Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule felt calm on the first day of preseason camp Monday. Especially compared to his other first days at the same time. The head coach met with the media late Monday morning after the second of two practices that morning. The Huskers effectively split themselves into two with the intent of keeping numbers as identical as possible. Receivers split in half with eight in each session. Offensive linemen, with 18 available, were split into a group of 10 and a group of eight.
The idea to split practice like that came somewhere along Rhule’s coaching career. It might have been from Willie Taggert. He did it to maximize the number of reps each person gets. Rhule told the big freshman class they may only get five reps at other programs. Well, on Monday, they got 40.
“So it’s just kind of what Coach Osborne told me, make sure they all get reps,” Rhule said. “It’s a little bit of a strain on the coaches and the staff because you’re having to be out there a little bit longer but it was fun.”
For example, Rhule said quarterback Chubba Purdy thrived in a veteran role working with the third offense. Despite previous college experience, Purdy is just a redshirt sophomore this fall. Having a younger group with experience parity also allowed the coaching staff to see who steps into leadership roles among their peers. Rhule said he is “really happy with the young group” this year, in reference to the freshmen. He and special teams coordinator Ed Foley both believe some of the freshmen will fight for playing time there.
While the young group is physically fast, Rhule wants to make sure they absorb the game at moderate speeds before being thrown into the fire. This way they can get used to the playbook and get confident in their assignments at a slower rate before adjusting to the massive shift of college speed. Rhule pulled the young group aside after Monday’s practice and told them the playbook, over their phones, will help them see the field sooner.
“That’s the hardest thing,” Rhule said. “Very few guys will actually do it, it is what it is. The ones who do, there will be a couple freshmen who really buy into it and they’ll study it and they’ll be on a mission to play and they’ll help us. We’re going to win with the older players but the young players can help us.”
The Huskers went in split shifts despite some diminished numbers due to injury and suspension. Rhule also complimented the natural grass practice field installed over the summer, replacing one of their turf fields just east of the Hawks Championship Center. Players and coaches alike look forward to the new facility, which could start hosting players in its locker room by the time camp ends. Personally, Rhule doesn’t want to rush the move and be premature in housing players. Rhule gave Nick Henrich a shoutout for being a leader on the field as he overcomes an ACL injury. Henrich, as well as Billy Kemp IV, are older players who can help the team win now and set a positive example for the young Huskers.
“They’re just so much further along in regards to doing what we’re asking,” Rhule said of the team. “I’m not having to be out there like a maniac to make sure every drill, they understand where it’s supposed to be. Have to give a lot of credit to the players, they really worked this summer.”
All those reps brought fatigue. The hour-and-45-minute practice with few breaks clearly tested their endurance. Rhule called it a good thing. Just like living in the dorms together for two weeks, it goes back to getting comfortable being uncomfortable. The head coach sees that purpose forming from the first day. “I think they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Rhule described them. He then said they’re trying to “earn the right” to go to Minnesota confident. That’s the thing about Nebraska, there are fans, institutional support, scholarships and NIL deals, Rhule said. That’s a lot of stuff they’re given.
“But they don’t give you wins,” Rhule said. “You have to earn wins.”