Back in June, when Husker coaches toured the state, offensive line coach Greg Austin already had confidence in his offensive line. “There are a few guys here now that can play at the level of an Outland or Rimington Trophy,” he said then. Best in the country. Well, as the season has drawn closer, he’s grown pretty confident in the depth up front, too.
The whole staff has.
“Very high,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said when asked about his stock in the line. “When we’re together, we’re healthy, those guys have done a great job. I think they have confidence in what they’ve been taught, how far they’ve come both on the field but also their bodies. We’re in shape, the guys can run, they’re more physical.”
Austin says they have “solidified” the two-deep. Jerald Foster has entrenched himself as the group’s vocal leader, Tanner Farmer is still taking reps at center even in fall camp but he’ll likely see most of his time at right guard and Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok have taken hold of the tackle spots. Behind them, though, Christian Gaylord, Matt Sichterman and Boe Wilson seem to be making strides. They came up quite a bit this week.
So much so in Wilson’s case that the Huskers have, at times, slid Farmer to center to bring Wilson in at guard next to him. Depending on how the season shakes out, Austin says it’s a possibility that happens in a game, too.
“We feel solid with all those guys inside,” Austin said. “I think all those guys will end up playing one or two positions.”
As for depth at tackle, early in camp, the staff was waiting for some guys to prove themselves.
Progress has been made.
“We’re still working on it. Christian Gaylord, Matt Sichterman, those guys are working their butts off to be better protectors,” Austin said. “They’re in the film room, they’re studying their technique and wanting to get better. They’re putting in after-hours work — what I like to call after-school work — after practice to just work on their set lines, work on their hands, work on their eyes and establish that leverage on the defender that they need.”
Both are getting help from Jaimes, the likely starter at left tackle. The sophomore says it’s a little strange taking a guy in Sichterman who’s older than him under his wing, but they’re roommates and Jaimes has no problem helping where he can.
“We all help each other out,” Jaimes said. “Whether that’s Matt telling me to do something differently — and I’ve got to listen to him because it’s a different viewpoint — or something else.”
Everyone has talked ad nauseum about the physical gains the team (and specifically the offensive line) has made this offseason, necessary changes in order to keep up with the tempo, but Jaimes said perhaps the biggest improvement to the overall group is time together.
“Honestly I think we just gelled together more,” he said. “I think that’s been our biggest improvement. We’re always working on our run-blocking, always working on our pass-blocking but I think as a unit, we’re playing really well together.
“Even last year we gelled as a unit pretty well, we’d always hang out with each other after practice or we’d go eat somewhere. I think we did that even more this summer, so I think that’s really helped us off the field and eventually [will help] on the field when things get tough.”
If the offensive line improves as a whole over last season, Jaimes might have a pretty heavy hand in that. The right-tackle-turned-left-tackle said he’s gotten better since the spring and he’s more comfortable now than he was last season. He started a program-record nine games as a true freshman lineman so he’s set the bar pretty high for himself.
Austin got passionate when talking about his left tackle. He said Jaimes played last year because the coaching staff couldn’t afford to take him off the field. Now, he wants Jaimes to play because the coaching staff can’t justify taking him off the field. Be a “badass,” as Austin put it.
Maybe Jaimes is the one Austin had in mind months ago when talking about guys with “best in the country” potential. The offensive line is one of the only spots on the team that hasn’t seen an influx of new faces with the arrival of the new staff, so year-over-year improvement will largely be predicated on internal development. Jaimes was a bright spot in 2017, but that doesn’t mean there doesn’t need to be improvement from him, too.
Statistically speaking, Nebraska was one of the best teams in the country at preventing sacks. The Huskers were eighth nationally in adjusted sack rate. That can be a little deceiving. Tanner Lee made some poor decisions last season, but more often than not, pressure and a collapsed pocket triggered errant throws.
It’ll be even more important in 2018 to keep the quarterback clean given the inexperience at the spot. Austin says they’re working on that, too.
“It’s been good, we’re continually working on those guys’ technique and their posture and their set-line awareness. I think those guys are just making leaps and bounds from when we first got here,” Austin said. “Then the rush-recognition. What is the rusher doing? What are his tendencies? Is he a heavy rusher that’s going to rush right down the middle and attack your inside or is he a high outside edge rusher? What does that look like for him?
“It’s just that education and we talk about those things because you need all that information to be a really good pass-protector.”
Fortunately, Austin’s group is getting help from defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s.
“The other thing about pass-protection here that goes unnoted is the looks that we’re getting from our defense,” he said. “Those guys, from the first day of spring to spring ball to now, those guys have become really good pass-rushers. They have a really good get-off, they work moves that we need to see.
“In my opinion, those guys are a pretty good rushing unit and the depth that they have, they roll in guys constantly. We’ve got the same offensive line out there and they’re freakin’ coming with high energy play after play.”
It all adds up to something Husker fans will love to see: line depth that’s been developed and line depth that will be utilized in the fall.
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.