As the Nebraska football team alternated between drills on their outdoor practice fields and in the Hawks Championship Center, reporters were able to take in a portion of Thursday’s practice beginning at 8 a.m.
Here’s what stands out from the day’s action:
Offense in white, defense in red, no-contact in green, injured in yellow.
Players wearing yellow during the practice included linebacker Nick Henrich, defensive back Marques Buford, quarterback Casey Thompson, quarterback Logan Smothers, punter Jacob Hohl and defensive lineman Blaise Gunnerson.
Non-quarterbacks in green no-contact jerseys included defensive back Javin Wright, former defensive back-turned-tight end Jake Appleget, offensive lineman Teddy Prochazka, defensive back Dwight Bootle and defensive lineman Brodie Tagaloa. Quarterbacks always wear green no-contact jerseys.
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The players in yellow jerseys, most of whom were wearing shorts, were largely relegated to the northeast corner of the outside practice fields, going through calisthenics and other non-football workouts.
After being announced as suspended earlier this week, defensive back Tommi Hill was present at practice, wearing No. 31. While Hill switched to receiver midway through last season, Hill was wearing a red jersey — signaling he’s currently working with the defense. During the stretch portion, head coach Matt Rhule came over to Hill and appeared to take a video on his cellphone of him while they talked.
Running back Anthony Grant, whom Rhule also identified on Monday as a suspended player, was not observed at practice during the open portion. Grant had briefly made an appearance at Nebraska’s Pro Day on Wednesday.
Defensive backs coach Evan Cooper led a drill on tackling form while defensive coordinator Tony White looked on. Dissatisfied with one of his players’ efforts, Cooper demanded a redo and offered further instruction.
“Get your eyes up and explode through the contact,” yelled Cooper.
Elsewhere, strength coach Corey Campbell was keeping an eye on the small details. He reminded several players to keep their mouthpieces in during drills. And even the players were getting in on the coaching. After linebacker Mav Noonan attempted a swim move during pass-rushing drills, defensive back Isaac Gifford offered a tweak to the freshman’s form.
Outside, the running backs worked on pad level and not being afraid of contact while running through what running backs coach E.J. Barthel called “the blaster.”
As the RBs were taking their turns running through, Barthel shouted coaching points: “Pad level down!” while preaching “dominant contact” and “violent contact.”
Barthel got after Ajay Allen for not sprinting through the drill.
Then, after the whistles blew to change stations, the wide receivers made their way over. As several receivers ran through, receivers coach Garret McGuire excitedly yelled with an observation: “Coach (Ron) Brown likes this one!” as Brown shouted out a Ric Flair-esque woo.
After the special teams portion of practice, Rhule spent some one-on-one time with punter Brian Buschini. The conversation wasn’t loud enough to hear, but it appeared to be insightful.
In the final 10 minutes open to reporters, the defense shifted from grouping by position to something closer resembling a depth chart: “Team A” in one corner of the end zone, B in the other and C closer to the sideline. Defensive line coach Terrance Knighton led a drill focused on shedding blocks, using hands and staying below pad level with a blocking sled.
“Violent hands,” Knighton shouted.
The other stations worked on tackling, Rhule lurking near one. Eventually, the groups rotated.
Thomas Fidone was a full participant in drills during the open portion practice, albeit with a large brace on his left knee. Rhule said earlier this week that he is “limiting what (Fidone) is doing. He’s completely healthy, but I’m going to limit him all spring” as he works back from the knee injury that kept him out all of last season.
Georgia transfer Arik Gilbert stood out physically, with a build that appeared bigger than any other tight end on the team. Janiran Bonner, who recently switched positions from wide receiver, was right at home with the rest of the tight ends.
2023 signee Malachi Coleman was on hand to take in the practice, as were a number of prospective recruits and their families, along with high school coaches. Coleman followed the receivers around, watching as NU’s WRs worked on sled drills and the blaster drill. Also present: athletic director Trev Alberts.
There are few players on Nebraska’s team who can rival the size of offensive tackle Jacob Hood. The Georgia transfer is listed at 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds, and he looked every bit of it on Thursday. The lineman may be raw, but he moves well for his size. Along the defensive line, Texas A&M transfer Elijah Jeudy displayed a quick burst during drills. Quarterback Jeff Sims also took on an active role during throwing drills.
Sims, as expected, led off the quarterbacks in drills. The two quarterbacks working behind him, depending on the drill, were Heinrich Haarberg and Chubba Purdy. Two things the quarterbacks worked on during the open portion of practice: taking snaps and play-action fakes.
The tunes during the open portion were only played during the stretch portion of practice. Three songs, the clean versions, were played in full: "Projects" by Moneybagg Yo, "You Only Live Twice" by Drake featuring Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, and "Need It" by Migos featuring YoungBoy.
The music was turned off as the team gathered in the middle of the field to pray before resuming practice.
Without much music, the sounds emanating inside the Hawks were the clanking of sleds, whistles, coaches barking instructions from all sides — which echoed, and the droning hum of the air conditioner.
Outside, the clanking of sleds, the banging against the plastic “blaster” and the construction equipment as the crews continue to build the new football facility.
31 degrees, felt like 22 degrees. Wind out of the north, northeast, steadily blowing at 11 miles per hour with gusts up to 17 miles per hour.
Rhule sported a black and red Huskers hoodie, gray shorts and white sneakers. He later put on a black beanie.