The dreaded middle of summer has arrived, which means spring practice is nearly three months in the rear view but the start of preseason camps nationally remains nearly a month away. This week, as we look forward to August, it’s time to identify two key ways for each Big Ten team to maximize the final weeks of this offseason.
Next up is Nebraska.
Throw and throw some more. Time is growing precious for quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to get further ahead of the curve in advance of preseason practice. Armstrong is a student of the game, a trait that served him well taking over as a redshirt freshman two years ago, then improving last season. But the transition to a new offense this year could rate as his most significant challenge. Terminology is new. Expectations are greater. The whole system, in fact, has changed under coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who has made it clear he wants his quarterback to work as much as possible this summer in simple throw-and-catch drills with the Nebraska receivers. The work starts there in the Huskers’ bid to improve upon a passing attack that ranked ninth in the Big Ten last year in yards per game. Armstrong’s completion percentage of 53.3 as a sophomore must also rise, and he needs to cut his interceptions – 12 in 2014 and 20 over two seasons – to give Nebraska the QB play it requires in an efficient Riley offense. The more time Armstrong devotes this month, the more likely it makes a difference in the fall.
No slacking for the 'backers. One position group exists at which Nebraska can’t afford a bad summer. Or even a mediocre month leading up to the open of practice. Just two linebackers, Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey, have played key roles at Nebraska. The Huskers were dangerously thin at linebacker to enter this offseason – before Nebraska parted ways with veteran David Santos. Juniors Rose-Ivey, who missed last year with a knee injury, and Banderas must lead this young group through the remainder of summer and stay healthy. If the plan goes astray even a bit, linebacker play could become a problem in 2015. And even if all goes well in preparation, first-year assistant Trent Bray needs contributions from Marcus Newby (who played a reserve role last year at defensive end) newcomer Dedrick Young (who participated in spring practice), redshirt freshman Luke Gifford and another unproven linebacker or two.