LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley said after spring camp he’d have a depth chart sometime over the summer. It’s technically still summer, but Riley and Co. waited until after training camp to release one. So Monday, Husker fans got their first taste of where the depth chart stands.
It’s not all that different from what reporters saw in camp. The starting quarterback was Tommy Armstrong. The starting offensive line is Alex Lewis, Dylan Utter, Ryne Reeves, Chongo Kondolo and Nick Gates. The starting defensive line and linebackers are as expected. A few quick notes about it:
» Junior Ryker Fyfe has won the backup QB job for now. A.J. Bush is the No. 3 quarterback. Riley said Fyfe won the backup job based on his work in training camp. Fyfe spent much of the offseason away from the team.
“A little bit of a separator there is the consistency that Ryker has shown and some attributes he has that are very, very good for a quarterback,” Riley said. “He’s got a nice, quick release. He makes quick decisions. He’s got a good feel for what we’re doing.”
» At I-back, Terrell Newby is the starter, followed by four No. 2 backups — Imani Cross, Adam Taylor, Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo.
“His ability to run, catch and pick out the right guys in pass protection is a separator for him,” Riley said of Newby, who missed a part of camp with a bruised shoulder. Newby has the most “versatility” of the backs, Riley said.
» Jordan Westerkamp is the only wide receiver who won a starting job out of camp. At another receiver spot, the starter is Jamal Turner or Alonzo Moore, while at another, the starter is Brandon Reilly or Lane Hovey or Stanley Morgan. Riley said it’s common for him to have “OR” at the wideout position — and the tight end position, where David Sutton, Trey Foster, Cethan Carter and Sam Cotton are co-No. 1 on the chart — because he intends to use so many of those players.
Morgan, a true freshman, will play considerable snaps, Riley said, because he doesn’t believe in burning redshirts and then not playing the freshmen often.
» At linebacker, the starters are Michael Rose-Ivey, Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young. Chris Weber, who missed most of camp with an injury, is technically backing up Banderas.
“I thought I kept getting better and better every day,” Young said.
Riley said he’s never had a true freshman linebacker start. Usually, they just play a lot of special teams. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker called Young “extremely intelligent off the field.”
“It’s translated,” Banker said. “A lot of times, guys are book smart and they’re not very intuitive on the field. But he has good football instincts, great movement.”
» The starters at cornerback are Daniel Davie and Jonathan Rose or Josh Kalu. It’s notable that Kalu, not Rose, got a Blackshirt on Monday.
» The safety starter opposite Nate Gerry is Byerson Cockrell — for now. Cockrell was limited in camp because of a shoulder injury.
» Westerkamp is listed as the No. 1 punt returner. Newby and Wilbon are listed as kick returners. Kickoffs are to be handled by Drew Brown, as are field goal duties.
Westerkamp earns return job
Westerkamp will begin the season as the Huskers’ top punt returner because he’s the most reliable ball handler, according to Riley.
Westerkamp is stepping in for De’Mornay Pierson-El, whose dynamic play-making ability will be sidelined for at least the season’s first few weeks as the sophomore rehabs a foot injury. So for now, Nebraska’s emphasizing ball security.
“The No. 1 thing that you want initially when the other team is punting, is you want the ball back,” Riley said. “So handling the ball, making good decisions — Jordan is very good at that.”
If BYU does indeed start punter Jonny Linehan, it could make Westerkamp’s job even tougher. Linehan, still battling with Rhett Almond for the top job, is a converted rugby player who’s likely to produce “lots of bouncing balls,” Riley said.
Just in case, the Huskers have experimented with two punt returners at times in preseason practice. Jamal Turner is Westerkamp’s backup.
Westerkamp’s the main returner, though. He averaged 2.7 yards on 19 punt returns in 2013, fumbling twice. That entire return unit was inadequate, however, and eventually overhauled after the season. Westerkamp said he’s learned plenty since.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Westerkamp said.
BYU QB draws comparisons to Taylor Martinez
Containment was the buzz word Monday as Nebraska defenders talked about dual-threat BYU quarterback Taysom Hill.
Hill ran for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013, when he also passed for 2,938. He was on pace for another 1,000-yard rushing year last fall — with 460 in five games, plus eight TDs — but suffered a season-ending leg fracture.
“He’s pretty elusive,” NU defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “He’s quick on his feet. Can’t let him out of the pocket. Kind of reminds us a little of Taylor (Martinez), in a sense. You let him go and he’s pretty fast. So it’s kind of containing him and being smart about our rush lanes.”
Asked if that falls on one position or one player more than others, Williams called it a team effort.
“You just always keep that in the back of your mind, when you’re rushing or whatever, just don’t let him out,” Williams said. “You keep lane integrity, and stay after him.”
True freshman starter rare for Riley
Riley said starting a true freshman at linebacker is a rarity during his long-time coaching career at the college level. But that is indeed Nebraska’s plan Saturday.
Dedrick Young, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound freshman, was listed as a first-team outside linebacker on the Huskers’ first depth chart. He’s done his best to maintain a tunnel-vision-like perspective so far.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” Young said, sporting a Blackshirt after practice Monday, “I’m anxious right now, but you’ve just got to take it day by day.”
Most of the time, Riley said, freshman linebackers who have not redshirted in their first season typically carry a backup-type role on defense and extensive responsibilities on special teams.
“I don’t think we’ve ever started a true freshman,” said Riley, who spent the last 12 years at Oregon State.
But Young is ready, according to Riley. “He’s very smart,” Riley said. “He soaks it all in. He’s been very consistent.”
» Riley said at his press conference Monday that later this week he will reveal the identity of the five Nebraska players who’ll be suspended for the season opener.
» True freshman linebacker Adrienne Talan is not participating in football-related activities, but he’s still on scholarship and still enrolled at Nebraska, according to an NU spokesman.
» Senior receiver Sam Burtch, junior receiver Brandon Reilly and sophomore cornerback Chris Jones returned to practice Monday. Junior tight end Trey Foster is considered to be questionable for Saturday, Riley said.