CHICAGO — Joe Keels arrived at Nebraska in January, a touted junior college transfer who picked the Huskers over Wisconsin and was expected to compete for playing time immediately.
Keels had a slow start to spring practice, seemed to gain momentum toward the end of it, and now is in line to contend for time at end behind starters Randy Gregory and Greg McMullen.
“He’s come a long way,” Pelini said of Keels, the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Keels “really changed his body” over the summer, Pelini said. At 21, he’s one of the older defensive linemen on the roster, even without being experienced.
Then again, neither are the other guys behind Gregory and McMullen, a sophomore. Walk-ons Jack Gangwish and Ross Dzuris competed with Keels in spring practice, while redshirt freshman A.J. Natter missed most of it with injuries. Natter is 100 percent heading into fall camp. He’ll be joined by true freshmen Sedrick King, Peyton Newell and Mick Stoltenberg.
DeAndre Wills, a 2014 signee, left the program less than a month after arriving to be closer to home; the Anniston (Alabama) Star reported this week that Wills will transfer to either UAB or Jacksonville State.
Armstrong makes progress
Most of Tommy Armstrong’s mistakes last year were typical for first-year quarterbacks, Pelini said.
Armstrong’s next step is to become a better decision-maker. It’s been a goal of his all offseason.
Pelini’s advice: Don’t try to force the issue.
“When you’re a young quarterback, you sit there and say, ‘I’m going to try and let that come open,’ ” Pelini said. “Well, if it’s not open, there’s somebody else that’s open. You take your outlet.”
He saw Armstrong and the rest of the NU quarterbacks do a better job of that during the second half of spring ball. Pelini got the group together and played practice film clips of several instances when they should have dumped the football off to a wide open fallback option near the line of scrimmage.
“When we showed it to them, it was like, ‘Oh, wow,’ ” Pelini said.
Pelini did say that Armstrong’s “light years ahead” of where he was at this time last year, and that Armstrong will enter camp as NU’s No. 1 quarterback.
Neutral-site game bad fit
Nebraska has entertained offers to play in “a couple” of those high-profile neutral site match-ups that seem to be getting more popular during the first week of the season, Pelini said.
This year, Wisconsin is playing LSU in Houston. Boise State and Ole Miss have a showdown in Atlanta. Florida State will meet Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas.
Similar marquee showcases just didn’t work out for NU.
“The opportunities we’ve had, it wasn’t a good fit,” he said.
Why not? Pelini referenced the potential impact on a nonconference schedule that’s set through 2016. Moving games around and adjusting contracts isn’t always that simple.