Nebraska Spring Update; Matt Rhule’s First Two Months

HuskerOnline reporters Sean Callahan and Steve Sipple break down the latest inside the Nebraska football program; in their segment entitled Husker Headlines.  With National Signing Day complete, Husker’s new head coach Matt Rhule joins the show.  Rhule offers his perspective on new freshmen entering the program and their chances to contribute early. He discusses the quarterback competition. And the addition of the transfer tight end Arik Gilbert.  Other topics include the controversy surrounding the offensive line coach Donovan Raiola. Last but not least, Rhule’s hiring of  Chief of Staff Dr. Susan Elza. Here is some of what we learned from Rhule.

Nebraska Spring Update; Matt Rhule’s First Two Months

Quarterback Competition

It is no secret that Nebraska’s media and fans have a vested interest in the quarterback battle heading into the 2023 season. The quarterback competition will continue to heat up in the coming months.  Junior QB Casey Thompson had an impressive showing last year with 2,407 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Unfortunately, he sustained a shoulder injury and was unable to finish the season strong.  Additionally, sophomore transfer quarterback Jeff Sims was just as impressive in his freshman debut with the Yellowjackets.  Sims showed that he could control the offense. He passed for a total of 1,115 yards and five touchdowns last season.

The quarterback room has some equally impressive stats, although, at this point, no one is a clear favorite. Rhule said he wants to have his quarterbacks undergo a “clean slate” for the Spring.  However, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t impressed with their play on film.   According to Rhule, Thompson has a rare  ability to make “key throws at key times (all while showing) elite timing in the passing game.”  On the other hand, Sims shows the ability that he can contribute early because of the tremendous character he shows along with his knowledge of the game. Because of these intangibles, he will have plenty of opportunities to master the new offense in the fall.

Read more about the quarterbacks here: Nebraska 2023 Signing Day: A Class in Review 

 Redshirt Players

It seems that college football programs around the country have a yearly debate when it comes to the benefits of redshirting a player or allowing them to play immediately. Redshirting players can be used as a developmental tool.  Add in the transfer portal and this is even more complicated. As an example,  Scott Frost‘s firing at the close of the 2022 season caused Nebraska linebacker Ernest Hausmann to choose  Michigan in the transfer portal.  While these types of decisions are haunting the Huskers’ chance to develop their own talent, Rhule plans to reverse these trends by bringing in players who will make an immediate impact.

Despite this promise, he understands that players may decide to play in a limited number of games before their ability to redshirt expires.  In this scenario, Rhule mentioned his mentoring of current Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre at Baylor. He explained that while he played him during his first and second years at (the school)  he was forced to redshirt him in his senior season in order to prepare for more opportunities in his future.   While this is something that Rhule won’t employ on his players consistently it speaks to the way that he wants to run his program into the future.

Nebraska’s Offensive Line

Let us take a look at the root cause of Nebraska’s offensive line problems, as well as possible solutions on how to fix them. Rhule said he loves where the offensive line room is heading so far. Signees like Brock Knutson, Gunnar Gottula, and Sam Sledge have him optimistic about the talent he gets to work with. The reality is that the Cornhuskers’ O-line has struggled under Raiola.  Rhule doesn’t buy the narrative that it needs fixing.  In his words “It’s so easy to say it is the offensive line’s fault ” as an excuse for the team’s bad performances last season. While this is where most of the blame lies with the offense.  Rhule’s main gripe with the position group was that there is no responsibility that allows the “Quarterback, (wide) receivers, running backs and tight ends to help the o-line.”  Furthermore,  the blame is also placed on the coaching staff’s inability to execute a clear plan for developing the unit going into the Spring.

Read more about the offensive line here: Nebraska 2023 Signing Day: A Class in Review

Arik Gilbert at Nebraska

As a  heralded tight-end recruit, Arik Gilbert exploded onto the college football landscape in 2020 at LSU, where he had 35 receptions for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns. His first transfer destination to Georgia did not pan out the way he had hoped. Where he had two receptions for 16 yards and one touchdown reception.  Now he is on his second transfer to Nebraska, hoping to make an immediate and positive impact. Rhule would like him in the WR rotation this fall.  According to Rhule, “He’s probably around 280, 285, but he runs like he is 230.” On top of his physicality in space, he has elite ball skills. These attributes should make him an asset to the receiving corps.

Dr. Susan Elza

It seems that Rhule has a pulse on what makes the state of Texas so significant. With seven signees from the state as well as new tight ends coach Bob Wager.  On January 31, Rhule dipped into the state once again when Dr. Susan Elza announced that she was leaving for Nebraska via her Twitter account. As a member of the University Interscholastic League Director of Athletics (UIL)  since 2015, she assisted Texas high schools in organizing high school athletics as well as various academic contests. She will join Rhule and his staff in providing a fresh new inroad into Texas.  As well as, bolster his national reputation going forward in recruiting hotbeds around the country.

The Last Word On Matt Rhule So Far

Rhule is no stranger to turning programs around. His first two months have been busy.  As he takes on the challenges of Nebraska this Spring he has his hands full. Rhule has assembled an intelligent staff that will help him implement his vision for Cornhusker football. Has a strong recruiting class, and has been using the transfer portal to his advantage. 2023 will no doubt be a rebuilding season.  Nebraska fans are willing to give him a chance to rebuild the program they should be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Photo courtesy: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports