Husker O-line low on starting experience, high on intrigue

2014-03-29T23:55:00Z Husker O-line low on starting experience, high on intrigueBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Givens Price was not old enough to get into R-rated movies when he first enrolled at Nebraska in 2011. He’s been in the Husker program three years and is still a teenager (his birthday isn't until October).

But the 19-year-old junior practically qualifies as one of the old guard when it comes to an offensive line that has a combined 16 starts — Jake Cotton with 11, Mike Moudy with three and Mark Pelini with two.

Put it to paper and you might conclude there's trouble in 2014 for NU’s front five as it tries to overcome losses of players such as guard Spencer Long, center Cole Pensick, and tackles Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez.

Yet there’s a clear sense of optimism in Husker camp, with big opportunities for linemen such as Price who have been waiting in the wings.

“Last season was a progression place for me,” Price said. “The way I finished last season, I feel like I got better. So coming into spring, I’m not starting over, but carrying over.”

Talk about Ameer Abdullah. Talk about Kenny Bell. Talk about quarterback play. But much of Nebraska’s offensive success, as always, will hinge on whether the guys up front can find the proper mix of discipline and nastiness to enforce their will when it matters.

Why would Husker fans hope that will happen?

* Start with the players on the left side of the line. They have a mean streak and experience. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Cotton looks in the best shape of his career and seems eager to lead at guard. And he seems to have already found a buddy in transfer tackle Alex Lewis, who started 12 games for Colorado in 2012.

Lewis caught the attention of Nebraska’s defense immediately when he went to the whistle and beyond with Randy Gregory the first day in pads.

It prompted sophomore defensive end Greg McMullen to say Lewis' aggressiveness is “what we need on the O-line, especially with them being very young and their first time out there. I love to see it. It just makes us get better and we’re making them get better.”

* Secondly, last year’s plethora of injuries on the offensive line could possibly pay dividends, giving players such as Price, center Ryne Reeves and guard Mike Moudy chances to play in key situations.

There were tough lessons learned along the way. Moudy received several in his first career start, against Minnesota last year, when matched up against stud defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. And Price had an inopportune hiccup when called for a false-start penalty that negated kicker Pat Smith’s first game-winning kick against Penn State.

But that experience — good, bad and otherwise — can only help.

“When I first got here, it kind of seemed like it was a completely different game,” Reeves said last week.

Now, after three years in the program, the game doesn't feel to Reeves like it's being played at turbo-speed anymore. Playing with more confidence, he's made his move to share No. 1 reps with Pelini at center.

And while Reeves did suffer a scare with neck pain during a recent practice, it appears like he'll return to practice this spring to continue to stake his claim for a job.

* Not to be underestimated is the inspiration that comes with having such a wide-open depth chart. Heading into the spring, only Cotton at left guard seemed to have a firm hold on a job. Everywhere else, there's been ample opportunity for someone to make a move.

Just look around. Junior Zach Sterup has been getting his chance to work with the top unit at right tackle. Redshirt freshman David Knevel was also receiving reps with the top unit at tackle early in spring before Lewis pushed forward. Chongo Kondolo is getting his chance to try to earn his way into the rotation at guard.

And Price? The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Houston native has been seeing the majority of the work as the No. 1 right guard, a chance he knows he needs to make the most of while Moudy is out with a shoulder injury.

“Competition is something I’ve always been about, something I’ll always continue to do with my teammates,” Price said. “From the time we got back (from the bowl game), we were in the weight room competing every day, working out as much as we could. We’ve all gotten stronger. I know I’ve gotten stronger in the weight room.”

* Speaking of motivation, NU's bowl win against Georgia perhaps provided more of it than people might think.

It's fair to be skeptical of how much a bowl win really helps a team when the next game doesn't come for eight months.

But Price says the bowl win mattered. That was clear by the way his fellow linemen attacked winter conditioning following the 24-19 win in the Gator Bowl.

“There is a saying, ‘The SEC can’t be beat.’ We beat them,” Price said. “So it’s just motivation to keep working harder. It doesn’t matter who we’re lining up on Saturday. We’re going to go out there and be at our best.”

​Reach the writer at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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