Four starters on the offensive line returned from Nebraska’s 2020 season finale against Rutgers. While coaches stressed the importance of competition at every position, the one spot that seemed to be truly up for grabs as the right guard spot left open by Matt Farniok’s departure.
Veteran Matt Sichterman grabbed onto that job and emerged as a vocal leader and he has maintained those roles through fall camp, according to offensive line coach Greg Austin.
“Sich has done a nice job, he’s done a really nice job out there at right guard,” Austin said. “I’m pretty excited about him, not only his on-the-field play but his off-the-field leadership as well. He’s one of our leaders in our room and he’s done a really nice job of connecting the dots with a lot of the guys that are on that line but then also a lot of the guys that are in the reserves. He’s coaching those guys up as well and has done a really good job.”
Cameron Jurgens at center, Bryce Benhart at right tackle, Ethan Piper at left guard and Turner Corcoran at left tackle are the other presumed starters on the line. However, Corcoran has been dealing with a nagging issue recently and has missed time in practice.
“He’s doing well,” Austin said. “Minor setback but he’s progressing well and we should have him available here soon.”
Does Austin anticipate that Corcoran, the second-year tackle, will be ready for the season-opener at Illinois next Saturday?
“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Austin said, then laughed. “No, he’ll be ready.”
In addition to Corcoran’s injury, attrition hit the offensive line room on Wednesday as third-year tackle Jimmy Fritzsche announced his intention to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal on Twitter. Fritzsche is the second member of Nebraska’s six-man 2019 offensive line recruiting class to transfer out of the problem, following another tackle in Matthew Anderson. Despite the daperture, Austin said he likes where the tackle position is at from a depth standpoint.
“We feel pretty confident in our depth,” Austin said. “There are guys — there’s Brant Banks, guys like Ezra Miller, guys like Nouri Nouili, he’s doing a good job as well. Teddy Prochazka is another guy that we can use out there as well, a rising young guy that’s done an amazing job here the last couple of weeks. So we’ve got some bodies that we can certainly go to and there are some guys inside that can certainly shift out as well. We feel pretty confident about where we are at that position. Obviously we just have to work on fine-tuning our technique and our learning and our understanding of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
Banks has stepped into the left tackle spot in Corcoran’s absence, though he said they’re rotating plenty. After competing with Sichterman at right guard in the spring, Banks settled in at tackle and has stuck there throughout fall camp. Where Banks’ future lies and what his best position might be long-term are still up in the air; Austin is focused on the now.
“We’re a day-by-day operation,” Austin said. “We can’t think down the line. If anything, we’ve got to think this upcoming game. Where is his best spot this upcoming game? We kind of found out where it is based on all the things that are going on and we feel pretty confident in his ability.”
Banks has played a number of positions, arriving at Nebraska as a defensive lineman before switching over to the offensive side of the ball prior to his redshirt freshman year. He’s played all across the line since then but is comfortable at tackle.
“That’s what I played the I first came to offense,” Banks said. “I got pretty comfortable there and then some stuff happened and I moved around a little bit, and then back to tackle. I think I’m just stepping into the role, whichever role they need me to right now, and honestly I just do whatever I can to help us win games.”
Austin said he’s just as comfortable with the depth at guard as well, especially when you factor in the guys who can play multiple spots.
“There are a lot of guys that can play those positions,” Austin said. “There is position flexibility between centers and guards as well, guys that are tackles that can slide down that can fill positions and fill roles as well. The good thing about it is we’ve been cross-training some of these guys at left and at right guard as well as other positions. Thats what we’ve done, that’s what out our plan was as we went into fall, coming from spring when we didn’t do a bunch of cross-training, so now we feel pretty confident.
“If a guy gets nicked up or certainly COVID and having to deal with potential tests and guys potentially getting found positive or having to sit out for contact tracing, so we’ve had to really kind of work the system a little bit to make sure we have multiple guys ready in multiple positions.”
Trent Hixson remains the primary back-up at center behind Jurgens and his versatility makes him a useful swing piece on that line.
“He’s like a Swiss army knife — he can play multiple positions,” Austin said. “He can play center, he can play guard. When I first had him, he was playing tackle. So he can do a lot of things. He’s very valuable.”
Banks said the theme of camp for the entire group has been stacking good days on top of each other and he feels things have gone well in that regard.
The offensive line is making moves off the field as well, partnering with Lincoln restaurant Muchachos and owner/chef Nick Maestas to create the “Pipeline Burrito.”
— THE PIPELINE (@pipehogs) August 15, 2021
“The man that runs the place is awesome, a huge Husker fan,” said Banks, who wore a Muchachos T-shirt to speak with the media. “He gave us the opportunity to come out and do the Pipeline Burrito. If you get a chance, you’ve got to go try it. It’s insane. It’s a 15-inch burrito — it’s huge but it’s also really good. We went and had it last Sunday and we had a little race to see who could eat it the fastest.”
For those looking to keep score at home, Jurgens won the race.
“Cam puts things down,” Banks said.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.