Around the Big Ten we go, continuing with our week-long look at three items each team must address in the offseason. Up next is the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
1. Get comfortable with the coaching staff: New coach Mike Riley and his assistants face a real challenge in earning the trust of the Huskers, in particular the veteran players who spent multiple years with former coach Bo Pelini. For better or worse, Pelini was fiercely loyal -- and his players felt the same about their coach. Riley has the right personality to smooth the waters quickly, but he and his staff can't ignore that some of the Huskers feel alienated by the administration and may struggle to embrace change. The coordinators and position coaches, like Riley, bring an experience level and likeability factor that ought to make the spring go about as well as possible. Still, the transition won't always be easy.
2. Create an offensive identity: Nebraska has been plagued for the past decade, really, by the lack of a go-to offensive plan. Sure, it's had excellent players at times. When they graduate or get hurt, though, it leaves Nebraska without a backup plan. The scheme needs to be strong enough to account for the inevitability of football. That's where Riley and Danny Langsdorf must succeed. What is their bread and butter? They'd be well served, at first, to craft a system that fits the strengths of quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.. But in the long term, Nebraska needs to find a way to sustain offensive success in the Big Ten. And it ought to feature a strong running game.
3. Fortify the defense: For all of Pelini's defensive acumen, he never mastered that side of the ball in the Big Ten. The league's top offenses gouged Nebraska repeatedly after its 2011 move from the Big 12. And while the old staff leaves nice pieces such as defensive tackle Maliek Collins and safety Nate Gerry, Nebraska is dangerously thin at linebacker. Coordinator Mark Banker and line coach Hank Hughes must find a replacement for end Randy Gregory. This spring marks the return of key pieces Michael Rose-Ivey at linebacker, Charles Jackson and LeRoy Alexander in the secondary. The Huskers need them all, in addition to the emergence of a few backups to provide depth.