LINCOLN — Early in Tuesday’s 7-on-7 session between the top offense and top defense, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong dropped back, scanned the field and threw a short pass to his right — into the hands of cornerback Chris Jones, who waited on Armstrong’s progression and jumped the route.
It was part of a “rusty” day in the passing game, said coach Mike Riley.
“It was all frankly a little bit rusty for everybody route running,” Riley said. “We’ve been doing a lot of putting in plays and, all of the sudden when you’re going against people trying to stop it, things change there and that’s what happened today. We’ll be better than that tomorrow.”
On the interception, Riley said, Armstrong anticipated his receiver being open and didn’t get the ball out quickly enough.
“You’ve got to either fish or cut bait,” Riley said. “You’ve got to get rid of the ball and throw — let the guy win — or get it off to the next option. And if you spend too much time and don’t do the first one, then you’re late. That’s what happened.”
Was Riley frustrated to see a fifth-year senior make such a basic mistake so quickly in the session?
“We want to be perfect,” Riley said. “We’re not going to be. I think it’s something we’ll just continue to get better at. ... I wouldn’t make too much of it, frankly, because the route has to be better, too.”
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Armstrong “missed some No. 2 throws in the progression.”
“I thought he settled down a little bit as we got into it,” Langsdorf said. “But, early on, this being the first interaction with the speed of the defense, I don’t think we hit as many throws as we need to. But I thought he calmed down as we got into practice further.”
Armstrong was not scheduled to talk to the media on Tuesday.
Running backs impress early
Langsdorf said Tuesday that he likes the continued development of the Huskers’ top three I-backs, and the competition might just be heating up between Terrell Newby, Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon.
“It’s a good problem,” Langsdorf said. “We’re repping all three of them really evenly. I don’t think anybody’s really stood out. I think they all do some things well, and as we keep going, we’re going to feature some guys in different types of runs because of that.
“They’re all three playing real well. I think it’ll sort itself a little bit more as we get into more pass protection, but right now I like where they’re at.”
Newby heads into his senior season as NU’s top returning rusher after going for 765 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. Ozigbo capped his freshman year by running for 80 yards on 20 carries in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Whatever the NU staff asks of the backs, that’s what Ozigbo said he wants to do. The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder said it’s natural to want to be an every-down player.
“I want to be the featured back,” he said. “We do have a bunch of backs that, no matter who starts, will play, but I’m trying to get the majority. I’m trying to be the No. 1 back.
“It’s tough. Everybody’s great. I feel like all the backs here could start at other schools right away, if they had to.”
The three veterans might make it difficult for true freshman Tre Bryant to break through, but Langsdorf said the newcomer from St. Louis has done well.
“With three good ones, it’s going to be hard to crack that lineup,” Langsdorf said. “But he’s done some things on special teams, too. So we’re not counting him out.”
Rose-Ivey injures knee
A few Nebraska players didn’t finish practice after coming up gimpy during the workout. Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey was hurt during a run drill; he limped away from the pile and got some ice on his knee. Riley said he hoped the injury wasn’t serious — NU would know more in the next day. Jones, who had a strong first half of practice at cornerback, cramped up, Riley said.
Intensity rises in full pads
Tuesday was the first day of full pads this month. The offensive and defensive linemen sure didn’t let it go to waste.
They’d gone up against each other in one-on-ones before, but there was an elevated intensity Tuesday when they battled in full gear during a sweltering afternoon on the grass practice field. Some tempers flared, just long enough for guys to get a couple of shoves in.
“It was kind of spirited over there,” offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “It was fun.”
Both units need the work, he said. They matched up in a session focused on the run game and in the final scrimmage-like portion of practice Tuesday. There’s plenty more to come.
At least so far, Cavanaugh has liked the attitude of the linemen.
“We’ve just got to be consistent. No roller coaster,” he said. “We’ve got to have that great mentality.”
Knevel transforms his body
Junior David Knevel, the projected starter at right tackle, committed himself to an offseason full of strength training, mental preparation and drillwork. Cavanaugh said the results are clear.
Knevel is poised to have a solid preseason camp, according to Cavanaugh.
“He looks like a different dude right now,” Cavanaugh said.
Knevel’s physical improvements seem to stand out the most. He’s still 6-foot-9, possessing good flexibility for a man his size, Cavanaugh said. But the 315-pound Canadian is stronger — and it’s obvious.
“Just look at him,” Cavanaugh said. “He didn’t have shoulder girdle before. He didn’t have biceps. He’s really transformed his body, which is awesome.”
Morgan more at ease
Stanley Morgan said he started preseason practice a year ago “just kind of running around” and trying to show what he could do as a true freshman. The receiver is glad to be way further along this August.
“It’s more mental for me now,” Morgan said. “Last year I was just kind of out of control, I feel. But now I’m just smoother and more just paying attention to my details, and everything that I need to go through.”
Morgan made enough progress last season to catch 25 passes, behind only Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly. Then he said he studied hard in the offseason to look for ways to improve.
“I just went back and watched games, to see how I get off my releases, to see how I come out of my breaks,” Morgan said. “And just worked on that as summer went on.”
Huskers feel the heat
The first practice in full pads coincided with Lincoln temperatures returning into the 90s on Tuesday.
“It was hot,” Morgan said. “But it was fun, though, getting out there and getting physical.”
Ozigbo said the heat “definitely played a factor” as the Husker offense and defense got after each other for the first extended sessions so far.
“You can tell we’re in shape, but the sun was draining us a little bit,” Ozigbo said. “The offense kind of had a sluggish day, but overall it was all right.”
The heat, he said, could be good for the team.
“The season’s going to have a bunch of obstacles that we have to prepare for, and heat could be one of them,” Ozigbo said. “So today was definitely a day we needed to feel before we get in game situations.”