Keyshawn Johnson Jr. A Perfect Fit for Mike Riley


Keyshawn Johnson Jr. committed to Nebraska Wednesday, in a video produced by Bleacher Report.

Johnson’s commitment accentuates a strength of Cornhusker head coach Mike Riley, which looked like one of the more pressing challenges facing him in his new, high-pressure role.

Riley brought a pass-happy offensive philosophy to a program that ran a run-heavy spread for the previous seven years, and a program that had staked its reputation on the triple option for decades prior. Riley is an advocate of a pro-set, a scheme that fared disastrously in Lincoln under Bill Callahan, and Riley’s version always showcased a star wide receiver.

That’s where Keyshawn Johnson Jr. comes in.

Longtime Pac-12 observers familiar with Riley’s work can list off the many wideouts who flourished at Oregon State: Mike Hass. Sammie Stroughter. James Rodgers. Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks.

All caught for more than 1,000 yards in at least one season. All were either All-Conference or All-American at least once.

Another star receiver under Riley’s tutelage? Keyshawn Johnson Jr. Riley was USC’s offensive coordinator for the elder Johnson’s tenure there in the mid-1990s.

While Riley coached repeated 1,000-yard pass catchers in Los Angeles and Corvallis, Nebraska had none in Bo Pelini’s tenure. Kenny Bell almost assuredly would have reached that milestone under the new regime, but graduated in 2014 after two seasons with 700-plus in a ground-based attack.

Jordan Westerkamp fell just short of the 1,000-yard milestone in Riley’s first season, a campaign that came with inevitable growing pains as the Huskers transitioned.

Reports from Nebraska spring camp indicate considerable strides for quarterback Tommy Armstrong in his second year under Riley’s system. Should that translate to the fall, Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly or even speedy De’Mornay Pierson-El could be Riley’s next starring wide receiver.

Beyond the immediate future, landing Keyshawn Johnson Jr. puts Nebraska on track to successfully transition to its new identity — in more ways than one.

Another primary target for Riley’s staff is 4-star quarterback Tristan Gebbia. Gebbia passed for more than 4,400 yards last season at Southern California prep powerhouse Calabasas High. Nearly one-quarter of those yards went to none other than Keyshawn Johnson Jr.