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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