Huskers Announce 2018 Team Awards Voted on by Coaches
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Several Playing for Potential Super Bowl Bid Developed Under Rhule, Nebraska

January 29, 2023

Getting fired humbled Matt Rhule. He believes his short-lived coaching stop with the Carolina Panthers made him a better coach—and a better man. He didn’t grasp some of the complications or issues facing NFL players. Rhule liked developing players and sending them to the NFL. Now, with first-hand experience, he wants to instill the tools for NFL longevity.

“We have always been a player development group, and I know it so much better now,” Rhule said during his introduction ceremony. “Anybody can get you to the NFL. I want guys to stay there and have a second contract.”

He now brings his developmental approach to Lincoln. In total, 24 players Rhule coached at Temple and Baylor were drafted into the NFL. Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts hired him largely because of his ability to develop talent.

“The University of Nebraska has been and always will be the premier development program in the country,” Alberts said before introducing Rhule. “That’s our DNA and that’s who we are.”

At least one Husker was selected in the NFL Draft every year between 1962 and 2018. NFL teams selected seven Huskers since 2020, including three last year. Between Nebraska and Rhule, eight players with current Husker ties are involved with teams playing in the NFL Conference Championship weekend. Most of them went to Nebraska. Each one developed in college to become elite enough to play in the NFL.

Half of this weekend’s eight play at Philadelphia. Former Huskers Cam Jurgens, Jack Stoll and Ndamukong Suh all play for the Eagles. So does former Temple standout Haason Reddick.

Of course, Suh is a 13-year NFL veteran who Philadelphia signed halfway through this season after starting every week in his first 12 seasons. At Nebraska he developed from backup defensive linemen to one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. Jack Stoll redshirted his first season before starting 25 consecutive games, playing in every game as a redshirt freshman, sophomore and junior. An injury-riddled senior campaign lessened his impact before the draft. He went undrafted but now finds himself on the doorstep of playing for a Super Bowl. Native Nebraskan Cam Jurgens developed into a vital role player for the Eagles, playing in every regular season game and the divisional round last weekend. The Beatrice native shuffled on the offensive line at Nebraska but left with two years of eligibility remaining to chase potential in the NFL.

Then there’s Reddick. He arrived at Temple as a zero-star recruit and a walk-on. Rhule’s staff developed him into the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. In fact, Reddick claims former Temple head coach Steve Addazio kicked him off the team for reasons that remain unknown. Coaches didn’t have to explain themselves to him, the linebacker told the Philadelphia Inquirer after he joined the Eagles. Addazio left for Boston College and Rhule took the job. Rhule and defensive backs coach Fran Brown, now at Georgia, welcomed Reddick back.

“It just so happened my father, he was poking around, trying to see if there was any way I could get on the football team, and coach Francis Brown, he’s at Baylor (when Reddick was drafted), but he was on the first staff when I got there, and we knew him from back home. I actually did a couple workouts with him and he got me on as a preferred walk-on,” Reddick said during the NFL Combine. “From there on out, there goes my career at Temple.”

Three with Rhule and Nebraska ties will be on the field in the AFC Championship Game. Former Huskers Stanley Morgan Jr. and Cam Taylor-Britt play for Cincinnati, as does former Baylor standout linebacker Clay Johnston. Morgan has played in 14 games so far this season without catches. Johnston has played in 31 NFL games and tallied two tackles against the Bills last week. He became a believer in Rhule at Baylor for how the coaching staff rallied the Bears through difficult circumstances. They used a one-win season as motivation to bond together and get to within a desperation tackle of the national title picture.

“Those guys are just so genuine and real,” Johnston explained to the Carolina Panthers when he signed there in 2021. “Coach Rhule brought that family atmosphere.”

Taylor-Britt’s ascension as a promising defensive rookie started at Nebraska. He came to Lincoln as a standout quarterback in Alabama and developed into an All-Big Ten corner and team captain. He stepped into his current role about midway through the year in Week 7. A missed attempt on the ball in Week 8 allowed a 37-yard catch. But three weeks later he tallied a team-high 12 tackles, nine of which were solo. He continued to develop as the Bengals rallied fans to vote him into the Pro Bowl and analysts mentioned him among the best tackling corners in the league. Taylor-Britt also proved his catching abilities, securing a game-clinching interception against the Bills last week.

“You look at where his career has gone and he’s an example of a guy that stuck with it and just kept working,” Alberts said on Sports Nightly last week. “And he got a little bit better and a little bit better and he’s playing at an elite level right now for one of the elite teams.”

Alberts also reminded listeners of his monthly radio appearance that he’s not cheering against the Bengals. Not only because of Morgan and Taylor-Britt but for head coach and former Husker quarterback Zac Taylor.

The final of the eight with Rhule and Nebraska ties is DiCaprio Bootle. He redshirted his first year before starting 32 consecutive games as a Husker. He plays for the Kansas City Chiefs but right now is roaming the practice squad, waiting for his chance.

Eight other NFL teams have been eliminated from this year’s playoffs already. In total, 15 former Huskers or Bears and Owls from Rhule’s recruitment or development made those rosters.

Rhule’s pedigree matches Alberts’ desire to return Nebraska football to its developmental roots. Alberts reiterated that desire throughout the search process. Husker football was once a monolith in college football—one of the blue blood programs in the country. Rhule accepted that challenge. He energetically hit the ground in his first two months on the job to do so. While he’s gained headlines for recruiting, his strength and conditioning staff leads winter workouts with current Huskers. Sweat and exhaustion laying the groundwork to whatever’s next.

“The future of Nebraska football is not hanging on one decision,” Rhule said on his first day, “but is hanging on the accumulation of day-after-day-after-day of great recruiting, great development, great coaching, great teaching and we’ll just try to say what’s next every day.”

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