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Photo Credit: John Peterson

‘The O-Line Coach I’ve Been Waiting For’: Linemen Chasing Donovan Raiola’s Standard

August 09, 2023

Donovan Raiola is a man of few words. He speaks directly and simply in his limited time in front of local media. Having successfully dodged a ¬†appearance in front of cameras las fall, Raiola made a long-awaited media appearance when he was retained by head coach Matt Rhule. The offensive line coach’s message between that January appearance and this fall camp remains the same. Raise the standard and continue improving.

“They’re all improving,” Raiola said on Tuesday about the offensive line. “We’re just focusing on this process we’re going through. Just working hard to earn the right to play the game.”

The back half of that comes eerily close to something Rhule would say. There could be a reason for that. Rhule, a former high school offensive lineman and assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants, chose to retain Raiola because of his dedication to the standard. Rhule called Raiola a lion on Tuesday before further explaining the offensive line coach’s place within the staff.

“I think most of the young people these days are dying from the disease of low expectations,” Rhule said. “We make excuses for young people. Young people will rise and meet expectations if you hold them to that. No one in our staff does it better than Donny. He has these expectations from the way they report to practice to the way they practice.

“He’s kind of the o-line coach I’ve been waiting for. I love working with him.”

Returning tackle Bryce Benhart explained how Raiola is the kind of offensive line coach he wants. The Huskers’ high-energy practices include demanding drills and workouts among offensive linemen. Raiola is demanding of effort and technique with each rep.

“That’s the coaching you want,” Benhart said. “You don’t want light coaching that gives you pat on the back like ‘good job’ or ‘next time you can do better.’ You want him on you so the next rep you admit your mistake and never make it again.”

The Huskers offense aligned in 22 personnel during Tuesday’s practice. That means they lined up with two tight ends, two running backs and one receiver. It appears among today’s college football landscape in the playbook as a relic, but in practice it’s a message. Benhart described it as, “We’re going to be straight up physical off the ball.” Physicality is something the head coach emphasized when he arrived. And he reiterated his belief in it on Tuesday, once saying they can’t be the type of team they want to be without strong line play.

“I’d like to be a big, physical offensive line that can do a lot of things, right,” Rhule said. “At the end of the day we want to run the ball, stop the run and we want to protect our quarterback and affect their quarterback. We need big powerful guys up there that are smart and can handle all the looks and our defense certainly provides a lot of challenges, they see a different defense on every play. So they’re training and they’re coming along.”

Each practice is another component in the process. Offensive line is a process, Raiola said. He comes from the same offensive blocking philosophy as Rhule. Their alignment provides trust as the offensive linemen now go into a second fall with the same positional coach. They are starting to get it because Raiola sees flashes of greatness. But it takes a consistent pursuit every practice to maintain it.

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