Matt Rhule and his coaching staff wanted to boost confidence on Nebraska’s offensive line during the spring season. Rhule advocated for the line, saying he didn’t buy into the narrative that the line was the root of the Huskers’ 2022 woes. Internally, he enabled the offensive line and gave them a clean slate.
Returning offensive line coach Donovan Raiola won over his fellow coaches with his work ethic and drive. Rhule is also a former offensive lineman and assistant NFL offensive line coach. Also noteworthy, offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Marcus Satterfield spent time with the Carolina Panthers as an assistant offensive line coach. Satterfield previously said that experience helped him call games with the offensive line in mind. He’s now conscious of what plays work towards the offensive line’s skillset. Returning offensive linemen spoke highly of Raiola’s return this spring and noted a tonal shift. Rhule followed through upon his supportive words.
Offensive linemen led the Huskers out for the Tunnel Walk in last week’s Red-White Game. Of course, they actually wore gray for that game so they could rotate and fill in for both teams. Returning offensive lineman Ethan Piper echoed the head coach’s call to confidence.
“I think we have a great bunch of guys and a whole bunch of experience on the offensive line,” Piper said after the Red-White Game. “I always say we’ve got play with some swag and confidence. We’ve got a physical body, if we learn to just hit some things a little bit better we’ll be gashing them.”
Solving Tony White’s defense in practice every day would give them an inside track. Piper, quarterback Jeff Sims, even Satterfield remarked throughout the spring on the hours spent in the film room trying to scout the defensive coordinator’s system. White’s defense brings engineered pressure each play, rarely from the same look twice. There were 18 tackles for loss (an accumulative 60 yards) in the spring game. Two of those tackles were sacks. Afterwards, Piper thought how the defense was “flying around” made it a fun spring game. He noted picking up their stunts as an example where the offensive line could build cohesion. The Norfolk Catholic alum said he spent three hours in the film room when first studying White’s defense. He also planned to visit the film room as soon as the night of the spring game. All in pursuit of improvement.
“For me, I feel like I’m getting old so I’m taking every day to try to improve, that’s the next step,” Piper said. “If you want to be good in here you’ve got to be a little obsessed.”
Piper couldn’t pinpoint specific standouts from the Red-White game. Practicing heads-up against the defense for weeks, including two scrimmages, gave him strong impressions on his defensive teammates. The scrimmage gave Husker fans a first look at promising pass rushers Princewill Umanmielen, Cameron Lenhardt, Kai Wallin and Maverick Noonan. Piper said their performances in the Red-White Game mirrored their efforts all spring. The scary thing, Piper reiterated, is they all get eight more weeks in Corey Campbell’s strength and conditioning system before they return to the practice field this summer.
Rhule treated the Red-White game as much as a normal game day as he could. Huskers stayed at the Cornhusker Hotel the night before and met Husker fans during the Unity Walk. Piper, personally, has played in 23 games over the last three seasons. Yet, he took it as an opportunity to improve. Piper mentioned the ball security woes. While Nebraska rotated multiple quarterbacks, there’s no excuse for fumbles, he said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball to win games,” he mentioned, almost identical to something the head coach has said.
This year’s Red-White Game meant a little more to Piper. He missed last year’s scrimmage with a broken hand. Last Saturday allowed him to put the entire 2022 run-up behind him. From this point forward the entire line is pointed in one direction as one set of eyes.
“I think we’re a lot more steps in the right direction,” Piper recapped. “I think we came out with the same attitude. Every single practice and worked our tails off. For where we want to be, we’ve still got a long ways. Some of the team still needs to take the ownership of some things, you saw we had a few turnovers today. But, overall, being out there has a different feel, different speed today. It was a good spring game.”
Admittedly, the loss to Minnesota last season still stings him. That adds a little more motivation to the late-August kickoff. But there’s still a lot to happen between now and then. And the Huskers are taking it one step at a time.
“The thing is we can never be satisfied with how we feel as an offensive line. We’ve just got to keep taking the next step,” Piper said. “I think spring is great but we get a little break and we kind of have to reset. How we handle now until the first game, I think if we handle it the right way we feel like we’re standing in the fall.”