If it’s a day in the Nebraska football program, chances are junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong is around, talking to someone.
Though new NU coach Mike Riley hasn’t been in town that much since he was hired — out of 75 days, he estimated 30 have been spent in Lincoln, and he’s still living out of a hotel — he’s been impressed with the Huskers’ two-year starter at quarterback.
“He’s done an amazing job of doing what he’s supposed to do,” Riley said. “He’s working out with enthusiasm. He’s a guy that, you can tell, is liked and respected by the team. That’s a really good picture to watch. He’s a guy who’s very comfortable. He comes up to do some football. He comes up just to say hi to everybody. He pops into the defensive line coach’s office.
“What I see is a pretty neat person — and pretty comfortable and confident in who he is. I like all that. He’ll be the guy who gets the first turns.”
Riley added, though, that his pre-spring depth chart is “not that important to me.” The goal at every position — including quarterback — will be to give as many players as much of a chance as possible to show what they’ve got.
“The biggest issue that we’ll have in spring practice is making sure we can devise practices to give everybody enough opportunity,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing.”
Embracing NU’s extra attention
Riley reiterated Friday in a lengthy interview he’s ready for the pressure-cooking fishbowl that comes with media and fan scrutiny on the program and Riley personally.
Riley added that concern over how attention and attendant criticism affects his approach “might be a hair overdone.”
“I’m not really worried about feeling more pressure,” Riley said. “I had pressure when I was coaching at Linfield College against (Pacific Lutheran University) in a one-point game. And I had pressure with the San Diego Chargers and I had pressure at Oregon State to win ... I’d rather have people care than not care. And I think we’re at a unique sense of passion for their school and for their state.”
As an analogy, Riley used one of those knick-knack airport stores.
“There are not two stands of shirts — the Ducks shirts, the Beavers shirts or the Blazers shirts — there’s just the Nebraska shirts,” Riley said. “And I like that. It’s one of the unique places in the country. And I think the loyalty that folks have, the love they have for their place, that’s the way it should be. I’m glad to be a part of that. Proud to be a part of it.”
Riley seeks Osborne’s advice
Most of a 90-minute lunch meeting earlier this week between Nebraska coach Mike Riley and former Husker coach and Athletic Director Tom Osborne had absolutely nothing to do with football, Riley told The World-Herald. They talked about families and backgrounds and life stories. Tom’s son, Mike, who set up the lunch, was also there.
“It was nothing real dramatic,” Riley said. “It was just a real neat thing to do, and I appreciated him doing it. It was fun.”
Definitely not a “big summit meeting,” Riley reiterated.
But if a college football legend — who won three national titles at Nebraska — is sitting across from you, the sport might just come up.
So Riley aimed to talk to Osborne about three things:
» The Blackshirts: Riley wanted to know how Osborne and former defensive coordinator Charlie McBride handed out the black practice jerseys typically given to NU’s defensive starters. It changed under Bo Pelini, who usually handed them out during the season until 2013, when he handed them out before the season to a handful of players, then took them away after a month of games because the defense played poorly. It became a reward instead of an identity.
“The one thing I’ll try to copy that (Osborne and McBride) did is when they issue them, it was midway in fall camp,” Riley said. “That sounds good to me. To do it any sooner than that would be phony from our staff.”
» Recruiting: Riley outlined Nebraska’s plan to Osborne — an emphasis on the 500-mile radius with additional areas around the nation — and asked him to “be blunt” about its makeup.
“It sounded to me like that’s how they did it,” Riley said.
» Offensive philosophy: Riley said he knows wind and weather can be a factor in the Midwest; he coached at Winnipeg in the Canadian Football League and built his team “around our grass field, the wind and the weather we had.”
“He thought it was important that a team run the ball,” Riley said of Osborne. “If you’re a team that has to count on throwing 60 times per game, some games that might be difficult.”
Riley chuckled. “That’s what he said. And I get that.”
Riley said he didn’t disagree with anything Osborne said.
“When you’re asking for advice, you’re not going to put yourself in a position where you disagree. You’re just looking for help.”