Rhule talks Nebraska QB competition, Raiola's 'unique arm'

LINCOLN, Neb. -- As Matt Rhule oversees a spring quarterback competition that includes decorated incoming recruit Dylan Raiola, the Nebraska coach recalls what former NFL general manager Marty Hurney would say to him.

"He said, 'Just remember, Matt, they're all fourth-round players,'" Rhule told ESPN. "I said, 'What does that mean?' He goes, 'If the first-rounder's playing like a fourth-rounder, you're upset, and if the free agent's playing like a fourth-rounder, you're excited. Just coach them all the same. Don't worry about how they got here.'"

Raiola's path to Nebraska is different, as he initially committed to both Ohio State and Georgia before signing with the Huskers, where he became the highest-rated recruit in team history. Unlike Georgia and Ohio State, Nebraska has never made the College Football Playoff and last reached a bowl game in the 2016 season.

The son of former Nebraska offensive lineman Dominic Raiola and nephew of Huskers offensive line coach Donovan Raiola, Dylan Raiola is competing this spring with fellow freshman Daniel Kaelin and sophomore Heinrich Haarberg. Nebraska has divided its roster into three teams this spring, led by each quarterback.

Raiola "has a unique arm," Rhule said, but also displays the ability to throw downfield while on the run this spring.

"A lot of guys with that type of arm talent, they can't handle getting hit," Rhule said. "Whereas, what I like about him is he has pressure all around him and he still has the courage and the feel to move within the pocket, to create enough space to be able to make that throw down the field. I don't know if you can coach that."

Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Glenn Thomas said he's aware of the attention around Raiola but that Raiola came to Nebraska to improve his game.

"His reputation precedes him," wide receiver Jahmal Banks said. "What you hear about him, in terms of his work ethic, how talented he is, how driven he is and his purpose, is all true. He puts in the work every day, he wants to be better and it shows."

Nebraska hasn't yet seen separation among the quarterbacks. Rhule praised Haarberg's dual-threat ability, which showed in all five of Nebraska's wins in 2023. Kaelin, an in-state prospect, processes defenses and releases the ball as well as any quarterback Rhule has seen in college.

"Push them, guide them, go at their pace," Rhule said. So we're doing the same thing for Danny, the same thing for Heinrich, that we're doing for Dylan. What I don't want is people playing with the pressure of, 'Well, I have to do X, Y and Z because I was recruited here.'

"I want them playing with, 'This is the standard of Nebraska. This is how we do things, and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability.'"