Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez ready for the snap during the Red and White Spring Game
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Taking Stock of the Nebraska Offensive Line Following the Conclusion of Spring Ball

May 04, 2021

With spring ball now in the rear mirror, the Huskers transition to more of a loosely structured schedule for the next few months as players finish up finals and catch a few weeks rest. 

With coaching limited in the summer, many Husker players will have to take it upon themselves to keep whatever momentum they’ve gained this spring heading into fall camp. With the Huskers’ season beginning on Aug. 28, the start of fall camp is just about three months away. 

This can be a big summer for some, even a crucial period for others, and a time to recover for guys who made waves in spring. So we’re going to take stock of each position room as Nebraska exits spring, highlighting who is where, who is trending up, and any questions remaining. 

Offensive Line

Projected first team on Aug. 28: Turner Corcoran (LT), Ethan Piper (LG), Cam Jurgens (C), Matt Sichterman (RG), Bryce Benhart (RT)

There may not have been another Husker who had a stronger spring period than Sichterman, the fifth-year software engineering major. With one spot seemingly up for grabs this spring following Matt Farniok’s departure, Sichterman came out of the fray in about a month’s time and might have created a bit of a stranglehold on the spot. 

Nebraska flirted with other pairings at guard—we saw Broc Bando and Brant Banks working with the top unit for spells—but Piper and Sichterman took the top spots during this past weekend’s spring game. His work this spring drew pretty effusive praise from position coach Greg Austin.

“Sichterman is a kid I’m very proud of as it relates to his tenure being here,” Austin said in the week leading up to the Red-White game. “Up until now he’s just kind of a backup, a quality backup. I didn’t know what he was going to be coming into spring. I knew that we were going to give him a shot. He’s taking full advantage of it. He’s done a really good job. He’s been consistent. He’s been a vocal leader.

“He’s a cerebral kid. … He has a good feel for leadership, a good feel for understanding when to push the buttons of the young guys when to lead, when to be vocal. When to get after their ass. He’s a good teacher. He’s telling some of the young guys what they need to do, how they can step better, body position, etcetera, so he’s always coaching.”

The Ohio native has played in every game over the course of the last two seasons, but only three of those appearances have featured time spent on offense. Primarily, Sichterman has been a special teams player for Nebraska while the likes of Farniok, Boe Wilson, Trent Hixson, and others contended for guard snaps. 

His inclusion in the top-line group gives that line a bit of a veteran presence amongst quite a few youngsters. Benhart has started just eight games in his career. Piper has started seven. Corcoran has been in the starting 11 just once—last season’s finale against Rutgers. 

Jurgens showed a nice jump in leadership this spring on the line, fittingly considering he’s the most experienced player that room has in terms of games started. 

“We’re still working on that command presence, being the comptroller, if you will,” Austin said early on. “Like, having ultimate control of the offense and ultimate control of his emotions as it relates to delivering the snap consistently. That’s a big deal. He’s done a nice job thus far. 

“That’s one of the things we’ve been really, really hammering on as of late. What are the tendencies for us to spray snaps? Because it’s not a mechanics deal, it’s focus. It’s focus. First thing’s first, make sure you get that snap back. Man, he did a great job in winter conditioning. He’s one of the best athletes on our team, (one of the) most explosive kids on our team.

“A lot of talent, now it’s just some of the intangible things we’re working on with him.”

The buzz around Jurgens has been that he’s taking that step; already a supremely talented and instinctual blocker, the experience provided by the combination of he and Sichterman on the interior could pay dividends for Nebraska this fall. 

Quotable: “Coach Frost, I give him a lot of credit, he’s changed up some of the things we do in practice and allowed us to really emphasize finishing. Through the first couple practices, it’s been really cool to see us playing until the end of the whistle with less emphasis on going fast. That’s a big adjustment as it relates to the boys, because you’ve got to take care of them to do that. If you’re not taking care of them and you’re just balls to the wall every single play, there’s a fatigue factor that’s naturally built in. You want to get more explosive plays? You’ve got to stick on blocks longer. Can’t stick on blocks if you’re tired as shit.” — Greg Austin

This came is a bit of a shock to some, the idea that Nebraska would be slowing its tempo, one of the hallmarks of Frost’s offense. 

In some ways, it felt a little overblown. It was painted as if Nebraska’s on-field offense come the fall would look different when in reality, it seemed to just be as simple as it sounded: practice was scaled back to allow for more in-the-moment teaching. 

Austin said early on Nebraska was emphasizing the fundamentals. As spring ball wore on, outside linebacker Garrett Nelson notably said that the Husker offense just felt faster on the whole than it had in the past. 

If the expectation is that Nebraska will be a slow it down, grind it out kind of rushing attack come the fall, there may be a few disappointed. NU wanted to facilitate more explosive plays this spring, and for the offensive line, one of the ways they wanted to work that out was by preaching finishing. 

A block sealed turns a 4-yard gain into a 20-yard gain. A proper block on the perimeter from a wideout turns a 7-yard gain into a 37-yard gain. Just like Austin said, an emphasis placed on the end of a play means less of an emphasis placed on the time between one and the next. The hope seems to be that NU can make that translate to an overall more efficient and yard-eating offense in the fall. 

Stock rising:

  • Turner Corcoran (LT, second-year freshman): “At the start of the spring I was making freshman mistakes,” Corcoran said Saturday. “As the spring went on, I found the game, the style I want to play. It’s coming along well for me.” Corcoran has NFL potential as a long, sturdy tackle—he’s 6-foot-6, 300 pounds. Will he live up to that potential in his first season as a full-time starter? That seems unlikely. There will be ups and downs. But the former high 4-star prospect entered spring ball in the lead at left tackle and has left spring ball still with the lead. He was pushed, and Nebraska has high hopes for its blindside tackle.
  • Brant Banks (OL, third-year redshirt freshman): At 6-foot-7, Nebraska has an interesting lineman in Banks. He’s big enough to play tackle, but Nebraska has seemingly been intrigued enough by his skillset to try him out at guard. Banks was a swing guy in the spring game, playing both for the Red and the White teams, a sign NU just wants to see him on the field more. “He’s doing a good job developing,” said Austin. “The biggest thing with Brant is he’s such a long kid, being able to stay in his hips (is important). But, every single day, you can see some progress from him. He’s a guy who’s a solid, solid player that we’re looking to utilize in multiple positions.” Might he be a sort of sixth man for the unit?
  • Cam Jurgens (C, fourth-year sophomore): How can a player entering into his third year as a starter be rising? Typically these kinds of discussions are reserved for younger, more unproven players, no? Jurgens has had an up-and-down first two years as Nebraska’s center. When the snap is on, he looks like a future NFL lineman. When the snap is awry, he looks lost, and in this offense, a snap gone awry has devastating consequences from a timing standpoint. Jurgens was much better down the stretch last season with his snap, and had some highlight-worthy plays in NU’s spring game. If his snapping problems are smoothed over this fall, Nebraska has potentially an all-conference-level center in the middle. 

Fall outlook:

They got a high pre-spring grade, and it still looks a group with a high ceiling. Fans heard nothing but positives from this group during the spring. The line needs to cut down penalties when it matters—two false starts and one ineligible man downfield (Benhart on an RPO, understandable but still not allowable) in a combined 145 plays Saturday was a good sign—and do a better job protecting Adrian Martinez on standard downs, but signs still point to this group being a good unit with potential once the season starts. 

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