Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule told the Huskers after Thursday morning’s practice that it doesn’t get easier. This is just the beginning.
“Spring practice will never be this easy again, in a good way,” Rhule said. “We’ll get better and better and better. We’ll worry about the next play and try to get that mindset instead of getting to the point where we have a couple days off.”
Rhule and his coaching staff gave players this Saturday off for Easter observation. That applies only to practice, workouts and team activities like a typical Thursday night (this week is home run derby at Bowlin Stadium) bonding activity is still planned. The head coach said one of the most important things he and the coaching staff can do for a player is teaching them to “own their work ethic.” Essentially, that’s another challenge for players to take care of themselves and study playbooks if necessary during the extended weekend.
Some players are better positioned in role retention than others. Rhule explained it’s a case-by-case basis and isn’t even separated by scholarships and walk-ons. As players shuffle to different positions and learn new components of offense or defense, Rhule hopes they study their positions until they know their jobs with certainty.
“You can’t figure out how to do your job until you know what your job is,” Rhule said. “We have a lot of guys still at that level trying to learn what it is. We can try to make excuses for them but we’re just trying to change the expectation level with our guys.
“We’re not here to try hard, we’re not here to lose and thank the fans. We’re here to win and winning happens now, it doesn’t happen in the fall.”
As for Thursday’s practice, the defense performed better than the offense. Rhule liked how each side is volleying the better days and one side of the ball isn’t consistently having the better practices.
The tight end group continues to impress with top-end talent and depth. Rhule called it one of the team’s better groups, led by competitiveness of Thomas Fidone II. He mentioned Nebraska natives Luke Lindenmeyer and Nate Boerkircher as potential front-line tight ends. Fellow native Nebraskan Jake Appleget is impressing at that new spot and Rhule likes the diverse skillset Janiran Bonner brings to that room. Arik Gilbert is having an exceptional camp. He, however, requires a waiver from the NCAA to play this fall because of his second transfer. Rhule didn’t want to comment on the status of that waiver but shared he told Gilbert of the long-term vision for his development when recruiting him out of the portal.
“If it works out that he can play this year, like I believe he should be able to, then great,” Rhule said. “If he can’t then we’ll help him get ready for next year or for the NFL.”
On the emphasis of accountability this spring, Rhule believes part of his job involves coaching the other coaches. Players may respond well to that sort of accountability and appreciate when a coach admits fault. They could, potentially, mirror their head coach and instill accountability among fellow players. Rhule acknowledged the high-energy, high-intensity of coaches during practice is to help build the team and get the most out of them.
“We’re a caring, not coddling environment,” Rhule said. “We’re where top producers go to be with other top producers. We want to be the best of the best. If we have a bunch of coaches who are sensitive and argue with each other, that’s what the players are going to do.”
Rhule complimented the work ethic of the offensive line and potential for Myles Farmer and Bryce Benhardt. The head coach also said some of the early enrollees are catching on well. Cameron Lenhardt and Princewill Umanmielen occasionally take reps with the first team. He also mentioned instilling confidence in all the players through elite preparation. That’s why the 1s practice against the 1s.