Offensive line coach Greg Austin isn’t one to single anyone out in his position group. For him, there haven’t been any individual stand-outs this spring, at least not that he’s sharing.
Austin did offer an evaluation of the first unit after Monday’s practice.
“They’ve done a good job of just jelling and understanding the scheme and the system and their technique, all those things that make a good lineman,” Austin said.
That unit has been pretty much the same through spring practice — Brendan Jaimes, Trent Hixson, Cam Jurgens, Boe Wilson, Matt Farniok. That unit includes three returning starters in Jaimes, Farniok and Wilson with Jaimes having nearly two full seasons of starting experience under his belt. Even so, Austin said no one is secure in their position at this stage.
That’s not the way things work at Nebraska. For the Huskers, it’s a day-by-day process of earning your spot.
“Nobody’s solid until we play South Alabama, game one,” Austin said. “Those guys, they’ve got to continue to work. Whenever you feel like you’re solid, there’s a tendency to lay off and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it.’ Nobody’s solid.”
Replacing Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer in the starting lineup was a priority heading into the spring, but building up the overall depth on the offensive line was important as well.
“It’s kind of unique,” Austin said. “Last year we just kind of had bodies slotted whereas right now, I think we can say, ‘If this guy goes, we’ll go here; if that guy goes down, we’ll go here; we’ll move that around.’ I’m kind of more excited about the overall depth and the understanding with guys that are cross-training positions that we have confidence in. That’s what we’ve done the last about week-and-a-half, so to speak — we’ve cross-trained a few guys in a few positions so we can put our best lineup out there in any circumstance.”
On of those players that is trying to establish himself as an option as either a starter or key reserve is redshirt junior John Raridon. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound son of a former Husker has appeared in four games in his career including three last year. Heading into the spring, Raridon’s goal was to clean up some of the issues that have prevented him from seeing the field more often.
“I just wanted to be more consistent in my technique,” Raridon said. “Last fall, I’d be good one play and bad technique the next. I’ve just been trying to be more consistent about that.”
Austin said Raridon isn’t quite where they want him to be just yet, but he’s made significant progress.
“He’s coming along,” Austin said. “It’s consistency with his technique, consistency with his communication, his knowledge of the system, all those things that he’s consistently working on and he’s getting better. Certain plays I want back from time to time but generally speaking, he’s coming along. He’s making himself a guy we can depend on.”
As Austin said, position battles continue to rage throughout the spring and into the fall, right up to the season-opener. The coaches want to see the starters keep earning their job while the reserves push them from behind as they search for the best five-man group.
“We’re still competing,” Raridon said. “I trust that the guys that are going to be best for the team will be playing. I’m just going to keep working and let it shape up how it shapes up.”
A big part of identifying the best five-man lineup is the coaches’ increased familiarity with their players and their strengths and weaknesses. Cross-training at multiple positions is a big part of what they do, but even so they’ve made some adjustments to players’ primary positions (like Matt Sichterman moving from tackle to guard) based on how they fit in Nebraska’s current offense.
“That’s where we’re most confident, knowing the guys in year two,” Austin said. “As this thing goes around — last year we were just kind of like, ‘Oh, all right; I’ll just kind of play you here because that’s where the previous staff did, this is where you’re most comfortable.’ We made some changes here and there, made some tweaks. This year, we kind of know the guys and know what their abilities are, what their competencies are, so now you can put them in their best spots that are available for their abilities. Some guys you had to move down, some guys you had to move out.”
Regardless of who ends up setting foot on the field for the first drive of the season, Raridon said he has a good feeling about the offensive line heading into the 2019 season.
“High camaraderie,” Raridon said. “Just a bunch of guys that love each other and love what we’re doing, helping each other through the process. I think we’re going to have a pretty good O-line this year, honestly.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.