Derek Peterson spent his Monday column singing the praises of the offensive line and its improvement in recent weeks, and offensive line coach Greg Austin shared a similar sentiment after Wednesday’s practice when discussing the strides his position group has made since the loss at Michigan.
“I said this yesterday to the other guys in the internal, just details, details,” Austin said. “Those guys are way more comfortable with what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and communication and seeing the different fronts. For a long time, we had only seen a three-down front. So we knew like the back of our hand. You start seeing a little more four-down, the angles change, the communication is different, two people have to communicate differently than the other two people. The whole chain of communication takes a whole different routine against a different front. Those guys have certainly gotten better since Michigan and it’s shown. I’m really excited about what they can do and what they should do this Saturday as well.”
A big part of the line’s improvement is the emergence of sophomore Brenden Jaimes as a steady force at left tackle. With 17 starts under his belt — nine on the right and eight on the left — Jaimes is starting to find his swagger.
“Like I said throughout the last three or four weeks, game by game he’s just showing us that he is the player that we always hoped that he would be,” Austin said. “He’s getting more comfortable with the set lines, more comfortable with the communication, he’s taking ownership of his jobs that he has to do. All those things, they were lagging — I’m not saying lacking — but they were lagging initially, but you can tell that with the reps that he’s received and him playing next to a veteran in [senior left guard] Jerald Foster, those guys do a good job. Jerald’s done a really good job of bringing him along and he’s kind of getting a little bit of swagger about him. We’re excited about him and excited about the progress that he’s making.”
Austin mentioned athleticism as the 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman’s biggest strength.
“There are very few people I’ve coached that can get out of their stance and get to their spot, beat the defensive end to their spot and sink his hips, the whole 9 yards,” Austin said. “Now we’ve just got to work on fine-tuning some of the other things like his upper body, etcetera. But his athleticism, you really can’t coach that. Either you have it or you don’t.”
Austin didn’t want to single out just one of his tackles, though. He made sure to offer up some praise unprompted for redshirt sophomore right tackle Matt Farniok.
“But I don’t want to discount Matt Farniok and the job that he’s doing as well,” Austin said. “He’s doing a dang good job out there at the right tackle spot. He’s had his struggles, in my opinion, with taking the wrong set lines from time to time. But he’s doing a pretty good job out there as well.”
For just the second time this season, the score against Bethune-Cookman allowed for the second-string linemen to get on the field. Christian Gaylord, John Raridon, Hunter Miller, Trent Hinson and matt Sichterman got to play much of the second half. Austin called that experience “very, very, very big” for his inexperienced reserves.
“There were some good things and there were some not so good things across the board,” Austin said. “Those are the halves that you always hope that you receive at the beginning of the year so that you can really bring those guys along. You’ll always have that film available to you to show those guys where they came from and where they are, whereas minus the Akron game and some of those other games where we didn’t produce, we can’t get more guys in there and see. The guys got in a little bit in the Michigan game, but I don’t like that scenario. I like the one from Saturday better.”
Michigan blew out the Huskers 56-10 and their reserves were already in the game by the time Nebraska’s took the field as well, but even so that level of competition was greater than what the Huskers faced on Saturday. Despite that, Austin said he’s seen real progress.
“All those guys had an opportunity to play in the Michigan game, so with that film in the computer along with this film — certainly different bodies, because Michigan’s third team at that point in time was better than the guys that they were playing on Saturday,” Austin said. “The guys are continuing to work through it and they’ve shown better film from this past game than the Michigan game, the back-ups that did get in, and that’s what you coach: you coach the progress.”
One reserve who didn’t take the field was senior Cole Conrad, who opened the season as the starting center but suffered an injury and ceded his spot to Tanner Farmer, allowing Boe Wilson to slide in at right guard. Austin said that while Conrad has been suiting up and practicing, he’s still not fully recovered.
“He’s getting there,” Austin said. “He’s slowly but surely getting there. He’s doing a good job in practice getting back to that full strength and giving us the confidence that we can put him in there and he can do the job on a consistent basis.”
Even when Conrad is back to full strength, there’s no promise that he’ll regain his starting spot.
“Those are the five that we’re most comfortable with right now and that’s been communicated to everybody throughout, including Cole,” Austin said. “Those are the five that we’re running with right now.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.