Nebraska got two of its spring ball practices in the books before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. This summer period has been anything but normal. For a team with just 16 seniors total and 106 players listed as a sophomore or younger, Nebraska was and is a team that needs as much time as it can get before the 2020 season begins.
Nebraska fought to get back the lost spring practices, but the scheduling now is going to make that next to impossible before the season begins. As a consolation, the NCAA might soon be adopting an NFL OTA-like two-week period before fall camp begins where coaches can conduct walkthroughs with their players and use a ball.
“From my standpoint, if we can get some work done during that time, as far as the Xs and Os go, we’re actually going to be a little bit easier on them in camp,” head coach Scott Frost said Tuesday morning during a Zoom call with reporters.
But without spring ball, Nebraska is having to make some decisions now it would have otherwise preferred to take its time on.
Frost said Tuesday they’ve had to “fast-track” personnel decisions without the benefit of spring evaluation time.
One of the bigger ones the coaching staff has been mulling since the 2019 season ended is what to do with right tackle. Matt Farniok, a senior this season and a guy who has started 24 straight games at right tackle, has long been viewed as a better fit on the offensive line’s interior. On Nebraska’s first day of spring ball, he played left guard and redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart took his old spot at tackle.
“Through talking during this time, I think we’re probably going to start (Farniok) out at right guard, just expecting there to be a younger player at right tackle potentially,” Frost said.
That younger player is almost undoubtedly Benhart, the 6-foot-9, 295-pounder from Lakeville, Minnesota. Brant Banks, another redshirt freshman tackle, began spring ball as Brenden Jaimes’ primary backup at left tackle.
This is the move many have expected for some time. It seems Nebraska is one step closer to finalizing it.
Still, Benhart is going to have to earn the job. Tackle in the Big Ten isn’t for the faint of heart, as it seems the conference pumps out elite edge rushers year after year. One has to be long enough to reach and quick enough laterally to keep guys in front of them. Benhart has been viewed as the future at Nebraska’s right tackle spot, whether he’s ready for it now will be answered in the fall.
“I think missing spring ball is going to hurt us in some ways,” Frost said. “Guys like Bryce Benhart—who we’re counting on to be a player for us this year, and there’s other guys like that but just picking out one name—losing out on those reps certainly isn’t ideal, those would have been valuable reps for him.”
But that’s why Farniok seems to be staying on the right side of the line instead of moving over to Jaimes’ side. Nebraska wants a senior on either end to help the youngster.
“Having a veteran with Jaimes on the left side of the line (and) a veteran with Matt on the right side of the line I think will help whoever’s playing left guard and right tackle,” Frost said. “It’ll also give us the ability to move Matt back out to right tackle a lot easier if he’s playing on the right side. Again, those are decisions I think we would have had time to evaluate and examine a lot closer if we’d have had spring practice. We’ve had to make them a little quicker now that we know we’re going to be limited in the number of reps we’re going to get.”
Curious that left guard is up for grabs now. At least that’s the way it would seem. Trent Hixson went from walk-on to scholarship starter last season and grabbed every start at left guard. Boe Wilson, a senior-to-be, started every game at right guard. Redshirt freshman Ethan Piper might be a wildcard. True freshman Turner Corcoran worked at guard on the first day of spring ball.
The offensive line is going to be one of the more talked-about and dissected groups when fall camp begins. Nebraska could have any number of moving pieces on the line. It seems that just about the only thing set in stone for a group that returned all 60 starts from the 2019 season is left tackle (Jaimes) and center (Cameron Jurgens).
Nebraska would have liked to find some clarity in the spring. Instead, it has had to make some forward-thinking decisions in the summer, and it’ll need to do the same once fall camp rolls around.
The plan was for Benhart to get a spring audition and Farniok to form a senior tandem on the left side of the line, but as has been the case all summer, plans haven’t been worth much.