I’ve written about this before; it isn’t new, but here I am, on Super Bowl Sunday, thinking about a meet-and-greet event up I-80 in Gretna nearly three years ago now where Husker offensive line coach Greg Austin hung out in a small sports bar (volleyball-themed. . . because Nebraska) and answered fan questions about who he was and what he wanted to accomplish in Lincoln.
Austin’s offensive line room was different then—a lot different—but he said something that day that has been on the brain for a while.
“There are a few guys here now that can play at the level of an Outland or Rimington Trophy winner,” he said in response to a fan asking if Nebraska had the necessary talent already on its roster at that time to rebuild The Pipeline. “Not going to call names out but there are guys here now that can be the best in the country.”
Bold. It was bold then and it’s still bold now. Nebraska had three offensive linemen win the Outland from 1992 to 1997 and it hasn’t had one since. A Husker hasn’t won the Rimington since the inaugural award was given in 2000.
The Huskers can stockpile all the wide receiver and running back talent they want, but in this conference the offense isn’t going to reach its full potential until the offensive line plays at that level Austin called for in Gretna.
I wonder if sophomore-to-be Cameron Jurgens was factoring into those plans that day.
He didn’t officially make the switch from tight end to center until the season began, but it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. Nebraska looked at his blocking on the edge and saw someone who could anchor the middle.
The physicality he showed—and, more importantly, the instincts—moving people around at times in 2019 was our glimpse of what the coaching staff had been seeing in practice. The biggest question was whether adding to his frame would cost him his athleticism. That was answered in a pretty positive way if you’re a supporter of the Big Red.
The question now is what will he look like with another year of development?
It may not be a reach to say he’s one of the most singularly important offensive players for Nebraska this offseason.
Which makes his schedule right now that much more interesting. On Saturday, Jurgens made his Husker debut for the track and field team. At the Adidas Classic, he came in third in shot put, throwing 56 feet, 3 inches.
This coaching staff likes its multi-sport athletes. There are stories every recruiting cycle about the other stuff Husker commits participate in. Jaron Woodyard was a sprinter on the track team a year ago. The Davis twins just got done doing what Jurgens is doing now. He was a decorated track and field athlete in high school, too.
Maybe more important than the raw physical ability needed to participate in and excel at multiple different sports, it requires a level of commitment.
Commitment to craft. Commitment to team. Commitment to a grind.
This spring and summer is about getting the snap refined to a point where Jurgens doesn’t even think about it. Snaps sailed high if Jurgens had to step immediately and block to his left. Even the greatest of quarterbacks can’t succeed if they don’t get the ball in the right way and in a timely manner to begin a play.
That is, after all, the first responsibility of a center.
It’s also, obviously, a gross oversimplification of what he does, but center can sometimes be like kicker in that sense. When we talk about the integral pieces needed for success on the football field, you think about a quarterback, a pass-rushing outside linebacker, a home-run-hitting wide receiver. The center position seems easy because our brain is only thinking about him for a split second before the ball finds the quarterback, then we’re mesmerized by what he’s doing.
Ever played defense in basketball and got caught ball-watching? Or watched James Harden play defense? It’s natural. Line play is like post play; you have to already have an affinity for it.
The average observer might not think about center unless the team in question doesn’t feel it has the right guy there.
Nebraska doesn’t feel it has that problem.
Jurgens is special.
For reasons as simple as saying, “Yeah, sure, if that’s what the team needs” when his coach comes to him—a first-year player recruited to score touchdowns and now block for them—and asks him to add 50 pounds of weight to his frame and learn a new position on the fly.
For reasons as simple as turning down the brief but most-likely-wonderful rest days before returning to Zach Duval’s lab and metabolic workouts in order to train for a different sport.
He may very well be a future Rimington Trophy winner. Nebraska hopes he is. Scott Frost thinks he can be. The 2020 season will say a lot about how close he is.
Inches can prove the difference at a track meet. Same goes with a snap on the football field. It won’t fix every little thing, but a few corrected inches on those snaps this upcoming season and who knows what might happen?
Jurgens may just start looking like the kind of guy who can prove Austin right after all.
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.