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Nebraska Football
Press Conference Quotes
Monday, Aug. 28, 2017
Memorial Stadium

Pre-Arkansas State

Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley
Opening Statement
“Alright. Welcome everybody, thanks for coming. Exciting times. College football kicked off over the weekend and we had to wait a few days but we are excited about getting started. We obviously have been through a lot with the team since we started with this team really in January, and we are headed into game week. Monday before the first game, we have got a great opponent coming in. We have a lot of respect for Arkansas State, me personally for the history of the program there and the work that Blake Anderson has done since he has been there. They have got some returning players that I am sure you all know about. The quarterback (Justice Hansen) came in and had a nice run with an 8-2 record while he quarterbacked. They won another conference championship and then they have got sort of other good players that go with him. I think that their receiving corps is going to be big, always trying to create those physical mismatch problems with you and they will throw the ball down the field. And defensively they have got a good defense and they are anchored by a guy that has had a ton of sacks in his career, and we want to do everything we can to not add to that total. But that is a big chore when you have a pass rusher like that, so we have got to do a great job there. We have gotten to the point now of course with our personnel that we are pretty well set going into the week. We have been through a lot there. There are still some guys, some young guys in particular that we anticipate playing. Tyjon Lindsey will play, Jaylin Bradley will play, Avery Roberts will play, Deontre Thomas will play and then guys like Damion Daniels, Brenden Jaimes, Guy Thomas, we are going to have them being ready for action whether or not they play. Tristan Gebbia will be like that. Like we did last year with Patrick O’Brien, Tristan will be our number 3. I suppose our goal would be that he redshirts, but he will be active in getting game-ready and practice, travel, all that part of that with this. So that’s what that looks like with the young guys. Besides the ones you already know about, we are in pretty good shape physically. Going into this week we have got to keep it that way throughout the week. We have named our captains, which you are all aware of. We will announce our Blackshirts within the next few hours and then we are off to what would be a fairly routine week of practice. What I mean by that is we will get into a rhythm of what we do, obviously starting on Mondays with our team in practice which is what we are going to do this year. This will be a little different Monday because we just didn’t have a game Saturday, so we will approach it slightly different with a little more interaction between our ones during the day. But as far as the game prep part of it, it will start to become a routine countdown of day five right into game day. This would be normally our day five but it will be more like a day four practice physically for our team today. We had our mock game on Saturday night. That game really was very non-physical, mostly mental, a lot of substitutions, a lot of situations, a lot of situation substitutions, some time clock stuff, end of the half, end of the game, two-minute onside kick team, hands team to recover an onside kick, all the situations we did it a lot. I thought our team was great. It was nice to be in the stadium, had a nice atmosphere with the students. The band was there, it felt good. It felt good. It was a nice Nebraska night for all of that. All the different parts we basically headed into from the start of our camp on July 29 when we reported to today has mostly been non-dramatic. A really low-maintenance group, I appreciate that. I think this is time to get ready on the final days of countdown for a great weekend of opening day football in Memorial Stadium.”

On what’s next for Nebraska football after a 9-4 season last year
“We don’t put any ceiling on the success nor do we announce anything that is going to happen. We have to go prove it. We are excited about the opportunity with this team and we expect continual growth. It’s an old-fashioned statement of one game at a time. That is the only way to do it. This team, there has been a lot of changes with this team. So like everybody, we are all excited for getting it underway and we will have a whole new defense. We have new defensive staff members. Of course there’s the big change over at the quarterback position, so there is a lot of new things on the horizon. We are excited and optimistic and feel good about all the preparation, and now we have to go out and prove it week by week.”

On Tanner Lee’s leadership as a captain
“I think in general this group was not surprising who got selected captain. It was not surprising to me that Tanner Lee got selected a captain because of his entry a year ago. I think I’ve said this before, he came in as one of the guys that was well-liked by everybody, and soon, when they learned about him, he was well-respected by everybody. He was elected a captain of one of our off-season teams by the team, so him being selected as a captain for this season did not surprise me. He’s been there, he’s got a very confident, but relatively humble way of being, and he just does his business, and I think the players look up to him.”

On his hopes for Tanner Lee this season
“Well, we always liked Tanner and who he is, personality-wise, and the way he entered the team and learned, and how he commands a presence out there with our team, calling plays in the huddle and running the show, so to speak. We’ve liked that. We’ve always liked his ability. Like every quarterback that’s played, we’re always looking, whatever it was then, how’s it going to be growth-wise in the future. Wherever he was, we’ve coached him and prepared him. He has been really coachable, and we feel really good about his grasp of what we’re doing. We feel great about his ability, and it’s just like the rest of our team, now we just have to go out and play and prove it as a team. This is a big story about the quarterback, why he came here. People ask me about that all the time, ‘How’s he going to handle all the attention,’ and I think that’s why he came. Not necessarily for the attention, but this arena, this kind of place, he wanted to put himself in it, and I appreciated that about him. The other thing is, is through his preparation, which has been extensive, and the work he’s done with our team, I think the confidence built in that within our team, not only about how he’s played, but the fact that they thought enough of him to elect him as a captain in a large majority of votes, that’s all a good sign. All those things are a good sign. Again, it’s all going to be the proof in the pudding, how we play. I don’t want to be that guy that just says, ‘Give the ball to the quarterback and go win the game for us.’ It’s going to take our team, our line’s got to do a great job, our running game has to be good, our receivers have to make plays. I mean, it’s no different. All the parts have to work together for the quarterback to be good, so this isn’t just going to be about how he plays, it’s going to be about how all those parts around him play.”

On three running backs (Tre Bryant, Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo) listed as members of the first team on the depth chart
“We certainly have a plan. I don’t know that it will be equal in all terms, but there are some strengths there that situationally, they will be moved in and out of the game. We’re not ready to say who’s going to take the first snap (Saturday), I know who is, but until we get further along in the week, we’ll talk about that. In doing what we did, we feel good about those players. They have all, at times in their past, done good things. We looked for that consistent growth within that group, individually, and we feel good about all of those guys. I won’t guarantee it, but my guess is they will all play, and some of them will be specific-situation guys.”

On three freshmen (JD Spielman, Tyjon Lindsey and Jaylin Bradley) listed on the depth chart as kickoff returners
“We certainly feel good about the abilities of those guys. Spielman, Lindsey and Bradley, they all have ability. They all have the ability to run in space and create something special. They all have that. JD hasn’t played yet, and that’s a guy that is going to start at slot back for us, and we’re all very excited about that, and we’re excited about his ability as a kick returner. He’s another guy that has to go out there and then do it in the ballgame, but we’re excited. I don’t think Tyjon Lindsey will blink at all when put in the game, and we’ve been really impressed with the ability that Jaylin Bradley has shown as a runner, as a receiver and playing on special teams. He’s playing on other teams besides the return teams, too. We’re excited about him as a football player, so we feel good about putting him in. Those are the kinds of spots, where, in my history, guys have come in and played, way back to James Rodgers and Sammie Stroughter and Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, they all played as true freshmen (at Oregon State). They showed what their ability was. They showed what their knowledge was and they built confidence within our coaching staff of being able to play, so they played, and that’s where these guys are.”

On Joshua Kalu’s play at safety
“I think Joshua Kalu is a well-respected guy on this team. I think that players, as they elect captains, they certainly reflect on who those guys are as players, and many times, that’s evident. But Josh has, many times through the summer and fall camp in August with his position change and his engagement with that, and I think that through the plays that he’s made, he’s gained a lot of respect from this group in general. I think he’s a good reflection of that defensive side of the ball.”

On the young guys on the depth chart
“I think that part of it is the young guys that I’ve mentioned that are going to play in the games, we certainly appreciated their talent to recruit them and the other thing was that they had to show during the fall camp that they could fit in play. They would be comfortable with what they had to do and how they did it so that technically they could make plays. So, we felt good about the talent, we felt good about where we are. It’s a process of discovering that through that time. The other thing is that some of them took advantage of opportunities where we weren’t real deep, they forged their way in and proved that they could be that guy able to earn that spot on the depth chart where they would play. Deontre Thomas is a perfect example of that. He worked his way into a position where he looked like he could make a difference for us playing games. Damion Daniels is like that, too at that same spot. Damion is ready to play, Deontre will play and alternate in, and that position should be strong.”

On the 3-4 defense
“It certainly feels good. I think the team, the defensive players in learning it have been very enthusiastic in their learning. I think it’s a carry-over both from the excitement of something new and the enthusiasm and energy the staff has brought to their teaching. That has been, for me, an exciting process. The teaching that’s going on, the work on the field. I think the very specific placement of players of where they belong in this new scheme and then teaching them how to play. It’s been impressive. As you said, we’ve got to go play a game and see how it all looks, but the process has been exciting to watch.”

On Bob Diaco’s teaching ability
“I think that first off what Bob did is study the players on the team as much as he could physically, gathered as much information as he could and did a very thoughtful job of the placement of players. There’s a profile in the 3-4 defense as there is in every defense, but he has a very specific idea of what the profile of a guy looks like at each position. For certain players to be looked at and placed and then selected for that position is motivating to those people. For instance, Luke Gifford, who hasn’t really played that much, all of a sudden found in this 3-4 defense a spot and grew because of the confidence put into him to place him. ‘This is you, as that outside linebacker to the field. This is why you fit in.’ He grabbed onto it, he was taught well, he’s now in the time we’ve had him practice playing the best football I’ve ever seen him play. Now, let’s go play in the game. I think it’s been really energizing for individuals. Chris Weber is the same way, latching onto that inside linebacker, leadership role right there. Through that leadership role of playing, calling the defenses, the team recognized that and elected him a captain. He found a whole new life like that playing in it. I think a guy like Alex Davis, new position, had his hand down for all that time before, playing out there fits the profile. Grabbing onto something that is his, he has some ownership and then he’s been taught really well. That’s what’s been exciting for me, I think Bob does a great job of painting a picture for a player. There’s a ton of emphasis placed on how to play. This is your position, this is what you have to do. The repetitions in practices over and over again, but done in a way that always keeps the player on the edge of learning.”

On coaches he admires
“I think I go way back to my first job. Ad Rutchsman was a teacher of how to play football, my first boss. I’ve always admired that in people, everybody can have a scheme, but it’s really what goes on in the inside of it that helps players play better. Ad was adamant that everybody did that on our staff, that you had to teach guys how to play, very specific technically, how to play and I love that part of it. That appears to me to be what has taken place with our team, each guy, the repetition of what they do, how they have to play, it’s been a fun process to watch.”

On taking that learning to the game
“That’s kind of the beauty of getting into a game week. Sometimes the overall inventory of what people have to learn through fall camp, spring practice, is vast and it is vast for a reason to do a lot of different things that apply to a season, not necessarily to a game. So, getting into the last few days of last week and all of this week, that inventory will shrink to this, for this game the goal is there for the players now to take this knowledge and be able to specifically apply it to a smaller inventory of game plan. I think that can build confidence throughout the week. I think parts that have been practiced in fall camp and spring practice and what the players worked on in the summer time are all pieces that are put into the game plan. There are parts that need to continue to be rehearsed that you never lose track of are the individual techniques that go into it. That’s why we still maintain an individual period in practice to continue that growth of doing the technical parts at a high level. Schematically, it will be brought down to a game-plan level rather than a whole fall camp inventory of everything that you might want to do through the season. The other thing that practice that have to be a part of every game week are those situations that are specific to the clock in the game, the score in the game, situationally in the game, third-down situations, red-zone situations, two-minute drills, four-minute offense, all those things. Having the ball on the minus one, punting out of your own end, all of those things are practiced throughout fall camp are brought out from time to time in the season to try to be game ready for each week. We’ve hit all those situations in a good way I think. At the same time, just a base set of a broad inventory of what we’ve done over fall team.”

On characterizing Tanner Lee
“If I look big picture with Tanner, the first word I would use from day one to right now is consistency. He is kind of the same every day, coming to work, going to his meetings, studying, getting ready to go. Always out there doing his thing when he’s supposed to. I think really embracing the football end of it, I think he loves it. Being ready at the meeting, being ready at practice, that was always consistent. The thing that you hope continues to grow, that I don’t think is ever a finished process, is taking his knowledge of what we are doing and doing it more efficiently and quicker all the time. I think the more I watch and learn over the years, kind of appreciated quarterbacking, one of the attributes I love the most is a guy who can hit his back foot, make a decision and get the ball out of his hands. A lot of problems disappear when you do that. Sometimes they might even have a free, clear rusher, and the ball is gone, so that attribute is one that you never stop growing and that’s one that I think you see in professional football. Guys whose skills may be diminishing, but their quarterbacking hasn’t. They’re still quarterbacking at a high level because all of that stuff goes faster. They get rid of the ball quicker, they know more about getting out of something and into something else. I think that’s where Tanner will continue to grow. He’s got a great release, throws a great ball, can throw all the balls arm strength-wise that we would want to throw. That part of it will never end. Even our young guy the other day in our two-minute drill, Tristan Gebbia, had in our two-minute drill where our offense ended up scoring he might’ve had six throws in it, five complete. The five that he completed, he hit his back foot, took a quick hit or not at all, threw the ball and moved the team. They blitzed on the last play from the 20-yard-line, he hit a back quick before anybody could get there and scored a touchdown. It was really fun for me to see a freshman quarterback do that in a two-minute drill. That’s a picture of where quarterbacks make you feel good. When I’m watching a game and we call a play, I can see a coverage out there. I know what the coverage is, I know what the pattern is that we’ve called and I know then where the ball should go, and if it’s not going there then we’ve got a problem. So, I feel good about Tanner’s ability to know what to do with the football, and that will always continue to grow with continued study and play.”

On Cole Conrad
“Cole has been a very steady person and player since we arrived. His growth has been fun to watch, he has worked hard and basically a year ago, worked himself into a deal to play because he was so knowledgeable on the big picture. When he now plays at center, he will have now played all the positions on the offensive line. His intelligence, his savvy for the game, we gave him a big responsibility at center because we need the football cleanly for the quarterback, and then we need him to do a job. He’s a reliable, hardworking, conscientious, great teammate. He’s got all those attributes that make a good football player.”

On the team chemistry
“I think when you get a quality in a team that appears to be that this group is really consistent. We had virtually no one showing up late for meetings, everybody participating in the stuff that is kind of out of our eyesight, but part of their day, whether it’s the ice tub or the rehab or the conditioning that’s taking place when we’re watching film. There was no drama in that area. When you get all that, what you’re really getting underneath it all is an engagement that shows that they want to do what’s right for the big group. What I think that does for you is when it is hard, or when you have invested a lot, they won’t quit. They’ve invested in doing in the right way, I’ve asked them for 20 days that it was just going to be football. We weren’t in school, we just wanted 20 really good days and it would take a sacrifice on their part to make sure there was no distraction, and the distraction is being late, not showing up, not wearing the uniform the way you’re supposed to on the practice field, just stuff we don’t want to deal with. Let’s do this right so we don’t have any drama. Let’s get ready to practice football and this team did a good job of that. As far as the message, this team wants to do the right thing.”

On that transferring on the field
“I think that every part of that should transfer. The cleaner football to me would be if the punt team is on the field and we’ve got 11 guys that are engaged. God forbid that we have 10 on the first punt, but this team has not shown any of that, it’s been great. Scott Booker has been fun to work with. His energy with coaching the special teams is contagious, his meetings are contagious and energetic. All his parts leading up to the season, that way the coaching, the enthusiasm for the work, the engagement of the team, that’s been at a high level. Now, we’ve got to go play and win games.”

On the Big Ten West
“I think the whole Big Ten is rising, the competition everywhere will be harder and harder as it goes. There will be some newness in the Big Ten West with a couple of new coaches for sure. We expect an enthusiastic growth of those programs and teams so I think it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be competitive every game. Every game in college football is like the Super Bowl, every game is like a playoff game. So, you’ve got to be ready each week. There’s no excuse not to be ready each week. We only get one game a week, that’s what I tell them. It’s not baseball, it’s not a three-game series, we’ve got to go play our best every weekend and that’s what it’ll be like.”