Fall Camp 2022: Offensive Line

Well, this is the one i’ve been waiting to put out. We have who we think is our guy at QB, our RB room seems to have some skill there, our WR room has plenty of guys who can play and a coach who will bring the best out of them, our TEs are coached by an unbelievable position coach but have some questions… none of it matters if our offensive line plays like it did in 2021. It gets really difficult for an offensive coordinator to call plays if you don’t have a running play besides QB power that works, and you can’t pass block anyone to save your life.

Also, you have new OL coach Donovan Raiola in place, who takes over for Coach Austin who was with Scott Frost for 6 years as his OL coach. There definitely needed to be a change, as Frost and Austin butted heads the last few years, but some of the narrative really frustrates me. First, it was Austin who was telling our staff we need to be more north and south with our running game. The outside zone stuff just didn’t work with how our OL was built. I’ve said it before, but bringing in massive humans like Benhart and others than having them play in space and try to block just wasn’t going to work. In fact, if any of you remember from the other message board I was on, I said the 2019 Nebraska OL class would give us a perfect glimpse into if our S/C was working as well as our offensive philosophy and recruiting plan. Nebraska signed 6’7 Jimmy Fritzsche (gone), 6’5 Ethan Piper (2nd string center), 6’7 Michael Lynn (will be gone), 6’7 Matthew Anderson (gone), 6’7 Brant Banks (backup LT/LG), and 6’9 Bryce Benhart (multi-year starter). Really, the only ones that “panned out” are Piper and Benhart, and both of them have lost their starting jobs at one point.

My point is, it just wasn’t working. I get that Frost didn’t want guys like Farmer and Foster on the OL and wanted more length, but it’s tough to deny their value after seeing how things have unfolded with the “reshaping of the OL”. Nebraska high schools churn out 1 or 2 D1 OL guys a year, and all of them are strong powerful guys, but rarely are they extremely athletic. The fact it took us til year 5 to do this blows my mind. And the fact people try saying it was Austin who wanted it a certain way is crazy to me. It’s not like Frost was trying to run downhill and Austin just taught some awful technique for it. If Austin needed to be the scapegoat, that’s fine. But we are some of the smartest football fans in the game, let’s be better than thinking all of a sudden we have some wild new philosophy Raiola is teaching to get off the ball faster. It’s actually the offensive scheme changing that has helped us. Trust me, if Austin was still here under Whipple, you’d probably be happy with what we are seeing.

Frankly, i’m quite happy we had some new eyes come into the program and say “we are so big we can’t even move, we need to change things up a bit.” As you could tell, many of our linemen actually lost weight this offseason, something i’ve been clamoring for since this staff has came here.

But let’s get into it…. Nebraska theoretically brings back 4 starters from 2021, but it’s filled with “ya but…”. Gone is Cam Jurgens, who was drafted to the NFL. Matt Sichterman was a junior last year and could have came back but chose to graduate and move on. And Nouredin Nouilli, who started 7 games last year for Nebraska is ineligible this season. That means that our entire interior offensive line will be different this year, and the only parts returning are our tackles who struggled mightily.

But allow me to back up a second to give a bigger overall view. On the surface, Nebraska seems to have plenty of talent in the trenches to overcome any issues replacing players. However, when you look at two of your 4 stars sitting out the spring with injuries, one of your 4 stars being a transfer from Iowa who they tried to medically retire, and your last one being the RT that you had to bench from time to time last year, it gets a little concerning.

The tackle spots appear to be locked up, as Teddy Prochazka is back from his season ending knee injury to man the LT spot and Bryce Benhart is hoping for a breakout season at RT. Depending on what your feelings are, that can scare you or give you promise. But we seem to at least know our starters. Personally, it scares me a little just because Benhart has to get much better and Prochazka has to show he’s find coming off of two ligament tears and a meniscus tear.

That moves Turner Corcoran to LG, as he’s been sitting out some of fall camp. He should be good to go for Ireland. Again, a 4 star that everyone should be pleased with, but how weill he do at LG. At the other RG spot, you have Broc Bando, and Kevin Williams (transfer from Northern Colorado) battling it out. Bando seems to have the edge right now over guys like Piper who have played guard before.

Not to be forgotten is Brant Banks who is playing a bit of “utility” for us, as I believe he is the #1 backup at tackle as well as guard on the left side. With Corcoran sitting out some of this camp, Banks is playing some LG for us.

For the center position, Trent Hixson from Omaha Skutt is battling it out with Ethan Piper of Norfolk Catholic for those duties to replace Cam Jurgens. I would give the nod to Hixson right now, but Piper if he can get back to the athleticism he had when he came to Lincoln has all the tools to make a push. Further, if things just don’t go well at guard, both Hixson and Piper have done that if one of them needs to slide there.

Hunter Anthony, the transfer from Oklahoma State seems to be the guy to replace Benhart if things don’t go well over there, as he’s sitting 2nd string currently. Not to derail too much, but Anthony who started some games at Oklahoma State not entering our starting lineup is why I take some pause for really any transfer coming in. Finally, a guy like Henry Lutovsky who I absolutely love seems to be poised to play next year once a few of our interior guys graduate. He will add some great depth in the middle.

Michael Lynn and Alex Conn seem to have a long ways to go to get on the field at this point. And true freshman Justin Jenkins will be interesting to see what happens, as if any of you remember I pointed out he completely bucks the trend for a height requirement that our coaches used to have.

I just am unsure what to think. We will get into this on Monday, but our DL is so thin I don’t take a lot of positivity if our OL runs the ball on us in practice. Conversely, our edge guys are so good that it makes sense if a guy like Prochazka struggles coming off a knee injury. There’s going to be so much to learn from Northwestern in a couple weeks.

Next week we will start with one of my top two concerns this year, the DL (other was TE with this OL being a close 3rd).


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14 thoughts on “Fall Camp 2022: Offensive Line

  1. Thanks for the write up and I can’t believe this isn’t your top worry. This unit will determine if Frost is here in 2023…

    Can you expand a bit on the disconnect with Austin, Frost and S/C? From the outside, I see Austin recruited big bodies, S/C tried to blow them up and our scheme wanted them to be lean and quick so your story makes sense. What I struggle with is that we had a couple kids who couldn’t gain weight (and not just OL) then left with others who just got too big and look pathetic. But I like Benhardt as the example of where I’m confused. Coming in, he said they told him his optimal weight is 315-320. His 2nd year on campus he was 320 and 3rd year he was 330-335. What happened here? There’s so many issues with the OL since Frost arrived its hard to piece it together except to think everyone involved is incompetent.

    1. It’s definitely up there… I guess for me TE doesn’t have the recruited talent like OL does, and they are razor thin with Fidone out.

      Greg Austin basically knew we had massive humans that needed to just get rolling downhill, but much of our offense was predicated on outside zone which gets the linemen moving laterally since we had guys like Wandale at RB many times. So we couldn’t just mash. To your point, we got these tall athletic dudes then tried to put 50 pounds on them then also make them play well in space, and that literally defies physics. It can’t happen. Austin almost came to blows with our OCs and HC just trying to stop them from getting cute and just run some inside zone right at the other team. There’s actually a game back in 2019 or 2020 where we run it in north/south on Purdue I think it was, and you can see Austin fist-pumping and glaring back after they did it, almost giving an “I told you so.”

      Fast forward to now, new eyes on what our offense looked like said “woah, we need to get lighter and leaner” and luckily we did that. Also take into account NFL scouts telling our drafted linemen to lose weight, and at some point you need to realize what you are doing isn’t working.

  2. Not optimistic about the upcoming season. The game in Ireland will tell us something, better win that one. Appreciate your clear-eyed look at things! Thanks!

  3. Give any insight on why cochran has been out a decent amount of fall camp. Rumors of a concussion….

    1. No real clear indicator, but probably something like that which isn’t great to hear since those can sometimes pile up. But hopefully he’s ready to roll in the next week.

  4. This may not be OL related, but what would you say is going to be the most improved offensive and defensive units this season compared to last?

    1. Offensively, I actually really like what i’ve seen from our RB spot. Whether that was a weakness last year or not, I don’t know. WR I think we upgraded a ton of talent and coaching there. While i’m not sure if we upgraded talent at QB, I think we absolutely upgraded QB coaching so that can probably be improved.

      Defensively our edge position i’m bullish on, but I really worry about other spots. I also like our ILBs but not sure if they will “improve”, as they were already pretty good last year.

  5. College Football News Preseason Rankings for Oline: I thought NU might end up last on this list. Guess we shall see how things pan out during the season.

    1 Ohio State
    2 Wisconsin
    3 Michigan
    4 Minnesota
    5 Purdue
    6 Maryland
    7 Penn State
    8 Michigan State
    9 Illinois
    10 Iowa
    11 Nebraska
    12 Northwestern
    13 Rutgers
    14 Indiana

    1. Can you elaborate on why it took this long to part from Austin? Wearing data trackers and repetitions of driving a 315 pound guy during practice for the oline to where Frost is frustrated that his lineman are gassed halfway through practice? I know he was inexperienced when he took the job but I don’t think it’s only that reason. I’m curious what you can share. Thanks, Nathaniel

      1. From what I was told, Austin had a difference in philosophy from what Frost was calling and how we were doing things in the weight room. He actually aligned with me quite a bit (Austin that is). To your point, what I don’t understand is Austin created a pretty good OL in year 2 at UCF, where he had 3 of his 5 starters selected All-Conference in the AAC. Fast-forward to here and that just never really came to fruition.

        Austin wanted to run more north/south and didn’t think our OL was good at the east/west OZ game that we had to do with guys like Wandale Robinson who couldn’t run inside.

        It basically got to the point where Austin thought we sucked because we were running stuff we weren’t good at, Frost basically thought we couldn’t do anything else due to personnel that weren’t OL.

        Not sure if that answers your question?

    2. I get that that probably looks at the totality of things, but Northwestern returns a preseason All-American on the OL and 4 starters. Pretty good to see that the 5 bottom teams on that ranking are on the schedule. Though i’m a little confused how Iowa is at 10.

  6. You’ve discussed the weight room a ton. Was Austin more into flexibility or just putting on a 1,000 pounds and repping? In my opinion the oline had a hard time moving laterally or getting to the second level. I went to school with Austin at Cy Fair and understand a lot of what he teaches but just felt like his recruits underachieved for whatever reason. I know Raiola has only been there a few months but do you align with what he’s doing? What are terms he needs to meet in order to be successful in your opinion this season? To me them having a successful season comes down to what the oline can do.

    1. I don’t think Austin really tried dictating weight room stuff. I think what he was saying is our guys end up not matching what we are trying to do offensively with how we train. A perfect example is Benhart. Nationally ranked high school wrestler but put 35 pounds on him year 1 and all of a sudden he’s just a merry-go-round out there at tackle.

      I like what we are doing now, but again, that’s what Austin wanted us to do. It’s more our offensive philosophy dictating it. I wish we would have got there sooner but i’ll take it now. Plays way more to our OL strengths.

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