LINCOLN — Mike Riley provided no fireworks Monday at his first game-week news conference of the fall, no impassioned appeal and no overly bold statements.
That, of course, is the way Nebraska’s third-year head coach normally operates. It’s also indicative of his team’s preparation through fall camp and into game planning for Arkansas State, which visits Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Riley called the Huskers’ fall camp, "mostly non-dramatic," a version of the same phrase he’s used over the past month. That, in the coach’s eyes, is a decidedly positive review.
"This is a low-maintenance group and I appreciate that," Riley added.
On the surface, that could seem like a surprising sentiment this particular fall. After all, NU is breaking in an entirely new defensive scheme and a new starting quarterback, saw its top cornerback suffer a July knee injury and currently sports three co-starters at I-back.
Still, senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El said he agrees with Riley’s observation that this group seems to possess a sense of calm.
“Not too many off-the-field issues for the most part, not too many injuries for the most part,” he added. “Everybody has been taken care of body-wise. It kind of went smooth. Easy coasting, easy sailing. Everybody showed up to work willing to do whatever they had to do to make things right."
The attitude has been talked about in several different, yet seemingly related, ways. Newly minted captain and quarterback Tanner Lee said it’s a group with several leaders. Team chemistry is real and substantial for these Huskers, seemingly every player who stepped to the podium Monday assured.
“It’s huge having chemistry like that, especially when things get tough,” Lee said. “Having trust in your teammates, know that they want to do well for you just as much as you want to do well for them, it’s going to be a big asset for us.”
Added left guard and fellow team captain Jerald Foster: “I would say that, if you don’t trust the guys around you, if you don’t trust everybody to do their job, then how can the 11 succeed? Chemistry has been a big thing. ... I feel like we’ve really gotten better at being closer as a whole offense.”
It’s more than just one side of the ball, of course. And while fans want to know if Tyjon Lindsey is going to be a game-breaker, or if Lee ascends the Big Ten’s quarterback pecking order, Riley on Monday joked about how he thought his team was organized enough to avoid being left with 10 men on the field the first time the Huskers punt against the Red Wolves.
In addition to a bit of levity, though, Riley was highlighting what he thinks will be a strong point for this roster.
“(This team) appears to be really consistent,” he said. “We had virtually nobody showing up late for meetings, everybody participating in the stuff that is maybe out of our eyesight but part of their day — whether its ice tubs or rehab or conditioning that’s taking place while we’re watching film. There was no drama in that area.”
There’s that word again. Drama. A catchall phrase for distraction, lag time or missed opportunity.
“What you’re really getting underneath it all is an engagement that shows they want to do what’s right for the big group,” Riley said. “What I think that does for you is that when it’s hard, and when they have invested a lot, they won’t quit. They’ve invested in doing this the right way.
“I asked them for 20 days that was just going to be football. We weren’t in school, we wanted 20 really good days and it would take a sacrifice on their part to make sure there wasn’t a distraction.”
The coaching staff feels like it got just that. Riley said this week will operate as a mostly normal game week. Since Monday is often spent cleaning up and NU has not yet played, there will be more good-on-good this week than there will be going forward.
If the Huskers stay on their current path, there will likely be little drama in the coming days. The question, then, is just how much that counts come Saturday night and beyond.
“This team did a great job of that,” Riley said. “We have to prove what that means on the field.”