Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley talked to the media about spring practice on Wednesday.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Head Coach Mike Riley Quotes (March 4)

By NU Athletic Communications

Head Coach Mike Riley
Nebraska Pre-Spring Press Conference
March 4, 2015

Opening Statement
“It’s great to be back and announce the start of our first spring practice here at Nebraska. We are really looking forward to it. I think one of the great times of preparation for a team for a season is obviously spring practice. I divide the year into four parts: the offseason program early in January building up to what we are doing here, the offseason program that continues in the summertime, which is a little bit different, fall camp, which puts an exclamation point on your preparation for the year, and then you start playing games. It’s a great time of year. I think the kids have done a great job in the offseason program with the new staff involved. The emphasis and importance on spring practice is pretty obvious here with new terminology and a lot of newness for the players involved. The focus always has to go to the team and the development of the players. In the end, we have to make this as comfortable as possible in a way that they can learn so they can play. That is always a big issue in teaching. We have a fairly complicated game here which has to be made to seem simple so they can go play like crazy.

In spring practice, we have plenty to do. We want to establish some values as to what we want to have in a program. It’s just the way we are. We want to establish some ways that we practice, practice attitudes, actions and behaviors and then we want to improve individual skills and develop skills through drills and then we want to get teams ready. We have more to do than normal, when you have been in a place as a program, you can start on the first day of spring practice and put the ball down and run some plays that hopefully look like football. I hope we can get to that fast. There is a lot going on, but it’s a really exciting time. The spring of the year is the dawn of the new day. This is what we really like about this job is going to go work with football players on a football field. I guess the weather is supposed to be good. Right now we are counting on practicing outdoors.”

On how he plans on structuring practice
“I have been going back and forth in my mind on this for a while. Especially as I started watching the offseason program. I looked at about 120 guys out there and I have never had that many in spring practice before. The numbers that we have been used to are right around 75 to 80. I haven’t actually introduced this to the whole team yet, but what we are going to do will affect the start times too. I have really only got this setup for a practice to see how it goes. We have divided the teams into two teams, so we are going to have two practices.

Saturday, I will call one team red and the other white. There is a mixture on both teams of younger or inexperienced players and experienced players. Both team red and team white will have both. For instance, instead of Keith Williams working with 18 guys at one time at individual period, he will work with nine. That group will practice for an hour plus. The first team that will practice will be team red, then at the end of that practice the other team will be stretching and then they will both be together and we will teach our first phase of special teams which will involve field goal and field goal block. Team red will be done after that, and then team white will really duplicate what was already done with team red. The people who will be out there the longest will be the coaches, but that will be fun actually.

This is simply best for the players. The opportunity to get coached, get some repetitions… I did not want to have a team period where 22 guys were playing and 100 guys were watching. That didn’t sound too good to me. We worked out this and this will work. It will be good for Saturday because there is no school, but I have to fit this into Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I think we can because we don’t practice every day, so we will have ample meeting time to get it done. What we will do for Saturday is we will have our pre-practice meeting on Friday afternoon and then we will just show up Saturday morning and start into this schedule. We will have breakfast, get taped, and then team red will go. The first practice time will be 10 a.m. and then team white will stretch at 11 a.m. that is how it will overlap. I have never done this.”

On where he got the practice plan from
“I just thought of it. It just came from that idea that my goodness, we’re going to run a team period where there will be 22 playing and 100 guys standing. That is workable during the season because you have scout teams running other teams’ plays so there are more guys participating. Spring practice is a lot of team practice against each other. Right now, it’s just teaching what we are doing. I just don’t like standing around. We are going to give guys opportunity and learn more about the players. We will find how many guys we can get ready to play in the games. Whether it’s offensive lineman or guys for who might run down a kickoff, we have to look at this group and see how many guys we can find to do that. The only way to do it is to give each guy an opportunity. This is the best way to do it at this point. We’ll give it a go. I don’t think we will do this the whole spring, but I would like to do it up until spring break.”

On if the practice plan is within the rules
“Oh yes. The rules involve how many hours they are actually participating. The practices for the players aren’t as long as they would be if it was one practice for everybody. It will almost take an hour off their time on the field.”

On when the 20-hour time starts
“The 20-hour time doesn’t start until you are on the field for each player. The team white will start at 11 a.m. actually, so that part will be easy.”

On how he will divide teams for the Spring Game
“I haven’t gotten that far yet. The Spring Game scrimmages will be less complicated than I’m used to because of the number of players that we have. That will be good, but I don’t want to go too far ahead until I look at how this works. We will adjust and we can always go back to the original format. Our other option is to go back-to-back and have one team practicing one way and the other the other way. I have done that before and I find that hard coaching. Every format that you look at has positives and negatives and I will go with what is best for the players.”

On how much live scrimmaging there will be in the spring
“I haven’t outlined that yet. Normally about every third practice we have some live stuff after we get pads on. It might be 10 minutes. We kind of build into it. I don’t normally just wait and then have a 120 play scrimmage all of a sudden. We will take some periods and say, ‘This is full speed.’”

On being thin at linebacker
“The thin numbers at linebacker impacted the whole idea of what I’m talking about. We really don’t have enough depth at center to do this either, but we will train other people. Coach (Matt) Cavanaugh has always been good at that. He is good at moving people around at the line. If a guy can learn the concepts of what we’re doing, then he becomes adjustable. We have had some of our best players in history play every position on the line. We will have to adjust at center and linebacker, but I think we have enough guys to do it.”

On the quarterback competition
“Tommy is going to take the snaps and he will be on team red. He will take the first snaps. All of the guys that have played and started will be the guys who do that. I think it is important to let every player know that they have the opportunity to win a job. You have to start somewhere and those guys have earned those spots in this program to be able to take the first snap and start practicing. I think we owe it to every player to evaluate it closely as we go and make sure that they are being coached and developed and be able to make a determination if somebody does win a job down the road. I think competition can make everybody rise up. I think the more we develop the whole team, the more competition there is, the more the team can grow. We want to grow every individual because collectively we will be a better team. Guys have a better tendency to grow when they know they have opportunity. We need to have an environment where guys can feel great about learning and feel great about their opportunity. They won’t all get good news, but we want them to at least know they will get a chance. In doing that, we will find more players and develop more players. To answer the quarterback question, experience is a big, big factor for every player. Guys who have played in games have an advantage because there is nothing like playing in the games. That is multiplied by some degree for the quarterback because there is nothing like playing in a game as a quarterback. Our job now is to give other guys ample opportunity to progress and compete. This is another possibly good way to get all those quarterbacks, there are six of them, so you have one practice it is hard enough to get anybody enough turns. It is going to be hard enough with two practices, but we will get more turns with the quarterbacks. They will all get the opportunity to show what they can do.”

On the running backs
“Our initial impression on the crop of running backs is it looks like a good group of athletes. There is a variety of size and different abilities there. Backs are unique as to their style and what they bring to the table. That is all I will say about them until I get to see them play. It just looks like working out they are a good group of athletes.

On Adam Taylor’s injury
“He is ready to go. We talked about that just minutes ago and he has been cleared.”

On the pecking order for quarterbacks
“That is where we have to provide opportunity for guys to play. There is not that much film where we could make a good judgment. I don’t want to make anything up about who should be the next guy at this point, when we can’t really watch them on film too much at this point. The only thing we can do is coach them and watch then practice.”

On the quarterback coach
“I really think that having Danny Langsdorf be our quarterbacks coach is very, very positive. He is proven through the years with the number of guys he worked with at Oregon State and what he has done in the NFL. Having that go-to guy for the quarterback, even during the day when they want to watch a little more film or talk, having that guy designated is very important to me on the staff. We sacrifice in some areas to have a full-time special teams coach, but that is also a good decision because Bruce Read coaches six teams. He coaches field goal, field goal block, punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return. He knows that is his number one job. He isn’t coaching the tight ends for a while and then thinking about kickoff returns. I also like that about quarterback coaches. He is a very, very key position in the success of a football team. Having that relationship, having that guy available and one-on-one technique work is absolutely necessary.”

On if he spends time with defense
“During the early part of practice you will see me watching the quarterbacks and then watching a lot of the throwing taking place between the quarterback and receiver. See if we can beat the air. See if we can drop back and throw the ball to a receiver with no rush and no coverage. We are actually going to do a little bit more interaction offense against defense than I’ve done before just because I think the question about defense; that is the best way for me to see all the guys together. Offensively, you can go down there and run plays and do a lot against the air. Defensively, you usually need somebody to react to. We are going to try and combine both. We are going to give the offense some individual time and then some interaction with pass skeleton and then we will go team to blend it.”

On who will start at defensive end
“What we plan to do with Randy Gregory gone, I think that we will be better able to answer that question as we look at this team. That’s a great point. Many times you are always looking for that one guy that can win on a pass rush and it can come from different areas. On this team, I think it could come from the tackles. These tackles are pretty good players. In our history, we had Victor Butler or a guy like Scottie Crichton at end. Those were featured pass rushers. Everybody else complemented them, but they were going to win one-on-one. We also had Stephen Paea and we have guys like that at defensive tackle that would win against the three technique. Until we practice and look at it, we will just have to watch spring practice. Hopefully we will learn more and more about these guys and then take their abilities and enhance them so they can use them in a game.”

On balancing evaluating talent and putting in the system
“I actually believe that teaching and developing is initially the most important part of what we have to do. We have to take this group and coach it. As we go, we will learn. We always have a foundation of what we are going to do, so we can go out there and run the shingle pass pattern that we had. We will run that wherever we are and whatever we do. It is a really simple play. In doing that, we will get a little better idea of what guys can do. I can look at the film from a year ago and look at them from the off-season program that with a guy like De’Mornay (Pierson-El) we can run the fly-sweep with him, wide receiver screens, we can run reverses with him, and then we can run the post. We have to teach him to come back to the field and then that’s a pretty good package for the guy. We have an idea already, but we need to do that with more players.”

On Tommy Armstrongs’ transition
“Tommy certainly has proven in my experience with him which is watching a little bit of practice during the bowl and watching the bowl, which I thought was impressive. In our system, that is a loose term a little bit. Our system varied from Derek Anderson to what Lyle Moevao did. Lyle was a heck of a quarterback, but he didn’t have the same reach on the throws that Derek did. What he did, he was probably the best angle thrower that we’ve ever had. That was more of a feature thing for him. We would adapt as we will when we watch Tommy. We will look at the throws he can make and then we will adapt. We are just going to go with it. We are going to add a little bit more of the stuff we haven’t done, because we have never really had an athlete like Tommy. We will do a little bit of quarterback run and the things we can do in that part of it… even with the other guys at quarterback here, that is a really good weapon to have. If you watch teams and look at good third down conversion teams you see what they do to be really efficient is they have a quarterback that runs on third and mediums. That was Andrew Luck when he started. A lot of the time, it’s just the quarterback making a play. Versatility is big. We will even do designated quarterback runs because when you run with a quarterback you have to block one less guy. That is why the spread offense is so hard. It isolates people and makes it hard. The quarterback running the ball becomes a weapon and a real threat. It can be very important on third downs. We will be excited at looking at what we could add with guys like the guys playing quarterback here right now. It will be fun.”

On Tommy’s arm strength
“I would compare him to Lyle (Moevao). I think he has a quick arm. One of the first things I look at is how natural the quarterback is. Just looking at the natural rhythm of throwing the ball and the relatively quick release and it just looks comfortable for him. I think Tommy is very natural at throwing and I thought Lyle Moevao was one of the most natural guys that we ever had. We had some good guys, but all quarterbacks have a little bit different motion.”

On developing relationships
“I think for our assistant coaches they have used this time well in getting to know these players, knowing their position. I think the one that is behind on all of that is me. I don’t like this feeling right now. I walk by most of the team and don’t know most of their names yet. That is a strange thing for me. It will pass as we go. I think spring practice will help. I think that is a transition deal. I was gone a lot during recruiting and after that doing some speaking stuff. At one point, I think I had this job for 75 days and been in Lincoln for 30. I have a stretch now, so I have a shot.”

On what kind of attitude he wants the team to have
“The one thing we have to establish is we want a team that plays hard. These are very simple things, so these are not rocket science. The investment leads to the effort. We want to put a lot in and play hard. We want to play harder than the other guys, so we have to prepare to do that and practice like that. The effort in practice is a big deal. We want an attitude of learning. We want the combination of playing harder and smarter than the other guys too. You do that through being invested in the game, learning what you are doing, learning your adjustments and just being very, very sound. This should be fun, but it has to have an element of focus too. This is not a time for messing around. I’m not a big fan at all of a bunch of trash-talking. I think you practice self-control just like you practice how to run the drive play. Those are all elements that we will reinforce towards what it should look like in practice.”

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