I’m not sure any of you are getting much out of these… With the entire offensive staff gone from the previous season (except Beckton) i’ve given you a bunch of “depends on what the new guy likes in his players”. And unfortunately OL is no different. The good news is that after the OL preview, we will shift to defense and there is a bit more known on that side of the ball.
First things first, out goes Greg Austin and in comes Donovan Raiola. While I can get on board with the Joseph and Busch hires, this one takes a little bit of convincing. One of the things that is paramount at Nebraska is being able to recruit, and Raiola has only had one year as a position coach in college where he did that, and that was at DIII Aurora, Illinois. He only spent one year there before heading to the Chicago Bears to help with their OL in an assistant capacity, but not as the main OL coach.
Raiola does have stops as an intern at Hawaii and Graduate Assistant at Notre Dame, but as any of you reading this know, things ramp up a notch when you are responsible for the performance on the field and bringing the players in. How will he acclimate himself to the rigors of the NCAA as opposed to the NFL? After all, he has not been at an FBS program since 2016.
Further compounding the situation is the fact that many of the offensive linemen loved Austin. It reminds me a bit of when Pelini left, Riley was somewhat a dead man walking. There was no way he was going to win the lockerroom, this is a tweet from a player during that time:
Lol y’all fired Bo for Mike Riley? Good thing I’m out ✌️ gona enjoy this last one with my brothers then peace
But let’s be real, it’s not like this position group was winning us 9 games a year like Pelini’s team. So quite frankly something needed to change. If that has some feelings hurt, so be it. And Raiola has his work cut out for him, in nearly every metric Nebraska had one of the worst OLs in the country last year. And we are losing two starters from that in Matt Sichterman and Cam Jurgens. And Jurgens was by far our best OL last year. While many times I mock “returning starters” on terrible teams, sometimes losing guys could be a blessing as well because we are really needing to reverse course here in a hurry.
Let’s start with Turner Corcoran, Bryce Benhart, and Teddy Prochazka. Those are the 3 that really were relied on for the tackle spots this past year, and with good reason. Guys like Benhart and Prochazka were looked at as prototypical tackles when they were recruited. And a guy like Corcoran was recruited to take over for Jaimes when he left. In fact, everyone was so excited about him at tackle when Jaimes opted out of the Rutgers game and we saw a glimpse of what he could do. But he got injured in fall camp and struggled all year. Prochazka blew out his knee in-season so I would hope our staff doesn’t ramp him up for spring. And Benhart was having such a problem on the edge that many people thought we should move him inside. And that’s really been the crux of our issues in my opinion at Nebraska. We get guys that are ideally suited for the position, and either they get hurt or don’t develop. We have to get our tackles figured out.
The next 3 i’ll lump together are Nouili, Hixson, and Piper. Those are our core 3 interior guys that really have the most experience returning. I at one point said if Piper wasn’t a multi-year starter for us something went wrong, and we were off and running as a freshman where he inserted himself to start the final 7 games. But in 2021 he regressed, started the first 3 games then did not start again. Something has gone wrong, is it development? He was injured, but that couldn’t have made it so we didn’t see him again. Many may forget this, but Hixson was a former walk-on that was placed on scholarship as a sophomore in 2019 because he was an every game starter for us. He could be a leading contender at center. But what made him go from starting in 2019 to not starting at all in 2020 and 2021? Lastly from this group we have Nouili the Colorado State transfer who started the final 7 games of 2021. Will he be able to keep his spot? He really struggled to keep the fire when he wasn’t one of the starters, so hopefully they let him run with the 1s off the bat and that keeps his focus.
The next two I put in the same category is Brant Banks and Broc Bando. They have both played guard and tackle for us, and were poised to have at least some say in playing time before being injured. Bando was slated to get his first start then was diagnosed with mono and Banks had an injury that set him back as he was looked at as the swing man between guard and tackle if we needed it. Where do they fit for next year?
The next group is Henry Lutovsky, Alex Conn, and Michael Lynn. These are guys that really haven’t seen a ton of action but are so young I wouldn’t read too much into that. Lutovsky is the one that intrigues me the most, because I have a feeling he will really gravitate towards what I THINK Raiola will want. I would look for him to make a push. Guys like Conn and Lynn are going to have an uphill battle knowing the guys i’ve mentioned before. But if they can adapt the quickest to the new coaching, there is going to be opportunity.
We have 3 new guys to talk about, 2022 signee Justin Jenkins, which excited me from the standpoint that we got rid of the height requirement to get recruited. But was he a reach? People will say no and reference that Rivals shows him having an Alabama offer, but most kids that were offered by the Crimson Tide aren’t sitting around the last weekend before NSD, getting an offer from Nebraska, and committing on the spot. But we also got two transfers in Hunter Anthony from Oklahoma State and Kevin Williams from Northern Colorado. WIlliams is more than likely going to start out for us at guard, and had multiple starts for Northern Colorado in 2019, then FCS did not play in 2020. He started the first two games in 2021 before being suspended from school, but he appealed the suspension and won, but hit the transfer portal shortly after. This is one to watch for maybe being better than we think. Anthony is coming from Oklahoma State where he had 5 starts over multiple years. I would assume we start him out at tackle. But I never know how guys who transfer here will fit in, so those are tough to gauge.
There is so much to sift through for Raiola that i’m not sure it can all be done in the spring. I think a lot of this competition will bleed into the summer and fall camp. Remember, last year we had our deepest OL heading into a season we ever have, and even were told things like this:
I’m sure that we will hear more of the same in the offseason this year. There’s just so many variables. New OC, losing two starters, new OL coach… what is it they will value? One things for sure, with 14 scholarship guys on the roster they have plenty of options. It’s time they keep them healthy and give themselves a shot. So much up in the air that things will change after every practice this spring.
*as always feel free to post the link to this on your message board or website*
Nothing is required, this just helps with site fees