The early Monday morning wake up call brought the Huskers to the Hawks Championship Center before the sunrise. Awaiting them there were clacking pads and the path ahead.
Head coach Matt Rhule still gets excited about it. Monday was his first day back in college since 2019. He and his staff stirred a lot of energy around the program in recent months. All that occurred off the field. Monday’s first spring practice also provided him a first-hand look at the team in pads for the first time. It’s the first time running drills and stations. It was the first time seeing them blocking. Rhule also saw his quarterbacks throw for the first time.
“I thought they threw the ball well,” Rhule said. “It was windy, and we are not going to throw very often in the indoor. We are going to learn how to throw the ball through the wind, so I thought they threw the ball well. There are a lot of things that I have to go back and watch but that is as talented of a quarterback room as I have ever been a part of, so it was good to see those guys out there.”
Casey Thompson didn’t throw on Monday because of injuries. Neither did Logan Smothers. Transfer arrival Jeff Sims took reps along with Chubba Purdy, Heinrich Haarberg, Richard Torres and Mikey Pauley. Even new walk-on play caller Jack Woche, who transferred from Ole Miss, joined the room. Their practice performances contributed some excitement for the head coach.
“I think a lot of it for us right now is just establishing standards,” Rhule said. “We want to be a team that doesn’t beat itself.”
Baylor’s offense averaged 2.1 turnovers per game in Rhule’s first season. That dropped to 1.5 per game the following season and 1.4 in 2019 when the Bears won 11 games. That’s at least partly due to improved quarterback play. Charlie Brewer became the prime quarterback for the Bears and held a 21-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2019. Last season, Thompson went 17-to-10 and Sims went 5-to-3. Although, both of those seasons were limited by injury. Rhule shared optimism both could compete at a high level. The same was said for Haarberg.
Following a frustrating season without seeing the field, the Kearney Catholic graduate was talked into returning by Rhule and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield. He impressed coaches this winter with his size and athleticism. Monday gave him the opportunity to show coaches what he could do. Haarberg felt more at home on the field in another season of college football, despite the coaching change. He likened Monday’s practice to how the Huskers handled camp during Matt Lubick’s stint as offensive coordinator.
“A lot more individual drills with quarterback footwork, mechanics, working with Coach Satt,” Haarberg said. “That was really one main difference that I noticed.”
The current camaraderie in the quarterback room reminds him of his first season on campus as well.
“There’s just been a sense of family in the quarterback room,” he said. “There’s not a lot of butting heads. We help each other out. If we see something in practice we help each other out. We give pointers because we all come from different places. We’ve had different quarterback trainers, different experiences. That’s the nice thing, we’ve got a lot of quarterbacks but we’ve also got a lot of age in this room.”
Haarberg said there’s on-the-field traits he wants to learn from his fellow quarterbacks. He also likes how they study film, learn the playbook and how they carry themselves. He pointed to how Thompson and Sims handle themselves and how they can teach the younger quarterbacks different ways of interacting. The redshirt sophomore enjoyed Thompson’s leadership last fall and enjoys the energy Sims brings to the room.
Right now, Haarberg is still working out at quarterback. That’s where he’s focused. If the coaching staff decides they want to move him over the field, he welcomes that. But for now he’s focused on improving himself as a quarterback. He’s taking all those things he’s learning from his fellow quarterbacks and what he’s learning from Satterfield. The “super smart” coordinator doubling as quarterbacks coach is helping him move forward at the position.