When Scott Frost first took the Husker head coaching gig and brought his Central Florida staff to Lincoln, the group did a tour around the state, sectioning off into groups of two or three and hitting various cities around Nebraska to introduce themselves and talk a little bit about the vision.
Husker offensive line coach Greg Austin went to Gretna.
There, he said Nebraska had a handful of guys in his room with future Outland winner potential.
“There are a few guys here now that can play at the level of an Outland or Rimington Trophy,” he said then. “Not going to call names out but there are guys here now that can be the best in the country.”
That claim obviously has yet to materialize anything for the Huskers through two years, but Austin’s comments over the course of this offseason, now in Year 3, probably shed light on which Husker he was talking about.
“Brenden (Jaimes) has the opportunity to be one of the best in the conference and one of the best in the country at his position at left tackle,” Austin said Tuesday night during an appearance on the Husker Sports Nightly radio show. “Really looking forward to seeing him grow and mature into the player he was recruited to come here and be.”
High praise for the senior tackle from Austin, Texas. Jaimes (6-6, 300 pounds), has been an honorable mention All-Big Ten guy each of the last two seasons while Nebraska searched for firm footing on offense. Austin was highly complimentary of him Tuesday night.
“Last year, man, we saw that guy take his game to another level, especially playing some elite pass-rushers,” Austin said. “He did a great job, especially at the end of the season against Iowa’s premier pass-rusher (AJ Epenesa). Looking forward to watching him go out there and compete.”
With Jaimes and Matt Farniok, another senior who played right tackle last year but is set to transition to right guard for this upcoming season, on either side of a young but promising center in Cam Jurgens, Nebraska has two of the veteran-iest veterans it could hope for. Jaimes has started 33 straight games on Nebraska’s offensive line under his belt. Farniok has 24.
“I think the sky’s the limit for both,” Austin said.
For Farniok (6-6, 335 pounds), the COVID-19 pandemic has forced some on-the-fly adjusting of plans this offseason. When spring ball began in March, Farniok was lining up next to Jaimes at left guard. Had it continued, who knows how that would have shaken out. But with 13 of 15 practices lost, Nebraska decided to move him back to the right side of the line, so if he needed to kick out to right tackle, he could.
“Matt has been cross-training at both guard and tackle,” Austin said. “But, yeah, our plan is to play him more inside. We think his abilities are more tailored to play inside, so we’re excited about what he’s going to be and the dual responsibility he’s taken in his role.”
Austin called the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native one of the most competitive people he’s been around, adding that Farniok will continue in the leadership role he had last season as a team captain.
“When you get these guys who are senior leaders, they do a great job of not only playing but making the adjustments on their own based on all the snaps they’ve had,” Austin said. They can, in essence, coach themselves up a lot of the time. Or, at the very least, help out the guy next to them.
Jaimes helped Trent Hixson last season, a walk-on who earned the starting left guard spot before the year and parlayed that into a scholarship.
Both Jaimes and Farniok, as well as Boe Wilson—another senior at right guard—helped Jurgens.
“I think last year what people saw (from Jurgens) was a guy who grew in his confidence, not only within himself but then also feeling the confidence from the guys around him,” Austin said. “I think that’s a testament to the guys really embracing him in his position switch and then his starting role.”
When snapping was an issue, Farniok used a podium one week not as a bully pulpit but to address the errant snaps head on, saying Jurgens had to be better, but the line around him bore the responsibility same as Jurgens.
For Jaimes, this is something Austin has been trying to pull out.
“I’ve been kind of pressing this thing on him the last couple of years and he’s kind of taken the ownership of it,” Austin said. “Really looking forward to watching him not only compete, but lead this group like he’s been leading them for the better part of seven, eight months.”
That, and Jaimes’ skill level, is why Austin has redshirt freshman Brant Banks (6-7, 300 pounds) working at the back-up left tackle spot.
“Brant is a guy that’s going to compete at the left tackle spot,” Austin said.
“And he’s learning from a guy who, in my opinion, should be one of the better tackles, if not the best tackle in the country. So him being behind Brenden is an awesome deal.”
Other News and Notes
>> If we’re talking depth chart, Will Farniok (6-3, 295 pounds) is currently the No. 2 center behind Jurgens. “He’s been competing his ass off,” Austin said. “I’m excited about seeing where he ends up. We talk a lot about Cam, and we expect him to potentially be the Day 1 starter, but we’re not just going to give it to you. You’re going to have to earn it. And Will is really clipping at his heels to be that next guy.”
After that it gets interesting. AJ Forbes and Joshua Wegener were two guys Nebraska had taking center snaps a season ago, but both have since transferred out of the program. Ethan Piper (6-4, 300 pounds) took a few as well, but he’s working for playing time at guard. Austin said Nebraska has used Hixson (6-4, 310 pounds) and Matt Sichterman (6-4, 315 pounds) in limited center roles to try and help build some depth behind the top two guys.
>> At guard, Nebraska could have something like five guys competing for one spot. With Farniok at right guard, Hixson’s spot from a year ago is up for grabs.
Hixson is obviously still in the mix. Austin said Piper, a redshirt freshman, is right there “and he’s doing a dang good job of it,” Austin said. Michael Lynn is another from the 2019 class competing at guard.
Then there’s Wilson.
“Boe had some issues last year staying healthy, so really looking forward to seeing a healthy Boe this year,” Austin said. “I told this to Boe already, ‘We’re going to take care of you,’ and when I say ‘take care of you,’ he’s not going to play every single snap like what he did last year. We’ve been fortunate to get a few guys behind him that have some reps and have a lot of confidence in, so he’s going to be in more of a rotation.
“We’re excited to get the real, healthy him. In 2018, Boe played at a high level. Going back and looking at that film. We attributed his production as a player to him being healthy. So now in 2019, he was not a healthy player, literally from Week 2 on. He had nagging this, nagging that, so we’re going to make sure we’re taking care of him and getting the best out of him as well.”
The fifth guy would be walk-on and sophomore Colorado State transfer Nouredin Nouili (6-4, 285 pounds)
“Don’t sleep on Nouri,” Austin said. “I think he’s going to have to make up some ground, but he was a guy who started as a true freshman for Colorado State last year. He has some ball under his belt, he has some playing experience under his belt, and he has a little bit of fire to him as well.”
Depth. A good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. It’ll be interesting to see how things sort themselves out in fall camp.
>> As for the rest of the redshirt freshmen group, Austin said Matthew Anderson (6-6, 255 pounds) and Jimmy Fritzsche (6-7, 275 pounds) are competing for backup roles at tackle.
>> Austin said the plan for sixth-year senior Christian Gaylord “is for him to see the field and be productive in doing so.”
>> With a four-man lineman haul in the 2019 class that became six with Banks and Piper coming over from defense, Nebraska took just two offensive linemen in the 2020 cycle, Turner Corcoran (6-6, 285 pounds) and Alex Conn (6-6, 280 pounds). Of both, Austin said “their maturity is just off the charts.”
Of Corcoran, who was a mid-year enrollee at Nebraska that took part in spring ball, Austin said “he was able to get two spring ball practices under his belt and, yeah, he’s a pretty talented kid with a bright future.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.