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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

After Brief Portal Stint, Jimari Butler Happy to Still be a Husker

April 04, 2023

Following the coaching change, a number of Huskers entered their names into the NCAA transfer portal. Edge rusher Jimari Butler was among them.

However, unlike all the other Huskers that entered the portal after the season, Butler is still in Lincoln.

“I had a talk with my mom,” Butler said. “She was like, ‘Do whatever you feel is best.’ So then I entered the portal, then I came back to talk to Coach Rhule. I think I was in [the portal] for like a day or so. When I talked to him, I had a sit down and I asked him, man to man, a couple of questions and it just worked in my favor…

“When I first learned about the coaching change, it was kind of a panic. And then I sat down with Coach Rhule, got to really know him and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m all in.’ He’s a real stand-up guy and I respect that.”

Butler heard from plenty of other programs during the day he spent in the portal, but he felt comfortable enough with Rhule to withdraw his name and remain with the Huskers. He said the first half of spring ball has gone well. The biggest thing he’s focusing on is trying to get used to playing with all of his new teammates.

“For instance, if we’re pass-rushing, I can say he’s going to use speed or he’s going to use power and that helps me calculate my rush on the QB,” Butler said. “It’s all about levels when you’re rushing.”

From a position standpoint, Butler is working with linebackers coach Rob Dvoracek after spending his time primarily with Mike Dawson last season. Even so, he’s still been working on his ability to drop back in coverage throughout his time in Lincoln which is serving him well as he transitions to full-time linebacker.

“It’s a difference really because I’m more of a linebacker now, so I have to know the coverage part,” Butler said. “The way they call the blitzes, you may or may not be in every blitz, so you have to know everything. really. So I’m trying to learn all three linebacker positions.”

Butler said the new defense hasn’t been too much of an adjustment for him in part because of his previous experience in coverage and in part because he’s still getting after the passer plenty.

“This defense, it’s a lot of moving pieces, a lot of disguising,” Butler said. “Sometimes you can tell it messes with the QB because they don’t know whether I’m going to rush or if I’m going to be in coverage or they don’t know if the safety is going to come or if he’s going to be in coverage. So it’s just the disguise of it.”

Butler said he’s liked what he’s seen from the coaching staff as a whole to this point as far as the way they run practices. 

“They’ve impressed me so far with how they’re coaching up everybody,” Butler said. “Coach Rhule stops practice to call everybody up, coaching everybody up every drill. So that’s one thing that stood out to me.”

Butler is working at what he Huskers call the “jack” linebacker position, the outside linebacker/pass-rushing spot. He’s the only scholarship returner currently working at that position, making him the veteran in the group despite playing in just 14 games during his three years in Lincoln and totaling nine tackles including 1.5 for loss and one pass break-up.

Butler said he’s really hit it off with Georgia transfer MJ Sherman, with their shared experience in the South potentially sparking that bond.

“MJ, that’s my guy,” Butler said. “When we’re rushing, we’re talking to each other after the play about what we could do better. We’re in there meeting all the time. That’s my guy … When I first met him, it just clicked and then from that point on we just really got to know each other. He played at Georgia, I’m from Alabama, so I just think it just clicked from that point on.”

Early enrollee Maverick Noonan, the Elkhorn South product and son of former Husker Danny Noonan, has also made an impression on Butler so far this spring.

“Maverick, he’s like a sponge,” Butler said. “So whatever MJ and I tell him, he’s going to listen to it. We’re not leading him in the wrong way; we want to see him be great.” 

Like many of his teammates, Butler could have gone elsewhere to look for fresh start — and he nearly did so. Instead, he stuck around to see what Matt Rhule and his staff had in store for the Nebraska program. Now Butler has a chance to earn a significant role come the fall and after eight spring practices, he seems to be happy with his decision.

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