LINCOLN — Bryan Reimers kept running his route.
During a 7-on-7 red-zone drill at Nebraska’s football practice Thursday, this particular play lasted a few seconds longer than usual. Quarterback Patrick O’Brien looked for a place to deliver the ball. Looked some more. A sack appeared imminent.
The secondary relaxed, and O’Brien successfully gunned the ball to Reimers moving across the back of the end zone.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was patting the wide receiver on the back moments later. Way to keep playing, he loudly told Reimers in front of the entire defensive unit.
For Reimers (pronounced RHYME-ers), the sequence was just another chance to prove he deserves to be in the conversation with wideouts Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El at the top of the depth chart. His five receptions as a sophomore last season rank third among returning players at his position and suddenly transform the Lincoln East graduate into one of the voices of experience in spring workouts.
“He is going to help us win games,” wideouts coach Keith Williams said. “That’s not a surprise anymore — it’s expected. His expectation level is no different (and) my expectation level for him is no different than Stan or DP or any of those guys who’ve played a lot.”
Reimers was the one asking all the questions last year to veterans Brandon Reilly, Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore. He especially looked up to Reilly and has followed in the fellow Lincoln native’s footsteps as a former walk-on to earn a scholarship.
Reilly gave his friend some welcome advice this week: Keep doing what you do on the field. Coaches will notice, and teammates will want to follow.
“I think you just gotta make the plays when you get put in,” Reimers said. “They’re giving you the opportunity — you only get a certain amount of reps per practice. When you get that opportunity to go in there and play, just make the play when the ball’s thrown to you.”
No. 83 caught two passes for 26 yards against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl and made single grabs against Indiana and Maryland. But his signature catch was his first one — a 22-yard touchdown that proved to be a key highlight in Nebraska’s 35-32 win over Oregon on Sept. 17.
Filling in for an injured Reilly that day, Reimers reeled in a Tommy Armstrong heave at the peak of his jump, absorbed a hit from a safety and extended the ball across the goal line.
Williams calls Reimers’ touchdown his favorite play of the entire season. He said Thursday the route was designed to clear out space for tight end Cethan Carter and that the player in Reimers’ role was never even thrown the ball during practice.
“You start making plays like that, I’m looking at you a little different,” Williams said. “And he kept it going … one thing leads to another and he’s the guy.”
Listed as the tallest (6-foot-5) and heaviest (215 pounds) wideout on the roster, Reimers said one-on-one plays and jump balls suit his strengths when he lines up on the outside. With long strides, he also possesses deceptive speed as a deep-ball threat.
He’s working with the 1s and 2s for the first time, which is an adjustment. And as he’s trying to earn playing time, he’s also helping bring along a new crop of pass-catchers.
“I think I take more of a mindset being a leader, helping those younger guys, because we did lose those three seniors last year,” Reimers said. “Being able to step up with Stan and DPE, to help them out, and then to help those younger guys, too.”
Coach Mike Riley said before spring practice that, beyond Morgan and Pierson-El, it would be a matter of “let’s see who surfaces” at wide receiver. After the sixth workout ended Thursday, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Reimers is in that mix with a consistent effort so far. His catching range affords quarterbacks a margin for error, and his mental progress is clear in how he lines up to different coverage looks.
“I think he’s shown some real improvement from last year, even at the end of the season until now,” Langsdorf said. “He’s worked hard in the weight room and he’s faster and he’s getting himself even more open. I like where he’s at; I think he’s done a nice job.”
Williams said the next step for Reimers — known as “Reim-dog” by most on the team — is to expect to make the plays he does. Last year the soft-spoken athlete succeeded on natural ability. Now he should be able to dictate circumstances while on the field.
“Reim is a scholarship player to me,” Williams said. “He’s an A-1 wideout. We need him to win games and he needs to play like that.”