LINCOLN — Most of the offseason talk about Nebraska’s offense has centered on quarterback Tanner Lee, the offensive line that will protect him and the receivers who will catch his passes.
It may seem unlikely that running backs would fly under the radar at Nebraska, but they have this summer.
Until, perhaps, Sunday, when the top three backs — sophomore Tre Bryant and juniors Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon — looked very good on Day 1 of training camp, as did the two backs expected to push for playing time, Wyatt Mazour and Austin Rose.
“They’re all physically prepared — probably at the highest level of their lives,” Riley said of Bryant, Ozigbo and Wilbon. “They’re all ready to go … I think that room is rising as far what we might get out of them. I’m excited about it.”
Ozigbo appeared to have cut weight and reshaped his body — injuries midway through last season derailed a strong start — while Wilbon and Bryant looked leaner and quicker than they did in the spring. Mazour and Rose, who had flashes in the spring game, also took snaps with the higher units during “skeleton drills,” in which the offense faced the defense’s back seven.
More quick hits:
» Several of the 105 players who reported Sunday were true freshman walk-ons: Defensive end Jordan Paup; receiver Kade Warner; linebackers Damian Jackson and Cody Liske, and defensive backs Ethan Cox and Jose Marquez, who joined the team in spring and played at Crete. In previous 105s, that many true freshman walk-ons was rare, but Nebraska now sits at 77 scholarships.
» Junior Peyton Newell moved to No. 2 nose tackle. Newell, from Hiawatha, Kansas, was at defensive end in spring. At nose, Newell will have to fend off true freshman Damion Daniels. Former nose tackle Khalil Davis moved to defensive end. In the spring, he worked with the No. 1 unit at times as a pass rusher. Davis’ twin brother, Carlos, is a No. 1 defensive end.
» Based on the way NU practiced on the first day, the No. 1 defense was: Carlos Davis, Mick Stoltenberg, Freedom Akinmoladun along the defensive line, Alex Davis, Chris Weber, Dedrick Young and Marcus Newby at linebacker, and Lamar Jackson, Eric Lee, Aaron Williams and Joshua Kalu in the secondary.
» The No. 2 defense had Khalil Davis, Newell and DaiShon Neal along the defensive line, Sedrick King, Avery Roberts, Mohamed Barry and Luke Gifford at linebacker, and Dicaprio Bootle, Jeremiah Stovall, Antonio Reed and Kieron Williams at safety. Stovall is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound sophomore walk-on from Omaha Creighton Prep. He’s ahead of scholarship cornerback Avery Anderson, who moved from safety in the spring.
» Nebraska spruced up the interior of the Hawks Center with banners on all four walls of the indoor practice facility. Reporters’ eyes were immediately drawn to the north wall, which commemorates NU’s five national titles with a banner from each seasons. The players featured: Jerry Tagge (1970); Johnny Rodgers (1971); Terry Connealy (1994); Tommie Frazier (1995) and Grant Wistrom (1997). In the 1994 banner, Connealy is celebrating a big play in the Orange Bowl win over Miami.
The banners, Riley said, were the idea of his right-hand man, Dan Van De Riet, an associate athletic director who broadly oversees football and player acquisition operations.
“I love it,” Riley said. “Looks good. Looks good. There’s some stuff yet to come. You’ll see it as we go. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. I want you to be surprised when you see it.”