<
>

A day of impactful change at Nebraska, too

Amid a furious news cycle in the Big Ten as Michigan introduced Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State counted the hours until its colossal meeting with Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, a pair of moves Tuesday at Nebraska helped shape its immediate future.

Say goodbye to Randy Gregory, the All-American caliber defensive end who made it known that he plans to leap to the NFL with one remaining year of eligibility.

And say hello to Danny Langsdorf, the Huskers’ new offensive coordinator who's set for a reunion with coach Mike Riley after spending just one season with the New York Giants.

Neither item came as a big surprise. Gregory’s departure was a near certainty, in fact, after the Nov. 30 firing of Bo Pelini. Speculation for much of this month named Langsdorf as a candidate to join Riley’s staff.

Regardless, Tuesday's developments might eventually rank as the most significant of the offseason at Nebraska as Riley tries to maintain the order in place and infuse his system to take the Huskers to a new level.

Safe to say, one of the moves is positive; the other is not.

First, the good news: Langsdorf is a crucial hire for the Huskers. And don’t lump him with the four coaches who followed Riley from Oregon State to Nebraska.

The additions of Mark Banker, Trent Bray, Mike Cavanaugh and Bruce Read -- presumably to serve as defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, offensive line coach and special-teams coordinator, respectively -- were safe. Easy for Riley to orchestrate, you might say.

Langsdorf, 42, is different.

His departure from the Giants was met with disappointment from coach Tom Coughlin and others. Langsdorf spent the past year alongside Eli Manning, helping retool the game of the two-time Super Bowl MVP and former No. 1 overall draft pick. Manning’s production improved dramatically from 2013 with the help of Langsdorf.

At Oregon State from 2005-13, Langsdorf molded quarterbacks Sean Mannion, Matt Moore and Sean Canfield.

Too often under former coordinator Tim Beck, who was likely handcuffed by Pelini, Nebraska lacked an identity. Especially when forced to look past its favorite option because of injury or an obstacle posed by the defense, the Huskers were exposed as a group without direction.

Riley and Langsdorf, who have worked together extensively, figure to possess a chemistry that will bode well for the Nebraska offense. And they’ve got tools with which to work, starting with quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who threw for 381 yards last Saturday in the Huskers’ 45-42 loss to USC in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Armstrong needs coaching. He needs to be refined. Langsdorf and Riley look like the right pair to help him -- that is, if Armstrong emerges from a pack of five quarterbacks in the spring that includes Johnny Stanton, coveted two years ago out of California by his new head coach and offensive coordinator.

The intrigue will be thick in March.

No doubt, in deciding to leave the NFL, Langsdorf considered the resources available at Nebraska and the returning talent, headlined by receivers De’Mornay Pierson-El and Jordan Westerkamp, a versatile group of running backs and underutilized tight end Cethan Carter.

That Langsdorf said yes to Riley indicates something about the coordinator’s assessment of the potential on offense and his confidence in Nebraska's plan to build a productive scheme for the Big Ten environment.

Gregory, meanwhile, leaves a gaping hole. He earned third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press, but his junior season never quite developed as hoped after the talented juco transfer led the Big Ten in sacks in 2013.

He was slowed early in 2014 by a knee injury and bothered by cut-blocking strategies. Gregory’s performance on Sept. 27, with two sacks against Miami in Nebraska’s best win of the season, left the Huskers wanting more. They won’t get it.

He’s the first Nebraska player to leave early for the NFL draft since Brandon Jackson in 2007, which speaks to the dearth of elite talent during the Pelini era -- and the loyalty of players like Ndamukong Suh and Ameer Abdullah.

So the Huskers, still in need of a defensive line coach, will look to defensive end Greg McMullen and tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine to anchor the front four.

With Gregory, the group would have rivaled any in the Big Ten and rated as the Huskers’ clear defensive strength. Without him, the line remains solid, especially if Avery Moss can return from a one-year suspension, but depth could be a real concern.

Tuesday gave Nebraska reason for hope and cause for concern. Like two ships passing in the night, Gregory and Langsdorf moved in and moved out, another sign of the changing times in Lincoln.