Riley's improvement didn't stop with last season's end
Adrian Riley left and quarterback Kade Bell in discussion Tuesayd.
Adrian Riley left and quarterback Kade Bell in discussion Tuesayd.
It’s pretty easy for JU wide receivers coach Ernie Mills to break into a smile when talking about returning receiver Adrian Riley and with good reason.

Mills’ work with Riley started paying dividends early last season and they have continued into training camp for the junior from Ocoee, Fla.

“He has been a big, pleasant surprise,’’ Mills, a former NFL receiver said Tuesday. “About a week before the season started (last year) he started catching the ball consistently and was one of our most consistent ball catchers throughout the season. He improved throughout the fall.’’

Riley ended the season with catches in eight consecutive games (the team high heading into the opener at Georgia Southern) and during that time had 24 of his season total 28 catches and 412 of his 433 yards. Included was a 129-yard effort against Butler.

“He’s a guy who can run after the catch and we knew that when we brought him in,’’ Mills said. “He’s real quick and can make people miss but the thing he has done really well is break tackles. A couple of those runs he broke tackles to go for long runs. He made a guy miss against Morehead and shot down there for a big play.’’ In fact, it was a 73-yard scoring pass from Trevius Folston and the team’s longest play of the year.

Riley gets where he is and that not only includes catching a fist full of balls, but, now, teaching younger players.

“I want to impress myself, I want to impress my coaches, I want to impress my family, so I work on everything: running off the ball, running sharp routes, coming back catching the ball and looking it in and going to score, doing what makes me happy,’’ Riley said.

And, taking time for the kids.

“I’m becoming more of a leader now and it’s about time for me to step up into that role and get the young guys rolling with me,’’ he said. “We’ve got some young guys and I’ve been able to teach them what’s going on with everything. It’s going real well.’’

That’s not to say he doesn’t admit to some shortcomings.

“Getting in and out of breaks, sometimes I tend to slow down a little bit,’ Riley said. “I’ve been working on that and it’s getting a lot better.’’

Which is why Mills is able to smile. The work.

“He’s quick and he’s tough,’’ Mills said. “He’s real nifty and hard to touch and get a hold of. What he had to improve on was his hands and he’s constantly done that. If he thinks he needs to improve his breaks, he will. He works that hard.’’

Notes: Quarterback Kade Bell, locked in a duel with Steven Hughes, Folston and Ryan Walker for the starting job, said his camp thus far has been pretty good. Other than an interception and a couple of other mistakes, he was happy with his scrimmage performance Saturday … Hughes on camp: “It’s a lot of fun because it’s all football all day.’’ … Chance Smith had a repeat Tuesday when he was the first to block a field goal in camp. “I did the same thing last year,’’ he said. This kick hit him square in the gut but he reported no ill effects … the team goes back to two practices Wednesday.

- Jim Nasella