QB battle, new defense top story lines for Nebraska spring

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) This won't be your typical spring practice at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers will begin their search for the successor to a four-year starting quarterback and introduce a new defensive alignment under coordinator Bob Diaco and two other new assistants.

''Spring practices, they're always very important, always very big, always a vital part of the development of a team,'' coach Mike Riley said Wednesday. ''But this one kind of carries a little bit more juice.''

The Huskers, coming off a 9-4 season , will be transitioning to a pro-style quarterback following the departure of Tommy Armstrong Jr. Riley said Tulane transfer Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O'Brien would begin as co-No. 1s and take equal snaps.

Riley said he and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf discussed using a coin flip to determine whether Lee or O'Brien would take the first snap when practice opens Saturday.

''At this time of year, who goes first, it doesn't matter to me,'' Riley said.

Diaco, who came to Nebraska in January after being fired as UConn's head coach , will install a 3-4 base alignment. The Huskers had been a 4-3 defense.

Nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg said he's excited about the change.

''We've been pulling up some old clips to see coach Diaco's defenses, and it's given us an idea of what we're about to do,'' Stoltenberg said. ''We'll continue to watch some of that, but now we'll get some practice and have our own tape to look at.''

The No. 1s on defense to open the spring are Freedom Akinmoladun and Carlos Davis on the ends, Stoltenberg at nose tackle, Marcus Newby and Alex Davis at outside linebacker, Dedrick Young and Chris Weber at inside linebacker, Chris Jones and Josh Kalu at corner and Aaron Williams and Antonio Reed at safety.

The Huskers' spring game is April 15 and their opener is Sept. 2 at home against Arkansas State.

Here are some other things to know:

INJURY UPDATE

Four players are injured and could miss all or part of spring practice. They are linebackers Collin Miller (toe) and Tyrin Ferguson (knee), defensive back Eli Sullivan (knee) and tight end Connor Ketter (back).

OPPORTUNITY AT RECEIVER

Three of the top five receivers are gone, leaving De'Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan as the top returnees. Keyan Williams, a transfer from Fresno State and son of receivers coach Keith Williams, will have an opportunity to emerge, as will Bryan Reimers, JD Spielman and Gabe Rahn. Heralded freshmen recruits Jaevon McQuitty and Keyshawn Johnson Jr. enrolled in January and also will get long looks.

YOUR TURN, RUNNING BACKS

Devine Ozigbo, Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon will compete to take over for leading rusher Terrell Newby.

''We've got to do a better job this year of establishing an identity running game,'' Riley said. ''You have to establish who you are with repeated runs that are productive. We were less than average on that a year ago.''

O-LINE'S TIME

Even though the offensive line had to deal with a run of injuries, it generally underperformed last season. Left tackle Nick Gates and guards Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer are returning starters. David Knevel and Cole Conrad will compete at right tackle and Michael Decker and John Raridon are the top two candidates at center.

BUYING TIME?

With a new quarterback and a new defense, is Riley going to ask fans for patience in 2017? Not a chance, the coach said.

''I didn't do any of what we're doing to have a setback,'' Riley said. ''I'm doing it hopefully to get better. I'm not looking for any of that. You lose a quarterback to graduation, you've got to be prepared. If you're not, then it's on you. When you change defenses, I didn't do that to start over in development. There is a transition in learning. We're doing this ... to be better in 2017.''

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