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Notes and Observations from Nebraska’s First Open Practice Window

March 23, 2023

Matt Rhule opened up practice for the first time on Thursday, giving the assembled media roughly 45 minutes of warm-ups and drill work to observe.

Here are some notes and observations from the third day of spring practice. 

>> Anthony Grant and Tommi Hill, whom Rhule said on Monday were suspended for falling short of team standards, both participated on Thursday. Hill was in a normal red defensive jersey while Grant was in a green no-contact jersey.

Rhule made sure to welcome Hill back.

>> Others in green no-contact jerseys include offensive tackle Teddy Prochazka, defensive backs Javin Wright and Dwight Bootle II, tight end Jake Appleget, defensive lineman Brodie Tagaloa and all of the quarterbacks.

Quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Logan Smothers, defensive lineman Blaise Gunnerson and linebacker Nick Henrich were among those in gold jerseys who spent their practice time off to the side rehabbing.

>> Rather than dividing the team by position group, many of the early drills featured mixed groups, some with both offensive and defensive players and some with players from the various levels of the defense. They didn’t split up by position until late in the media’s viewing window.

>>There were a variety of special teams drills in the open session. The Huskers practiced field goal blocking technique with empty bins serving as blockers early on. Much of the focus was on punt return blocking and coverage, however.

One such drill focused on positioning in pursuing a punt returner. Defensive backs Tamon Lynum, Quinton Newsome and Myles Farmer and wide receiver Joshua Fleeks saw reps at the gunner spots during that drill.

Bob Wager assisted special teams coach Ed Foley in running the special teams drills. The former standout high school coach in Texas is helping on special teams in addition to coaching the tight ends for Nebraska.

With the emphasis on special teams, there was no actual kicking or punting done aside from PATs. Kickers and punters worked on the yellowing grass field.

>> On multiple occasions, coaches were active participants in drills. Running backs coach E.J. Barthel acted as punt returner in the aforementioned coverage session. During one-on-one defensive line block-shedding drills, Ru’Quan Buckley worked against position coach Terrance Knighton for some time.

>> Dominant contact was a theme among position groups. The secondary, running backs and wide receivers were all heard using the term as they ran through drills during Thursday’s practice.

Offensive coaches stressed aggressiveness with ball security. Barthel reminded ball carriers to attack the defense and run with purpose while covering the ball into contact. That included Seward graduate and UNK transfer Trevor Ruth working as a fullback. At one point quarterbacks joined the running backs to work on handoff exchanges.

Aggression remained the running theme among defensive groups as well. Defensive coordinator Tony White and linebacker coach Rob Dvoracek split defenders up and stressed dominant contact when hitting. Rhule watched Dvoracek’s group and lent his encouragements there. Defenders also split into groups not by position for blitz drills. They went off offensive line coach Donovan Raiola’s foot movement and beat the edge to hit an extension on a dummy meant to mimic a quarterback’s throwing arm.

>> Nebraska is hosting a big recruiting weekend and several of the invitees were at practice including in-state prospects 2024 Bellevue West offensive lineman Jacob Arop, 2025 Millard North athlete Caden Vermaas and 2026 Omaha Benson wide receiver DaShawn Prince. Malachi Coleman, a 2023 wide receiver signee out of Lincoln East, was also in attendance, as was 2024 4-star tight end target Jaden Reddell our of Missouri.

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