Nebraska is undergoing a significant shift in offensive philosophy and scheme with the arrival of Mark Whipple as offensive coordinator, but that shouldn’t overshadow the changes happening on a smaller scale as well.
That includes the way the offensive line is operating under Donovan Raiola, and Nebraska’s new offensive line coach said the response to his way of doing things has been great from the players in his room.
“These guys are awesome,” Raiola said. “They’ve all taken to it. Coming in, they didn’t know who I was, where I was from or anything like that, or what I believed in. These guys are awesome. They’ve done a really good job.”
Left guard Nouredin Nouili said spring ball has been “amazing so far” under Raiola’s tutelage.
“Just the new techniques, the new offense has been a blessing in disguise a little bit because we’re working hard, we’re getting tired at different times than we are used to and the way we’re running the ball right now is kind of crazy … We’re getting off the ball faster,” Nouili said.
That last part is the key phrase, as Nouili said the way the line is coming off the ball now has been his favorite part of the Huskers’ new approach.
“If anybody sees practice, you can see how the line of scrimmage is moved immediately compared to the past couple years where it’s a little stalling and then it’s kind of moving,” Nouili said. “If let’s say Jaq [Yant] is running and he’s going to fall, he’s still gaining 4 yards. That helps a lot, just coming off he ball a lot better.”
Veteran Broc Bando said the team’s focus on finishing plays is the biggest difference between what they’re doing now and what they did under former line coach Greg Austin.
“A lot more physical, a lot more emphasis on finishing the blocks and running after the ball,” Bando said. “Same premise of wanting to win, help the team, be a good team leader or a good teammate mainly, just more emphasis on finishing.”
Nouli said the style and schematic changes brought in by the new staff have led to an overall change in mentality.
“I think Coach Raiola said it once that as an offense, we’re trying to get better by being mentally tough, being physically tough, being leaders around the team even if we’re not vocal,” Nouili said. “We’re showing up every day, we’re all wearing the same clothes, we’re all going at the same time and that brings people with us, and that’s something that we haven’t had here.”
The Huskers only have eight practices under their belt within the new offense, and with newness comes unfamiliarity. There are still moments where the players are thinking more than reacting. However, the simplicity of what Raiola is asking them to do has made for a smoother transition.
“A lot of it has been less complicated, so there’s not as much thinking,” Nouili said. “Obviously, sometimes you’re still going to to be like, ‘Oh yeah, this is a different look than what we expected.’ So thinking is going to happen. We’re trying to eliminate that so that we get to the line and just go. I think that’s something that we could improve on, probably.”
The head man himself praised the changes he’s seen thus far under his new offensive line coach.
“I’ve said it a bunch, but there’s just been noticeable improvement to me on some of the techniques and details and fundamentals,” Scott Frost said. “They’ve been plugging guys into different spots. Every time I look up there’s a left tackle playing right guard and a right guard playing left tackle. Guys need to be able to play multiple things so when we fit it all together and get the best five guys out there, they’re ready to do it. I think they’re getting a lot of experience with that right now.”
The litany of injuries the Huskers have dealt with this spring has led to plenty of rotation and positional experimentation by default, and that includes along the offensive line. Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran, two returning starters at tackle, will miss the spring while newcomers like Kevin Williams Jr. and Anthony Grant are seeking to establish themselves in Lincoln.
“I think it just helps build depth and get guys playing different spots, understanding that things happen during the season and they’ve got to be able to play in different spots,” Raiola said. “So it’s good, it’s been real good. Guys are responding really well to it.”
The offensive line configuration will likely look very different once the season opener rolls around, but Nouili said the Huskers won’t have any problem building chemistry no matter who is in the lineup.
“We’re all tight,” Nouili said. “It doesn’t matter who’s next to you, you’ll be doing good with him. There’s no combination anywhere I don’t think that would bring up problems in communication at all. We’re all very, very close. You can see that around, we’re all fist-bumping, high-fiving each other throughout the entire practice. That’s something we’re proud of.”
While Nouili works at last guard and Bando works at right guard, the latter said pretty much anybody in that room has a secondary position he can pay, and the key to positional flexibility is being coachable.
With two more weeks of spring ball remaining plus summer conditioning and fall camp, the Huskers have plenty of time to continue fine-tuning details and polishing up techniques. For now, though, Raiola is pleased with how his group has embraced his coaching style.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.