10 Most Intriguing Huskers of 2020: No. 5 Matt Farniok
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What Would We Have Heard About This Week from Husker Spring Ball?

April 11, 2020

This time last year I was writing about Jack Stoll’s eyes and the tight end usage, Cam Jurgens’ athleticism, and a semi-positionless brand of defense as a way to manufacture depth. We’d probably all prefer that over what we’re currently reading—attempts at outside-the-box writing and constant doomsday scenario planning.

As we approach what would have been Nebraska’s April 18 spring game, we’re doing an exercise in projecting what might have been talking points right now had spring ball been able to continue as planned. This is not to be taken too seriously.

(You can read last week’s practice report here.)

Depth

The spring game would be next weekend. We’d absolutely be asking about the Huskers’ depth chart. And it’d go a little something like this:

How’s the depth chart shaking out? Anyone starting to separate?

“I don’t have a depth chart.”

Who is taking the bulk of the first team snaps?

“Because of the way we practice, everyone gets reps.”

Anyone standing out?

“A lot of guys are. (Player X) made a couple nice plays today but we need to see more consistency.”

And scene. We usually want to know these things well before the coaching staff wants us to know about them and ask about them way before the coaching staff would prefer to talk about them. The depth chart is that thing Nebraska puts out every Monday before a game but doesn’t strictly adhere to. It’s not set-in-stone final when a guy nursing a hamstring injury is still listed as the No. 1 at his position, it’s more often than not a “this is generally what we expect things look like on Saturday” kind of deal.

All that being said, what would the depth chart look like right now? The most interesting pieces would be the offensive and defensive lines, would they not? If Nebraska was splitting up the units between a Red and White team, what would those units look like? Maybe. . .

  • Red offensive line: Brenden Jaimes at left tackle, Matt Farniok at left guard, Cam Jurgens at center, Boe Wilson at right guard, Bryce Benhart at right tackle
  • White offensive line: Brant Banks at left tackle, Turner Corcoran at left guard, Will Farniok at center, Ethan Piper at right guard and Christian Gaylord at right tackle
  • Red defensive line: Ben Stille, Keem Green, Ty Robinson
  • White defensive line: Jordon Riley, Damion Daniels, Casey Rogers

Both units are in something of the same boat. Lots of options for few spots. The offensive line has the benefit of returning every start from a season ago, while the defensive line is lacking in on-field experience but makes up for that with potential.

Farniok kicking inside to guard is easily the most notable change made up there in that projection, but that train was set in motion before the 2019 season even ended. Benhart, an elite high school tackle at 6-foot-9, was hot on Farniok’s heels. When spring practice opened back in early March, Farniok moved inside for reps at left guard while Benhart took his spot outside.

“We need guys inside, different than last year, that we feel are going to give us a vocal, (gritty) presence inside and he certainly brings that with him,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said of Farniok after that first day. “He’s a gritty guy, a tough kid. In the Big Ten, your guards have to be tough kids. When I say that, I’m not saying guys weren’t tough last year but it’s a mindset and certainly Matt has it. It’d be good to get leadership outside, but with Matt being one of our leaders on the offensive line and one of our team leaders, it will be good to have him inside as well.”

Maybe our new reality stunts the movement toward this new offensive line configuration—what with all the missed practice time Benhart in particular has suffered—and the Huskers play things safer, but if we’re talking depth chart, this is how I would have layed things out this deep into spring practices

Names

What exactly are we supposed to call the Duck-R position in Nebraska’s offense? Assuming practices are being had, and assuming it’s made clear by this point the role for Wan’Dale Robinson this season is more wideout than tailback (that’s not news to anyone, right?), it’s safe to guess one conversation raging around the Husker-verse is what exactly do we dub his position? At Oregon, it was quack-themed, but this ain’t Oregon.

Does it become the Wan’Dale Spot? The Husk-R is my least favorite.

Duck-R, Husk-R, Nascar, he’s just gon’ be out there flying around. (If you know, you know.)

Wan’Dale’s Tangential Impact

If Robinson is on the field more at wideout, that will have a butterfly effect on the tight ends. Nebraska wanted those guys more involved last offseason, worked in more two-tight sets and developed Austin Allen into a pretty important piece of that offense, and then the on-field product still didn’t change much. One of the offseason bullet points again this year was figuring out how to factor the tight end more into what they do. Tight ends coach Sean Beckton was tasked with watching around football to see if anything new jumps out.

Part of this has to do with protection/snapping issues last season. How often did quarterback Adrian Martinez have time to survey beyond his first two-ish progressions? How often was the tight end a first or second read? The answer to both is not often enough to expect those guys to have any consistent impact.

Still, incumbent starter and senior-to-be Jack Stoll has had the job now two seasons; he produced a 21-catch, 245-yard, three-score sophomore season and then a 25-catch, 234-yard, one-score junior season. Not exactly the big step forward he looked capable of making.

With Travis Vokolek full-go after sitting out a year, if he doesn’t straight-up take Jack Stoll’s spot, how much is he going to share the field with another tight end? Chris Hickman’s move to wideout may have very well been born out of necessity both ways; unless Nebraska is going to run a bunch of its offense without a running back on the field, one of those tight ends is getting squeezed.

Which sort of goes back to the depth chart discussion: would Stoll still have his job at this point, would it be a neck-and-neck competition, or would it belong to Vokolek?

“[Fans are] going to see a big physical kid that can run,” Beckton said of the Rutgers transfer. “He’s still knocking the rust off from last year, but I expect the fans to know his name really early. He’s worked extremely hard to clean up some of the flaws that he had when he was at Rutgers. He’s done a tremendous job there, he’s night-and-day from where he was when he first got here as far as his stance and being able to strike people at the proper landmark and being able to drive people off the ball, and then also being able to get down the field in our passing game.”

If Robinson is on the field more at wideout, it means running back Dedrick Mills is on the field more next to Martinez. If JD Spielman is back in the fold, he’s out there more often than not.

Who knows what would have happened after a month of spring practices? Maybe the conversation would shifted from usage to performance. Hope those guys have been working on their route tree in the backyard.

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