Let’s say it’s the first quarter of Nebraska’s season-opener against Akron, and Jerald Foster’s helmet pops off during a play; the (presumed) starting left guard now has to sit. Fairly common, right? And not that big a deal, next left guard up.
Not exactly the case here.
“We want to put the next best guy in, not the next guy in on the depth chart,” line coach Greg Austin shared after the Huskers wrapped up their third day of spring ball. There’s a little bit of a position-less aspect to the training being done right now on the offensive line and the early results have been positive.
“Early on we don’t start you at one position,” Austin said. "We want you to play all the positions.”
Boe Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound sophomore, is playing both left and right guard in practice. Foster is taking snaps at center, along with last year’s starting right guard Tanner Farmer, redshirt freshman Hunter Miller and true freshman Will Farniok. Brenden Jaimes has moved between right and left tackle (he’s told Austin already he’s most comfortable on the left).
“I think we have depth,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said when asked if anything has stood out to him watching the offensive line early. “It’s not just five guys, we can play eight or nine.”
Part of the musical chairs game up front is by design with this new staff, but part is outside anyone’s control. With Michael Decker and Cole Conrad accounting for every snap taken at the center position last year and both on the shelf with injuries, spring ball was always going to have an unknown element of “who’s where?” But, Austin doesn’t totally mind.
“It’s by committee and you know I’m actually glad it’s happening that way because we always want to build depth, especially at such a crucial position like center,” Austin said. “So if we can get those guys’ confidence built up, the biggest job at center is to snap the ball but the second thing is to instill confidence in the guys to the right and left of you.”
And with Foster or Farmer sliding over on any given play, spots have opened up for guys like Wilson or John Raridon to jump in and grab some reps they might not have gotten otherwise. “Every play, every day,” Austin said when questioned if they’d continue to mix and match up front. He likes the depth they’re building, along with most everything else that he’s seen so far.
He was asked about his tackles and answered by saying “ability-wise, yes, they can do it all.”
He was asked about the unit’s conditioning and how his group has taken to the pace of practice and said he'd love to be able to say everyone is flying around right from the jump "but it’s a process and they’re working,” he said. “They’re playing faster. Faster than practice one, faster than practice two between the whistles.” Austin joked that he’s the only one in his room that needs to lose any weight.
He was asked about the group’s competitiveness and said that was one thing he’d never question. “We don’t have to worry about whether they can compete or what their effort level is,” he said.
Right now, Austin is more focused on the technique than anything else. With padded practice came an adjustment; strike surfaces changed and some of the more intricate details along with it. Austin said he’s not teaching a new technique compared to what the Huskers have been taught in years past (he wouldn’t even know what those were), he’s just trying to hammer the little things.
“We’re looking at are we executing the technique, are we executing the communication, the eye discipline we talk about, the footwork, the hand placement, things of that nature,” Austin said. “That’s what we’re really coaching, but they’re picking it up and they’re doing as good a job as I’ve ever been around.”
The defense took it to the offense during Thursday's practice. Austin didn't seem too concerned. It's a process and one that will continue on Saturday.
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.