LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska coach Mike Riley likes the talent his team has at quarterback. So much so, he’s starting to rethink redshirting freshman Tristan Gebbia.
On Thursday, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said it’s “not totally clear” who will snag that backup job between Gebbia and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien. It was previously assumed that the job was O’Brien’s, with Gebbia expected to redshirt. That appears to have shifted during fall camp.
Riley still believes it would be in Gebbia’s best interest to redshirt, but he’s not closing the door on the backup spot just yet.
“I think Tristan, by the time we get to the season, would function well in a game,” Riley said. “I don’t think that’s the best thing for him. I really don’t. But we also know, for a purpose, that we keep that room small. The other side of that is he has to be ready. He knows that.”
Part of what has made Gebbia so successful in practice is his vision. Riley finds himself often impressed with the freshman and the moves he’s made so far in fall camp.
Gebbia also has been putting in a lot of work, which Riley and the other coaches have noted.
“He sees things and he makes a throw,” Riley said. “I’m still to the point that him being a freshman I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. That was a good play.’ It’s one of those things where you’re just … I think he’s a player. I know that’s an old cliche but I think he’s a player and I’ve been really, really impressed with his poise.
“His work ethic is off the charts. He’s up there as much as the coaches. He’s an amazing young man with his diligence.”
As for the man atop the depth chart, junior Tanner Lee has received quite a bit of praise ahead of the 2017 season. Phil Savage, a former NFL executive and the current Senior Bowl executive director, was impressed by Lee after watching him at practice Thursday. He called Lee a “top NFL prospect for ’18 or ’19.”
Riley knows it’s possible for Lee to leave Nebraska after this season. He has experience with it as a coach and is choosing to take it one day at a time.
“I try not to go too far ahead,” Riley said. “I’ve had guys who should go out early, do all that stuff. We rarely ever talked to Brandin Cooks, Jacquizz Rodgers, Steven Jackson. We never [talked about it] during the season.”
For now, Riley, Langsdorf and the rest of the coaching staff are busy coaching and teaching Lee. Part of that is working through the hype. As Riley puts it, the offense is “not all there yet.”
With three more weeks until the season begins, Riley will continue addressing what needs to be improved and perfecting things with the quarterbacks.
“It’s not all perfect,” Riley said. “There’s daily evidence that there’s a lot of stuff yet to do. I think the one thing that I have noted about Tanner Lee [is that] there’s not a bunch of drama with him. High, low, goofy, crazy, mad, happy… It’s kind of like this and I really like that about him. Nothing much rattles him and I think he understands the process.
“I think he likes the work, which for me is the key. The guy has talent and likes to work, give us that every day. It’s a beautiful thing.”
There are plenty of questions yet to be answered. Lee may stay at Nebraska or go to the NFL at the end of this season. Gebbia may not redshirt, which puts O’Brien’s status as the backup in limbo.
Regardless of what happens, Riley is happy with what he has right now.
“I think we are fortunate at that position and here we sit without a guy that’s taken one snap for Nebraska,” Riley said. “I’m excited about those guys.”
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