LINCOLN — He doesn’t look like a freshman.
That was part of the assessment Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf gave in reference to newcomer Jaylin Bradley following Thursday’s practice outside the Hawks Center. The coach was impressed enough by the 6-foot, 180-pound Bellevue West grad to include him with juniors Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon and sophomore Tre Bryant as the Huskers continue to search for a starting running back.
“He’s really athletic and he’s talented that way, which has stood out to me,” Langsdorf said. “He’s got a ways to go in learning and understanding what we’re doing, but he’s working on it.
“And then when he has the ball in his hands, he’s explosive. It’s been fun to see. He’s had a couple really nice runs, caught a screen and came out of the backfield nicely. He’s doing a good job of showing what he has, talent-wise, and then he’s just got to keep continuing to learn. But he’s pushing this group. It’s been fun seeing how quickly he’s picked it up.”
Langsdorf said coaches would like one player to take off with the job while adding, “That hasn’t happened yet.”
Junior Austin Rose and sophomore Wyatt Mazour also continue to battle for time behind the main quartet.
“It’s been a good rotation between Wilbon and Ozigbo,” Langsdorf said. “We’ve been able to get Jaylin Bradley some work, and that’s been kind of fun to see. Tre Bryant’s gotten a lot of good reps. There’s been kind of a four-man rotation there, which is heavy.
“But I’ve liked the way we’ve been able to hit some inside runs. I think we’ve creased a few things. I think that Jaylin Bradley’s looked really good catching the ball out of the backfield, that’s been fun to see. We’ve gotten some good, hard runs from Tre and Devine. I think as a whole, it’s a good group, a really solid group.”
Seeking a rotation in backfield
The running backs have been working toward a more formal rotation during the first week of camp.
Ozigbo, Bryant and Wilbon all got a chance to play in some key moments in 2016 behind starter Terrell Newby. Injuries kept Newby out of most of his final two games as a Husker.
Ozigbo started the one game that Newby didn’t, but throughout spring ball and now in preseason camp, NU running backs coach Reggie Davis said the chance to start is still up for grabs.
“I really like our room,” Davis said. “There’s not a huge difference right now. We’ve got to see what we’re going to do there. We’ve still got to work it out.”
Bradley also is in the mix to get some snaps. While those who followed Bradley’s career at Bellevue West were awed by his speed, Davis said Bradley still has a ways to go to become Nebraska’s top speedster.
“Our speed guy is still Mikale,” Davis said. “That’s still our guy with the most explosion and suddenness.”
One thing that has caught Davis’ attention with Ozigbo is how much the 6-foot, 230-pound junior from Sachse, Texas has improved through his off-field work.
“Devine did a great job trimming down and improving his body,” Davis said. “That’s helped him on the field.”
There’s been more buzz this preseason about Nebraska’s screen game. Guys who can catch the ball out of the backfield and be effective, dependable safety valves for quarterback Tanner Lee will have no trouble getting playing time.
“They’re all pretty good screen runners,” Davis said. “They’ve gotten better over the years because we’ve been working it ever since we got here. Those guys have got their timing down, the line has gotten better; we’ve gotten better, the quarterbacks have gotten better.
“So the screen game as a whole is looking much better than it did when we got here. All our backs can run the screens.”
Conrad solidifying himself
Cole Conrad is strengthening his grip to be Nebraska’s starting center. Both Langsdorf and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh confirmed it after Conrad spent another practice snapping footballs to Tanner Lee with the first-team offense.
Conrad — the 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior from Fremont Bergan — drew praise from both coaches for quarterbacking a line that surrounds him with returning starters. Omaha North grad and sophomore Michael Decker continues to be the backup, with Langsdorf saying, “There’s a good competition going on there at center.”
Said Cavanaugh of Conrad: “I love his mentality and how he works and how he’s playing.”
After starting games at right tackle last season, Conrad said the center spot requires knowing “a little more” about the offense and what opposing defenses can do. He added that he’s much more comfortable in the role now than when he began the transition in the spring.
Langsdorf likes growth of TEs
None of Nebraska’s tight ends has a catch at NU, but Langsdorf said he liked the growth of the group. Senior and Lincoln Southwest walk-on Tyler Hoppes is the clear No. 1, but Matt Snyder and Jack Stoll have started to emerge as Hoppes’ backup.
Snyder, a sophomore, battled injuries two years ago — including a staph infection — while Stoll redshirted last season to transition to the college game.
Both were traditional tight ends in high school, and neither was easy to land. Snyder, 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, picked the Huskers over Michigan, while the 6-4, 245-pound Stoll picked NU over Texas.
“Jack’s more of on-the-line, physical guy, but he’s proven he’s got good hands and can run some pretty good routes,” Langsdorf said. “Snyder, I think kind of the same thing. He’s got some nasty to him. Both of them have been exciting to watch.”
Other tight ends in camp include senior walk-on Connor Ketter, redshirt freshman David Engelhaupt and true freshmen Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal.
Williams looking at everyone
Williams isn’t big on the idea of naming three starters at wide receiver. He prefers to look at all the players he thinks can and will play and develop those as a group.
“The guys who help us win will be on the field,” Williams said.
One of those players will be Bryan Reimers, the Lincoln East walk-on who will be a candidate for a scholarship later this month. Williams said Reimers’ belief in himself has gone up.
“My expectation for him was much higher for him than his was for himself,” Williams said. “Now he understands he can play, and I expect everything out of Reim-dog.”
Lindsey has opportunity
Fall camp is when the buzz about new players who can contribute begins to get louder.
One player Nebraska fans are anxious to learn more about is wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey, who originally committed to play at Ohio State but eventually landed in Lincoln.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound graduate of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas is making a favorable impression with Williams. Lindsey is getting high marks for more than just his athletic ability.
With NU losing key receivers Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly to graduation, Williams said Lindsey is aware of the potential to make an impact as early as the Sept. 2 season opener against Arkansas State.
“He knows that he has an opportunity,” Williams said. “I told him he’d have the opportunity to show me that he can play as a true freshman. With me telling him that and him believing that that could be possible, just in general you’ll be anxious. He was ready to go; he’s ready to move on to the next level.”
Pierson-El enjoys being leader
Even after playing in every game last season and starting six times, senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El said he has some work to do to get ready for Nebraska’s season opener in four weeks.
“It’s going good,” Pierson-El said. “Just trying to catch up for the most part. I feel like I’m behind a little bit, but it’s fun. I’m back, I feel better, so it’s good.”
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior from Alexandria, Virginia, is getting more of a chance to be a leader and help mentor new teammates like Lindsey.
Pierson-El has even given the true freshman a nickname.
“Slim Jim, he’s alright,” Pierson-El said. “He’s swimming a little bit, but he’s doing fairly well. He’s picking up things fast, asking a lot of questions, good questions. He’s coming along pretty fast.”