As college football realigned seemingly overnight, the concourse inside Memorial Stadium remained the same. Sounds of construction seeped through the windows and ceilings, pickle ball nets lined up against stairs. Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule didn’t have many thoughts on the Oregon and Washington joining the Big Ten. He trusts commissioner Tony Pettiti and athletic director Trev Alberts. The head coach said he’s been in his own bubble, focused on the team. And the Huskers will play wherever they’re told to play.
Rhule spoke to reporters for roughly 15 minutes following Nebraska’s sixth practice in preseason camp on Saturday. That marked an end to the first week of season preparations. Players are able to leave campus on Sunday and take time away from football following meetings and breakfast as long as they return by curfew. Overall, Rhule is pleased with the team’s first on-field week.
“It’s been a real challenge in terms of what we’ve asked them to do, we’re taking a ton of reps,” Rhule said. “Really, really pleased. Getting a lot of reps and the guys are working really hard. Really pleased with our toughness and really pleased with our mindset.”
NCAA rules state a team can only hold two scrimmages where teams tackle over 50% of the time. So the Huskers held a “simulated scrimmage” on Saturday where the team tackled but “not nearly 50%,” the head coach explained.
Rhule touched on a few of the position battles at the moment. Questions regarding the secondary followed safety Myles Farmer’s departure from the team earlier this week. Rhule said safety remains one of the team’s strengths, pointing out the work Isaac Gifford has done since the summer.
“Gifford is an alpha back there right now,” Rhule said. “He’s a multi-year NFL guy in terms of talent. And his mindset has come along with it.”
The head coach also called Tommi Hill “the turnaround guy” since the new staff’s arrival, saying Hill has matured into one of the defense’s leaders. Coupled with Quinton Newsome and Malcolm Hartzog, those three can play multiple positions within the secondary. Transfer arrival Corey Collier has football in him, the staff just needs to get it out of him, Rhule said. Then there are younger, less experienced guys like Ashton Hausmann who are making gains with their added reps during camp. Phalen Sanford is also practicing with the first two units and showing promise on special teams. Rhule also said he’s trying to coach freshmen Eric Fields and Dwight Bootle II so they can play immediately if asked.
Defensive line is another position with consider depth, Rhule explained. While they’ll miss Brodie Tagaloa for the season following his traffic accident, Rhule said the Huskers will have anywhere up to eight defensive linemen who could play. Cameron Lenhardt and Princewill Umanmielen are ready to play right away, as Husker fans found out in the spring game. Other freshmen like Riley Van Poppel and Vincent Carroll-Jackson might not be ready for the opener but Rhule mentioned their growth could involve playing later in the season. Specifically speaking about the defensive line, Rhule complimented the team’s increased lateral movement since he arrived.
Offensive lineman Teddy Prochazka is “banged up again” and not practicing, the head coach confirmed. Rhule described the injury as nothing long term, sharing belief that the Elkhorn South big man should be ready for the season opener. Rhule feels for Prochazka and quoted Tagaloa’s father, who flew to Nebraska to speak with coaches following Brodie’s accident. “Embrace the delay,” they told Rhule. He relayed that about Nebraska big man’s situation. As a result of Prochazka’s latest health setback, Turner Corcoran and freshman Gunner Gottula are getting more reps at tackle.
The Huskers are focused on coaching who is ready and dealing as many reps as possible to get youngsters ready. He estimated on Saturday the team took nearly 190 reps. Rhule shared a message he told coaches earlier this week.
“I told all the coaches we don’t need GMs,” Rhule said. “This is not the time to GM, now is the time to coach. Coach them like your own sons and don’t worry about the depth chart. Just coach everybody.”
The depth chart will form around the third week of practice.