy that part of it. Also for me, he’s a guy that’s been a head coach, he’s fun to talk to about some of the different dynamics about coaching and situations that come up. That’s always helpful I would say. The other bonus we have now is that we can attend the off season program. We can watch players move, we can direct some drills and doing that he has been able to learn more than just ‘there’s that guys walking down the hall.’ Very helpful being able to sit down and say ‘this guy looks like a field side outside linebacker.’ Kind of helpful in that way so he has watched our off season program for those weeks that he’s been here.”

On Offense
“I would hope that we’ve only grown with a little bit more inventory of what we can do at the position. Like I said before, these guys, we aren’t going to have as many QB designated runs as we did with Tommy. We aren’t going to forget all this stuff either, there will be a time and a place and a moment that those will be valuable calls for us. It’s not like we’ve never run a QB, we run QB before. We have enough and know enough now to be able to have it, call it, and use it. I’ve told our QBs, they may not run 15 or 20 like Tommy did but seven isn’t bad. We get a seven-yard run, we’ll take that. There’s also the variety and opportunity to use some of these things in the red zone. Situationally, it will be good to maintain some of this stuff and then you know as far as them being able to execute it, like I said we may not be able to get some of the big plays like Tommy was able to get but it will still be a weapon. Can we go back and do a little bit more of what we used to do? Yes absolutely. Like I said, as you do that, you have to be aware that all these other parts have to happen. It’s not that easy to sit back there and protect a dropped back pass 35 times a game. It’s just not that easy. You got to have some variety and you have to be able to help the line.”

On identifying the starting QB
“I’m probably going to do it later rather than sooner because I’m not really worried about it at this point. My main concern right now is that they both get a chance to compete and play. There will be a lot of questions you will ask me at the end of the spring game who is the starting QB. I didn’t do this necessarily correctly but we went through that deal at Oregon State. As it turns out now, people ask the question on how that could have been real competition because that year Sean Mannion broke the PAC-12 record for passing. We did not name Sean starting QB until a week before the first game. I’m not saying I like that or I did that right, but that’s what we did because we didn’t know for sure and we just let him keep playing evenly. I don’t think there are any urgencies right now, I’m not going to worry about that part, I just want to make sure they get repetitions and had a chance to get better and get prepared for the season. Then at some point we will announce it.”

On set running plays
“Take Wisconsin in particular, they have signature running plays that it’s not going to be like ‘they ran that power play this week and then you don’t see it for a couple weeks and then it comes back’ it’s going to be in every game plan. They’re going to sugar coat it with a different formation, a different shift, a different motion, a different personnel group, but it’s going to be in that game plan and they are going to run it.  For instance, this is how it played out against us, they ran the plays early that we know they are going to run and we did a pretty good job, we played a pretty good defense that game. And then in the fourth quarter they ran that same play and got the edge in the blocking. They never gave up on the play. There it is and it keeps coming. Pretty soon you just a little bit out of position or you don’t meet the block exactly in the right way and there it goes because they know what they’re doing, they know exactly what they are doing. That’s where I would like us to do better. You’ve got to have a counter to it, I understand all that. We just have to better establish who we are at doing it and everybody gets comfortable with it and we are going to force our will on you running this play. It’s not going to disappear.”

I think it can be mentality but its execution too. You’ve got to go, you can’t just do it without being really familiar with all the adjustments that you’re going to have to make. There’s stuff to it, you can’t just keep running this play, and you’ve got to know to do it against different things because you really don’t want to run bad plays into the wrong defense or you got to be able to adjust it to play it. It is a mentality and you’ve got to have a belief that this is what we want to make good but you got to execute it and coach it hard and then be ready to protect it.”

On a health update
“Collin Miller hurt his toe and I’m worried about it. I don’t know if he will be able to participate in spring ball. He was looking really good and we had him placed as playing an inside linebacker, he looked real good. Tyrin Ferguson has a scope and will be probably limited for most of spring practice. Eli Sullivan had a knee earlier on, he’s rehabbing real well, probably won’t participate in most of the spring practice. Connor Ketter has had a back issue right now I would say he’s questionable for sure starting out where he is. I don’t have any final word on yet how long that will be, I’m just hoping he can get healthy be the beginning of the season because it’s his back.”

On the receivers
“We have lost good players, experienced players and I feel good about this group. I’m excited about this group. I think when you look at it, I’m really glad we have Stanley Morgan Jr. He’s a tough competitor and a play maker. I’m excited for another step up De’Mornay Pierson-El, I think that that’s a big time for him. And then those are the main guys that played in the games. After that, Bryan Reimers is exciting to me, he’s got to get ready to go and step up. Young guy, JD Speilman, I’m really excited about. He never played in the game but he looks real good as a freshman redshirting. So his development is huge for us. Keyan Williams, hadn’t played in a game for us, got some experience playing. He has got to step up into the picture and make plays. Gabe Rahn has played a little bit, where he fits and how he steps up will be big. So it’ll be interesting. We got a couple guys that provide us some stability that we know pretty well, but we are going to get better with Stanley and De’Mornay and after that it’s going to be ‘let’s see who surfaces.”

On recruiting success
“Well I think that kind of our job in a summary. Our job, one of them, is recruiting. Each year we kind if stepped up if you pay attention to rankings. We’ve stepped up three or four notches probably fair to say that’s been good and we want to do better. Our job description is to coach our team and recruit our next one. Right now, we are kind of always looking for that balance. We never stopped evaluating and recruiting, but the other part is the rest of our day is all about development. It’s all about coaching the best way to coach and making these guys the best players they can be. Because what we have to do to be good is to teach guys more and more how to play and make us be as disciplined and as efficient as we can be and that’s the next part of our deal. It’s all important, the recruiting part and the development. Once that Signing Day is over, a lot of the focus goes into the coaching development of the team and getting ready to win games.”

On Recruiting Department

This is king of a fun topic, you always have a recruiting department. People, when they use that word recruiting, it’s not that the coaches are going out and recruiting morphs into the whole idea about is the guy recruiting. It’s actually illegal to recruit, you can’t go to the home. It’s all about evaluation. There are two separate entities that everyone lumps into the one word recruiting. Its evaluation, which is really important. It’s the acquisition, the recruiting that’s really important. So some thought from Shawn Eichorst, Steve Waterfield, Dan Van De Riet, Billy Devaney, you know we have  basically said the separation of those two things and the definition of whose doing what is really important, who is thinking about what most of the time. Both of them are at the highest level of importance just like we talked about the recruitment and development. Both of those things are really important. If we develop really good players, that’s a really good thing. So the evaluation and recruitment of those players is what we have to do.”

On 24/7 recruiting
“Those people that will be designated in the recruiting department as opposed to the personnel evaluation department that’s their thinking process 24/7. That is where their energy is, that is what they are thinking about 24/7. It’s really just common sense. Sure I can go evaluate all those five star guys and say those are the guys we need to win the national championship. The evaluation of it is ‘this guy is good enough to offer a scholarship’ now the work starts. We can’t draft that guy, we have to recruit him. And so what’s the whole process? We already do that. Andy Vaugn has done a terrific job (with a) 75-week march to the next recruiting class. So the designation is who is thinking about this is really the key. It’s kind of just an emphasis of what we are doing more than a change, we’ve always had to have a recruiting plan and the thought about the official visits and what this all looks like. Contacting these players, letters, and social media stuff. We have always done that, we just wanted an emphasis of it.”

On Keith Williams
“We are waiting as you all are to hear exactly what is going to take place and ready to comply with whatever that is. Obviously we don’t have a choice in that. We will adjust to whatever happens with that. We will find out more in the next 24 hours and what that means to us 
on Saturday. So besides that I really don’t have any more information. When we had the occurrence of the suspension in the fall we adjusted and made it work and we will do the same thing in what we will hear in the next 24 hours.”

More on defensive depth chart

Outside linebacker to the field, Marcus Newby and Luke Gifford. Outside linebacker to the boundary, Alex Davis, Sedrick King and Ben Stille. Inside linebacker to the weak side, Dedrick Young, Mohammed Barry, and Greg Simmons. Strong side inside linebacker, Chris Weber, Pernell Jefferson and Avery Roberts. Field side defensive end, Freedom Akinmoladun, Daishon Neal, and A.J. Natter. Nose Tackle, Mick Stolenberg and Khalil Davis. Short side defensive end Carlos Davis, Peyton Newell, Dylan Owen. Field corner, Chris Jones and Dicaprio Bootle. The boundry corner, Joshua Kalu and Lamar Jackson. The field free safety, Aaron Williams, Kieron Williams, Tony Butler. The boundry safety Antionio Reed, Jojo Domann and Marquel Dismuke.”

On Kalu and Jackson
“I think that what will happen here is that we let these guys play and there will be some clue to what it will look like in the fall. I think those two guys in particular are very capable and that we need those two guys on the field. How we adjust to that is that we will let them play in those positions. One thing is for sure, you cannot have too many corners because there’s all sorts of football for that. We’ll still pay nickel and we will still play some dime. We will need these guys to develop and grow and be ready to play and until the development on the other side of Bootle, who I am really excited about, with Chris. This could be a good picture but it is kind of thin. Those two guys could end up being two of our better players.”