Nick Gates became the second Husker in a week’s time to declare for the NFL Draft when he announced Monday night that he would be leaving the Huskers after his junior season. So what does Gates’ departure mean for the program moving forward? Here’s five quick thoughts on the decision.
Veteran presence gone
The reaction to Gates announcement was, perhaps, somewhat muted given the timing of it all — he sent his tweet out at 1:25 a.m. CT — but there was still support directed at him and some ribbing in the Hail Varsity mentions. Whatever your thoughts are on the left tackle, that’s 26 consecutive starts (35 overall) that just walked out the door. That’s an awful lot of experience to lose on an offensive line banking on internal improvement this summer.
Gates played right and left tackle for the Huskers over his four seasons in Lincoln and was a member of the Freshman All-Big Ten team and the All-Big Ten third team this past year. You don't ever want to lose talent.
Options on options
It was looking like the Huskers were going to be set from the left side of the line over to center between Gates and Jerald Foster, two seniors, at tackle and guard, but not anymore. Gates’ departure could very well mean someone new is stepping in at left tackle for Nebraska next season.
Senior Cole Conrad and redshirt sophomore Matt Farniok both have experience at tackle but both have been moved to the interior. Maybe it’s time for someone like Christian Gaylord, a 6-foot-6 tackle who was Gates’ primary backup last season, to get some run. Maybe Conrad moves back out to tackle since it appears his starting job at center has been taken by Michael Decker. Maybe sophomore Brenden Jaimes flips sides. Maybe someone new kicks outside.
I keep going back to this quote from new head coach Scott Frost back on Dec. 20, because it sets the table for a ton of movement between now and the start of next season: “Competition is healthy so at every single position the competition is going to start over because there’s going to be a new set of coaches with new eyes on them.”
2018 gets tougher
Gates’ leaving means there could very well be some serious growing pains on the line early next season. If someone like Conrad or Jaimes isn’t starting in his spot (and even Jaimes at left tackle means someone new is over at right tackle), Gates’ blindside protector role will be filled by someone with little or no in-game experience. With quarterback Tanner Lee also moving on, Nebraska will have someone inexperienced starting at quarterback too, and that first road game looms large. Nebraska travels to the Big House in Ann Arbor for a date with Michigan on Sep. 22. Two weeks later, the Huskers play Wisconsin at Camp Randall. Both were in the top 10 in the nation in sacks in 2017.
Gates has a shot
Of the 33 offensive linemen taken in last year’s NFL Draft, only 13 were taller than Gates. At 6-foot-5, Gates is maybe slightly undersized for a tackle in the NFL — 12 of the 15 tackles taken were 6-foot-6 or taller — but he has the mobility to move inside to guard if need be. In fact, NFLDraftScout.com currently has him listed as the 13th guard in the 2019 class. That’s slightly better than where he’s at in the tackle rankings on WalterFootball.com (15th). Pro Football Focus also consistently graded out Gates as one of its highest-performing offensive linemen each week. Whether it’s at tackle or guard, Gates has a pretty solid shot at hearing his name called if he can string together some good pre-draft workouts.
Slate gets a little cleaner
Frost’s quarterback will be new. Three of his four top receivers will have less than two years playing experience. He’ll have a new junior college running back and a true sophomore running back competing for time. Now, he’s got another spot to fill on the offensive line. For a first-year head coach, Frost has a lot of spots he can plug with “his guys” rather than players who will be starting out of obligation. He said everyone will have to work for their spots, but it's hard for a new staff to come in and bench guys that have been around a program for a while. Fortunately, there's now one less guy for Frost and friends to have to worry about doing that to. I think that’s probably an important thing to keep an eye on moving forward.
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.