The transfer portal in its current state, and the ease with which players can now flow in and out of it, sort of runs antithetical to one of a college football program’s basic goals: build depth. If you have players who are talented enough/experienced enough/promising enough to play, but they aren’t, they can find somewhere else where they can and they can get to that somewhere else pretty quickly.
This isn’t meant to be commentary on the portal, just to point out that it is what it is. Coaches who adjust to the dynamics of this new post-portal ecosystem will benefit, coaches who don’t will be left thinking “What if?”
Nebraska’s offensive line coach, Greg Austin, has a problem on his hands. A good problem, though. He has a bunch of guys.
“You’re talking about having five guys in 2018, you got nine guys now. We’ve got nine guys that can play,” Austin said Wednesday. “There’s competition.”
He’s got five spots.
And the math gets tricky in a hurry. Four starters return from Nebraska’s final game of 2020—left tackle Turner Corcoran, left guard Ethan Piper, center Cameron Jurgens, and right tackle Bryce Benhart. To varying degrees of confidence, those four all expect to hold their jobs in 2021.
Brant Banks and Broc Bando and Matt Sichterman are pushing for guard snaps. Trent Hixson has made the move from guard to center quite nicely; Austin seems pleased with his development. Nouri Nouili is pushing for snaps at both guard and tackle.
We’re at nine, with no mention of an Ezra Miller or a Jimmy Fritzsche, two tackles Austin says are doing well, or a Henry Lutovsky or a Teddy Prochazka, two freshmen Austin calls self-starters.
“I kinda put myself into a hole when I said nine,” Austin later joked.
The challenge of course is puzzling them together.
Sure, Nebraska can rotate on the line and play more than five in a game and hope to have the top-line guys a little more fresh when the fourth quarter rolls along and it’s time to lean on teams. But Austin also wants his best five on the field.
“The challenge is puzzling it, but then also the challenge is making sure the guys understand where their value is,” Austin said. “When you’ve got that many guys that can play for you, we live in a world now where guys can transfer at free will, so you’ve got to recruit them while they’re here as you’re coaching them. You always have to make sure you’re being personable and doing things with them to make them feel valued.”
In that regard, Austin is unfazed by the portal.
“I love my guys and I take care of my guys, few will leave,” he said. “If you’re upfront and you’re truthful with your boys about where they are and where you expect them to be, then you don’t have to change who you are. But if you don’t take care of your guys and if you’re a guy that kind of uses guys for just their talents then yeah, they’re gonna leave your ass.”
Nouili transferred from Colorado State last offseason. Austin says he came in too heavy. Actually, he said “he was fat, I’ll say that and he knows that too.” The two talked about how transforming his body composition was going to be just as important as learning the playbook.
Now, Nouili is described as an up-and-comer as a combo guy. “I think he’s going to be one heck of a player and I think he’s going to contribute this fall for us,” Austin said.
Consider Banks a swing guy with a good shot at player. When media saw the Huskers practice last Saturday, Banks and Bando were the first-team guards to begin practice before later taking second-team reps together.
“The biggest thing with Brant is he’s such a long kid, being able to stay in his hips (is important),” Austin said. “But, every single day, you can see some progress from him. He’s a guy who’s a solid, solid player that we’re looking to utilize in multiple positions.”
Sichterman might be the leader in the clubhouse for the right guard spot. Austin seems very pleased with him.
Lutovsky and Prochazka, and perhaps later this summer once he arrives on campus, Branson Yager could all be in the mix too. Austin says if a guy is mature enough, he’s got no compunction about playing a young guy early.
“Heck, I played my true freshman year here,” he said. But… “We’re going to get the program to a place where you’ve got to be probably a second or third-year player before you see the field. That’s when you have a lot of snaps under your belt and you can produce some really tenured, seasoned offensive lines.”
The portal in theory, can be antagonistic to that brand of program-building.
But for Austin and his room right now, that’s a problem for later.
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.