Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s Offensive Linemen Working Towards Improvement as Collective ‘Brotherhood’

April 20, 2023

On the practice field, Nebraska’s burly offensive linemen get after each other. They hit and drive each other across the turf. They embrace contact. It is a natural part of the job and they push each other because it’s a natural component of progression.

Off the field they move in coordination, a pack-minded entity of muscle mass coached to see as one collective set of eyes.

“I will say one thing about our o-line is they are a brotherhood,” defensive lineman Stephon Wynn Jr. said last week. “They go everywhere together and you don’t just see one of them, you see all of them. They come and go as a pack. I think that’s definitely something that keeps them strong.”

Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield also complimented their brotherhood on Tuesday. He also appreciates the work rate with which offensive line coach Donovan Raiola coaches. Linemen aren’t shying from a high standard and their brotherhood is seeping into different positions. Their bond is important to Raiola. His players, even some who entered the transfer portal last year, testified to their appreciation for Nebraska’s offensive line coach. Through the results and criticism of 2022, the group grew closer.

“When you’ve got a game day or practice, you have to play together,” he said on Tuesday. “Our job is to get them to play together. So it’s so important to get them to play through one set of eyes. Everyone’s on the same page. That comes with communication. We challenge them every day to communicate and be clear.”

Offensive lineman Teddy Prochazka said they adopted that mentality when Raiola arrived last year. That mentality definitely bonded the offensive line, he attested. As injuries impacted the line, a suspension kept one out and criticism compounded throughout last season, their bond emboldened them. Nouredin Nouili, forced to watch last season from the sidelines, said that shift brought the offensive line together in ways it wasn’t before Raiola’s arrival. “It shows that we’re all fighting for each other,” he said last week. Raiola said it’s been great watching Prochazka (in a limited capacity because of injury) and Nouili working in practice.

Nebraska signed multiple linemen in its 2023 recruiting class and targeted a few offensive linemen in the transfer portal. By far the most experienced of those additions is former Arizona State lineman Ben Scott. He wanted the challenge and the developmental push Raiola offered at Nebraska. When he arrived he found a solid group of linemen and several capable starters. Scott described Raiola’s coaching focus centered upon technique and mentality.

“Technique, he teaches the way to move a guy off the ball and I feel like before I wasn’t really moving guys off the ball as much as now and he’s teaching me ways to drive my feet and get under their pads and really move a guy off the ball,” Scott said. “That mentality is something he brings every day. We wake up and go into that meeting room and he’s already firing in the morning.”

The offensive line pinpoints foot and hand placements in film study. Prochazka said Raiola administers those film sessions with a level plane. Just like Satterfield said of the entire offense on Tuesday, they want to eliminate good days and bad days so they’re simply just consistent days. That mentality, coupled with a focus on development, helped Raiola mesh with head coach Matt Rhule’s staff.

“This whole staff man, we really feel like it’s a family,” Raiola said. “Everything we do. No matter what, we’re all in it together. We play to coach Rhule’s standard and for us the standard is the minimum.”

Players are still moving around within the offensive line and coaches won’t formulate a defined depth chart until after the spring. Raiola wasn’t sure how the offensive lines will look for the Spring Game on Saturday but his group will do whatever’s asked.

Raiola complimented strength and conditioning coach Corey Campbell and nutritionist Kristin Coggin. Offensive linemen are already benefiting from their work and the line coach is excited to see what they’ll look like in the summer. Bryce Benhart noticeably benefited from the different focus on strength and nutrition. Power is everything to the offensive line coach. And there’s no substitution for it, he said. He’s encouraged by the players’ commitment to work and utilizing those resources.

“We can tell them what to do but they’ve got to do it, they decide kind of what they want and how they want it to look,” Raiola said. “The guys are doing a great job just living up to the standard and making sure it’s like that every day.”

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