Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Matt Rhule Recaps Spring Season and Standards Heading Into Summer Workouts

May 08, 2023

While legally withheld from joining his assistant coaches on the recruiting trail, Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule joined Greg Sharpe on Monday’s episode of Sports Nightly to recap the spring season.

Overall, he thought the team improved across the spring and is in a good position when they regroup later this month. He and his coaching staff want to uphold a high standard of football in Lincoln and carve out the program’s identity in a new era.

“We want to be a tough, hard-working, competitive team,” Rhule said. “Nothing more nothing less. In tough games the ball bounces the right way, the wrong way, but being tough, getting the job done no matter what the circumstances are, being hard working and always doing extra, being competitive and fighting to be the best in everything that you do.

“Those things don’t require talent but they require commitment. If we’re those three things then the football, Xs and Os, the technique, it’ll all take care of itself.”

Assistant coaches and Rhule met with each player for evaluations after spring ball. Players met with their position coach, coordinator and the head coach. Rhule found the feedback they received valuable. In addition to meetings, players did a week of testing in the weight room and on the practice field. That’s so they can see where every player is at heading into the summer. Players get eight weeks of training with strength and conditioning coach Corey Campbell and his staff before fall camp.

Rhule directed his assistant coaches to deliver honest feedback to players. Just as if they were nephews or younger siblings. Rhule says the staff didn’t ask anyone to leave and outward transfers were decisions made by the players themselves. Some told coaches they didn’t want to leave and wanted to play for Nebraska regardless of location on the depth chart.

Three scholarship quarterbacks entered the portal, leaving the Huskers with three remaining quarterbacks on scholarship. Rhule complimented each on Monday. Jeff Sims showed his dynamic athleticism throughout the spring and Rhule believes his best football is ahead of him. The head coach also marveled at Heinrich Haarberg’s progression and called him a potential difference maker. Rhule also thought Chubba Purdy made great strides in the final weeks of spring ball while learning a third offensive system in three years.

Rhule also called the running back room “probably” the team’s deepest. He highlighted Gabe Ervin Jr., Rahmir Johnson, Anthony Grant, Emmett Johnson and Trevor Luben from the spring. He’s also excited to see what 2023 signee Kwinten Ives offers when he joins the team. He also highlighted the deepest defensive room, the secondary. Rhule reiterated his belief in NFL futures in that room and said players like Malcolm Hartzog are why they get into coaching. Under-the-radar tight end Jake Appleget and linebacker John Bullock both received shoutouts on Monday. Rhule isn’t sure when the NCAA makes its ruling on Arik Gilbert’s waiver to play right away.

Brodie Tagaloa and AJ Rollins garnered praise from the head coach for their willingness to move onto the defensive line. Through strong springs they were able to confirm belief within themselves, Rhule said. He’s also excited to see Ty Robinson join the defensive line when he’s healthy. He called Robinson and Nash Hutmacher special players who will also be tasked with leading younger Huskers on the defensive front. Because Rhule doesn’t want youth to be an excuse for lack of performance.

“If the young players see themselves as young they have a built-in excuse, we don’t make excuses at all,” Rhule said. “I expect our guys to go out and play like Huskers. That’s all that it is. … If they want to put on that N, they want to wear helmet, they want to walk out and play in the stadium then there’s a standard.”

On the flip side, Rhule urged Husker fans to get behind the offensive line because of their work ethic. He said no other position group within the team is bought into the new era of Husker football like the offensive line.

“They deeply, deeply care and they deeply want to make everyone proud, they deeply want to honor the legacy of the pipeline,” Rhule said. “They cannot be working harder at it.”

The head coach also said his decision to replace one of the turf practice fields with natural grass was a player safety issue. He said he learned a lot about the process while coaching the Carolina Panthers. A run of knee injuries before he arrived at Nebraska influenced his decision. When the opportunity arrived, they wanted to make safest decision for their players. Also on player safety, he was initially unsure about making quarterbacks live throughout spring. But the group learned quickly and Rhule saw the benefits of making them live early.

He’s in favor of an expanded playoff so teams can sort out who is best on the field. Whether that would force a change to early singing day, he wasn’t sure and wasn’t worried. Rhule said the staff started scouting fall opponents when they arrived. They wanted to get a solid understanding of what it takes to win against each team. The coaching staff’s decisions in the spring are based somewhat on what’s appropriate to win in the fall.

Players return for workouts on May 30. They get Memorial Day off and take time out for July 4 weekend. Rhule wants to give them breaks to see their families and return to the team rejuvenated because of all the coaching staff asks of players.

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