Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Players, Coaches Still Getting Used to Working Together in Nebraska’s New Defense

March 23, 2023

Head coach Matt Rhule complimented returning linebacker Luke Reimer after Nebraska’s first day of practice on Monday. Reimer embraced the new coaching staff with an eagerness to learn. He stayed coachable and listened to his new instruction. That’s not commonplace, Rhule said.

Defensive coordinator Tony White’s system is new to everyone. Players and most of the coaching staff are still getting used to it. White brought a few veteran analysts but those are the only ones who have coaching experience in his system. Rhule previously said he’s learning the terminology and taking a student view. He remains a student on the practice field, learning enough to coach players on wrong doings when he sees them.

“I think there’ll be some melding,” Rhule said before shrugging off issues with the 3-3-5 scheme. “There have been 4-3 teams that win the national championship, there’s been 3-4 teams, 4-2-5 teams. To me it’s really about how you do what you do. So the standards of the way that we practice, the way that we strip the ball, the way that we move from drill to drill, those are the ones that are important to me.”

Rhule keeps a running list of notes in his phone so they can discuss questions or points of emphasis after practice. On Monday, Rhule shared the terminology is good between them and there will be a “melding” of what they’re looking for on defense. The head coach likes the aggressive nature of White’s defense. That’s something players like Reimer are already picking up on.

“It’s more of an attacking defense,” Reimer said. “There’s a lot of blitzes and a lot of movement on the defense as a whole. Something we’re not quite used to, just a little bit different.”

Reimer admitted it might take a few practices for himself and other veteran defensive Huskers to get used to. They all were recruited and played in the same defensive scheme for the last four years, after all. But, that is what the spring season is for. The North Star graduate also said it’s a fun change and a fun defense to play in.

He’s also optimistic about the defense as a whole. Nebraska brought in a few defenders through the transfer portal and some early enrollees in the 2023 recruiting class are already in pads. The returning starting linebacker likes what each of them brings to the team. Much like Rhule and White, it’s just going to take time for Reimer to get used to playing alongside them.

“I think they fit well, because I play off a lot of feel with that stuff and that’s kind of what this defense is,” Reimer said. “So it’s just relying on your athleticism, knowing what your job is, where your leverage is, that sort of stuff. It definitely helps you play a little bit more free.”

The Lincoln native added fellow returners Grant Tagge and Garrett Snodgrass are in the same boat. While everyone is learning the new defense together, they help each other along but their institutional knowledge of the program and the university allows them some mentorship. At the same time, Reimer knows what both of them look like on the field. Chief Borders and MJ Sherman competing in drills gives the linebacker group a more dynamic look and broadens their skillsets. When asked if they work inside or outside, Reimer said they do a little bit of everything. Both of them, specifically, are well liked by the team and Reimer said they’ve ingrained themselves into the squad.

That linebacker group is vital to White’s defensive scheme. He wants dynamic players to move around in his system and keep offenses off balance. Rhule likes that White wants to be aggressive and the players find it fun. The defense provides new arrivals a chance to breakout in college while returning Huskers can prove their value to the new staff.

“Everybody’s got a clean slate so you just see who competes and who doesn’t,” Reimer said. “It gives new people a chance to kind of show their stuff, show how they compete, show how they work, really just shows who’s in and who’s out. So it’s really good for a new staff and new team, really, to see who’s bought in and who isn’t.”

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