In his mind, Nebraska offensive line coach John Garrison is getting a spring football 2014 preview this week. Because of key injuries, a number of part-time starters, backups and scout team players are getting the chance to show if they are ready to move up in the world.
“It’s really an open competition now,” Garrison said. “It’s their opportunity and they have to make the most of it. That’s what they did in practice today. It was a good day.”
It started three weeks ago against Purdue, when All-Big Ten right guard Spencer Long went down for the season. Last week, left guard Jake Cotton was injured during the Northwestern game, and the Huskers also got a scare when senior tackle Jeremiah Sirles hurt his shoulder before re-entering the game for the final drive.
New combinations are in order.
This week, Garrison and the coaching staff are working to put the best five remaining offensive linemen on the field against Michigan on Saturday. That may include moving right tackle Andrew Rodriguez inside to one of the guard spots. It might mean moving senior Cole Pensick from center to guard and playing Mark Pelini at center. Or redshirt sophomore Ryne Reeves might get his shot at playing time in the guard slot.
“Ryne Reeves is doing a good job for us,” Garrison said. “Hopefully we don’t have to move Andy in there, but it’s definitely a possibility because Andy has done it before. We’ve got to solidify what we’re doing by tonight (Tuesday). We’ll have another padded practice tomorrow to make sure we’re solid and ready to go forward.”
Sirles said the key is to be mentally and physically ready for the challenge.
“For Ryne, it’s about just making sure he knows what he’s doing, then coming out and being physical,” Sirles said. “He’s a big, physical guy, but it’s about being able to do both. If you can know what you’re doing and be physical, you can be a great player, so Ryne is on the verge of being a really good player.
“You’ve got to make sure what we talk about on the board in the meeting room is implemented on the field. If the coach goes over something on the board and says, ‘If this guy is here, you gotta go here,’ you need to make sure you come out and put that board talk to use when everything is going 100 miles an hour.”
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Rodriquez played right guard “for a little bit” on Tuesday. The senior from Aurora has played guard before. “We just keep playing around with different combinations,” the coach said.
The Huskers figured out some things against Northwestern on Saturday and the running game hit some big plays late, only to see those plays sent back because of penalties on the offensive line.
“You saw that in the game we hurt ourselves and stubbed our toe with 40 yards in penalties,” Garrison said, “and it was a bad deal for us up front, because we want to be on the other end of that, leading this team rather than hindering this team.
“I didn’t even have to point it out to them. Most of them watched it three or four times before I even get to them. As soon as I click to it on the film, before I even make a comment or coach it up, you can feel the air getting sucked out of the room because they care. They want to do well.”
The urgency to settle on a rotation, Garrison said, is because of what they will face Saturday at Michigan.
“They do a lot,” he said. “Sometimes it looks like pressure, but in a lot of ways, it’s so exotic. It is pressure, but they’re only bringing four or five guys. They bring it from so many different areas it presents a whole lot of problems.”