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Nebraska Football: Who Has To Step Up Through Spring Practice For The 2016 Season

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Mike Riley needs a better year to stick around for a third campaign in Lincoln. Who has to step up this Spring to help make that happen in '16?

David McGee

It's pretty simple to say that no matter what momentum Mike Riley and the Nebraska Cornhuskers make in things like social media, recruiting and such, there has to be a better 2016 than 2015, or else there won't be a 2017 for this group.

I asked myself and the CN staff who they think has to step up and have a good Spring ball session this year, that carries them into a strong 2016 season. The only caveat is that I told them they couldn't choose Mike Riley himself.

Why you ask? Simple, this is what Riley has created for not only a team but a coaching staff and support group. It's too easy to just say "well Riley has to be better", there are parts that have to improve.

Here are our answers, some obvious and some not so much:

Pat Janssen: This feels way too easy, but I’m the first person to answer, so I’m going with the obvious answer: Tommy Armstrong. He needed to step up last spring to maintain his starting job, and he did so. And for all intents and purposes, he stepped up through most of last season. But as the season progressed, he was occasionally misused, and his decision began to regress. Now with a full-fledged, capital-letters QUARTERBACK in the fold (i.e. something more than A.J. Bush and an Is-He-Going-Die-On-The-Field Zack Darlington) and just one season left to prove his true worth, there’s no doubt this is nut-measuring time for Tommy.

He’s proven to be very tough in the past, and I doubt Patrick O’Brien’s presence will do anything to change that (in fact, it might further strengthen that mentality), but without improved decision-making and true signs of improvement, there is the always-present threat of Tommy losing his starting job in his final season. All signs indicate that there is no such threat being posed in the spring, but a lot of the work done in this period will go a long way toward determining how much the coaches can throw at Tommy (and POB) in the fall. So who has the most pressure? Tommy Armstrong, 100%.

Ryan Tweedy: I’m gonna go with Mark Philipp, the strength and conditioning guy, for a couple of reasons. One, because you guys didn’t see it coming and now I seem wicked smart. Two, because the guy he replaced didn’t care if the players could "lift their own body weight"* or "block anything over 200 pounds"*. Enter Mark Phillipp, He’s like a happy monster. He seems to be bringing back a culture of savages. People around him have talked a big game, he’s spending time with Boyd Epley and it’s time to see some real progress. I want to see a Hawkeye get thrown out of the stadium by one of these new twins we have. It’s time the country is afraid to play us again and that starts in weight room.

* I don’t have proof he said this.

Greg Mehochko: I would venture to say that this is a make-or-break year for Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf. It is my belief that the offense, while it did lose some people last year, will have all of the tools necessary to compete at a high level. What they were able to accomplish against UCLA in the relatively meaningless bowl game should shine like a beacon (or at least one of that cartoon idea bulbs). In other words, "RUN THE DADGUM BALL!"

Husker Mike: With all due respect to Ryan, Nebraska has seen more than enough groin injuries over the last year to justify n irrevocable ban on Boyd Epley’s access to the strength and conditioning facilities.

So who would I list? I’d like to go with somebody on the defensive line, considering the fact that Nebraska needs to replace three starters...but I’m going back to the offense. It’s no secret that when Nebraska played well offensively, it started with the running game, and when Nebraska struggled offensively, it usually highlighted shortcomings in the passing game.  So I’d like to see Nebraska’s running game emerge as such a bright spot, even they can’t ignore it.

The guy I’d like to see emerge is Mikale Wilbon. The sophomore showed us flashes of potential early in the season, then found himself buried on the bench after September.  Could he be a gamebreaker?  Could he be a guy that could be depended on to get yards and keep drives alive (and the defense resting on the sideline). Could he be a guy that could regularly put Nebraska into 2nd & 4/3rd & 1 situations? So often after an incomplete pass, Riley and Langsdorf would feel that they were now stuck in a passing situation because they didn’t believe in their rushing attack. Wilbon is the one back I’ve seen that would seem to have the potential to be a guy that could change that attitude.  Supposedly, Wilbon struggled in pass protection last season, but seems to have picked it up in the offseason...he’s now getting snaps with the top units. I want to see more from him.

Jon J: Pat Janssen took my choice - took everyone’s choice, really. If Tommy Armstrong spends his final year making the best possible decisions, we will be winners. My choice therefore moves to the offensive line, to the guy that will start at center - someone like Dylan Utter or Paul Thurston. The offense is poised to win games, whether by controlling tempo (UCLA) or by the big play (Michigan State).

I always pick the offensive line, don’t I? That’s kind of boring and predictable. I’m not ready to be that old yet, so let’s go with Nate Gerry. Gerry is pretty much a proven commodity. In 2015 he was a team captain and third-team All-Big Ten. Well, whoopty do! You want a winner? It’s time for a guy like Gerry to be first team All-Big Ten. No, screw that. An All-American. And an award winner. Not because it’s all about Gerry, but because if we’re going to have a good football team, it’s going to require guys like Gerry who realize their senior year is their last shot at glory (screw the NFL, that’s a paycheck, not G-L-O-R-Y), step up their game and become champions.

Brian: I'd like to call out one Brian Stewart for needing to get his gang better. It's not a bad callout, but it got tiresome when no-name QB's would have career days with this Secondary. Word is that he's given up Safety coaching to DC Mark Banker while Stewart has concentrated on Corners, and I'm perfectly fine with that. Nebraska has talent to inject this year with Avery Anderson, Eric Lee, Lamar Jackson and Tony Butler to play along with.

If Nebraska will contend, it's got to get better in Pass Defense, and this is solely on Stewart. It's year 2, and he's had a lot of hands-on with this crew. There's a time to shine and this is it.

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Have someone else we haven't thought of? Mention your take in the comments. Same rules though, can't just say Mike Riley.  ;)