LINCOLN — In case there was any question left as to whether Tyjon Lindsey will play immediately, Mike Riley provided the answer Monday.
"Tyjon Lindsey will play. Jaylin Bradley will play. Avery Roberts will play. Deontre Thomas will play," Nebraska's head coach said at his first news conference of the 2017 season. "We've gotten to a point now with our personnel where we're pretty well set going into the week."
That's four true freshmen who will see the field Saturday night when Nebraska kicks off against Arkansas State at Memorial Stadium, and they may not be the only ones.
Throw in Damion Daniels, listed as co-second string with Thomas at defensive tackle, and Brenden Jaimes, listed as the third-string left tackle, and 12 redshirt freshmen listed on the first edition of Nebraska's depth chart, and that's more than a handful of a first-timers who could or will get their first action.
"We've certainly appreciated their talent to recruit them. And the other part was, they had to show during fall camp that they could fit in and play — that they would be comfortable with what they had to do and how they did it," Riley said. "So we felt good about the talent; we felt good about where they are. It's a process of discovering that though time."
Lindsey, the highly recruited receiver who has drawn raves throughout fall camp, is listed as the backup to De'Mornay Pierson-El at receiver. But the 5-foot-9, 160-pound speedster, along with redshirt freshman JD Spielman, are the top two kick returners with Bradley listed third.
"I don't think Tyjon Lindsey will blink at all when put in the game," Riley said.
As Riley hinted at, you may not want to leave your seat during kickoff returns.
"We certainly feel good about the abilities of those guys. Spielman and Lindsey and Bradley all have ability — ability to run, to run in space," Riley said. "And I think create something special."
Riley alluded to his history of playing true freshmen on special teams when talking about that group, mentioning former Oregon State stars James Rodgers, Sammie Stroughter, Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks as receivers who earned time as freshmen.
Those players got on the field as much for their ability to handle things mentally as they did because of their physical skills, Riley explained. It should also be noted that all four went on to be drafted by NFL teams.
"They showed what their ability was, they showed what their knowledge was, and they built confidence within our coaching staff of being able to play, so they played," Riley said. "And that's where these guys are."
There were few surprises throughout the rest of the depth chart.
Redshirt freshman Patrick O'Brien was listed as the No. 2 quarterback ahead of true freshman Tristan Gebbia, who went from a probable redshirt season to pushing for the backup spot as fall camp wore on.
Riley said the coaching staff will treat Gebbia much like they did O'Brien last season — preparing him to play while at the same time having the ultimate goal of redshirting him.
The three-man race at running back remains undecided on paper, where sophomore Tre Bryant led three players listed as -OR- in the starting lineup. Bryant was joined by juniors Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo, with Bradley listed fourth, though Riley said he knows who will start Saturday.
In the defensive backfield, junior Eric Lee will start opposite Lamar Jackson at cornerback, with Dicaprio Bootle serving as Lee's backup and walk-on Jeremiah Stovall ready behind Jackson. Joshua Kalu and Aaron Williams are the starters as safety, with Antonio Reed backing up Wililams and redshirt freshman Marquel Dismuke slotting ahead of former starter Kieron Williams as the backup to Kalu.
Junior Austin Rose, a Lincoln North Star graduate, will back up Luke McNitt, a Kearney native, at fullback.
"We're excited about the opportunity with this team," Riley said. "And we expect continual growth."