In total, Nebraska’s new coaching staff added 39 new scholarship players in the 2023 recruiting class. This puts the program’s scholarship numbers over triple digits in spring camp. With winter workouts ongoing and spring ball likely to impact who stands out to this coaching staff, Hail Varsity is taking a deeper look at what each position looks like right now.
Previous resets: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers,Tight Ends.
For all Nebraska’s offensive ills last season, perhaps no position bore more criticism than the offensive line. That group, with a new position coach and a third offensive coordinator in five years, was down three linemen by the time Big Ten play started. As a whole, Nebraska’s 2022 offense finished in the back half of the country. Defenses got around or through the offensive line to pressure and, on occasion, injure the quarterback. Opposing defenses largely stuffed the Nebraska run game in predictable situations, leading to one of the country’s worst first-down rates (Nebraska went 3-and-out on 35.5% of drives, 105th in the country).
But this offseason brought change. While offensive line coach Donovan Raiola was the only position coach retained by Matt Rhule, the former NFL coach is working within a coaching staff with offensive line experience. Rhule, at one point a center in high school, coached the New York Giants offensive line. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield coached the Carolina Panthers offensive line. Satterfield said that coaching experience influenced how he engineered his current offenses.
“Getting to coach the offensive line with the Panthers, I know how to protect those guys now,” Satterfield said previously. “When I was younger I probably put those guys in bad situations. Five-man protections, not helping them.”
Rhule ultimately retained Raiola in part because of his philosophical background. They share offensive line ideology. Now-retired Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand trained Raiola. Pat Flaherty, who worked with Rhule at the Giants, is Heistand’s brother-in-law. They come from similar roots. Rhule said he cares deeply about offensive line performance and can trust Raiola is coming from a similar philosophical place. Rhule also credited Raiola for continuing his work while Rhule interviewed other candidates for that job.
The head coach explained that during his Early National Signing Day press conference. There he also mentioned players’ response to Raiola.
“Even a young man that went into the portal that I have known since I recruited him at Baylor said, ‘I will stand on the table for that man.’” Rhule explained. “So that meant a lot to me coming from the players even a guy that is leaving saying I believe in him. I think just great guys and people that you want to send your kids to play for.”
Rhule referenced former Nebraska offensive lineman Brant Banks. The Houston native was one of two Husker offensive linemen, along with Kevin Williams Jr., to enter the portal this offseason. Banks went to Rice and Williams went to Charlotte. On Wednesday, lineman Hunter Anthony was removed from the Nebraska football roster. He played in 11 games last season and has one remaining year of eligibility.
Ideally, Rhule wants 16 scholarship offensive linemen. Nebraska is just shy of that mark, even after getting two arrivals from the transfer portal. Former Arizona State starter Ben Scott and former Georgia reserve Jacob Hood both transferred in. Scott is from the same hometown as Raiola and started 28 games for the Sun Devils. He played mostly right tackle until he shifted to center last season. He’s likely a candidate for an immediate starting spot. Hood didn’t play at Georgia as a freshman last season and is viewed as a more developmental recruit. His immense size provides instant upside but it’ll take time for him to push on a Big Ten line.
Rhule and his coaching staff heavily recruited offensive linemen out of high school. All in-state recruits, Gunnar Gottula (Lincoln Southeast), Mason Goldman (Gretna), Sam Sledge (Creighton Prep), Grant Seagren (Oakland-Craig) and Brock Knutson (Scottsbluff) will likely redshirt their first year in Lincoln to acclimate to the size and speed of major college football. There’s 2023 potential for Jason Maciejczak from Pierre, South Dakota. He already possesses premiere upper-body strength and could play on either side of the line. Goldman could also play on defense.
“I just think that the team that can control the line of scrimmage, whether it’s running the ball and stopping the run or the ability to protect the quarterback and affect the quarterback, those teams win,” Rhule previously said. “To me, it’s just when you have a great offensive line and defensive line, and they’re the right guys, the whole vibe in the locker room is different. You have kind of that rugged team that you want.”
Then there’s the group of offensive linemen who remain Huskers. Turner Corcoran returns after playing every game the last two seasons. He’s started 23 straight games. Of those games, 18 were started at left tackle while three were at left guard and two were at right tackle. Nouredin Nouili is back after a failed drug test forced him to sit out 2022. He trended upward at the end of the 2021 season.
Elkhorn South graduate Teddy Prochazka redshirted last season after a season-ending injury in the third game. He’s played in eight games across two seasons on campus. Prochazka is likely out for the spring as he heals from that shoulder injury. Ethan Piper played in 10 games and started eight last season. The Norfolk Catholic graduate played in 23 games in three seasons. Bryce Benhart played in every game across the last three seasons. He started at right tackle in all but one game last year. Henry Lutovsky rotated into the offensive line last season with two starts. He’s in winter workouts with potential.
Additional bodies in the offensive trenches include Sam Hoskinson, Justin Evans-Jenkins, Riley Moses, Dylan Parrott, Ezra Miller, Joey Mancino and Beau Schaller.