Nebraska’s offensive line group entering 2019 has, at least on the top line of the depth chart, more answers than questions as preseason camp marches nearer.
Naturally, the one real question — who is going to man the center spot? — is one of the biggest and the answer could conceivably have a ripple effect on other spots, so let’s not yet say that the group is exactly stable.
NU’s junior trio of tackles Brenden Jaimes (left) and Matt Farniok (right) and right guard Boe Wilson, though, sport 46 starts and 64 total games combined, and a spring riser in sophomore walk-on Trent Hixson makes four starters for line coach Greg Austin to feel mostly good about.
Come September, October and November, that’s the group that will command attention. Perhaps freshman tackle Bryce Benhart makes a run at a spot. Perhaps the center position lingers as a point of conversation throughout the season. But the top group, assuming good health, is relatively set and could play together for multiple years still.
Even so, this time of year it’s difficult not to consider the recent infusion of youth, size and length, and what it means for the future.
Benhart, Jimmy Fritzsche (Greenwood, South Carolina), Matthew Anderson (Leesville, Louisiana) and Michael Lynn (Greenwood Village, Colorado) have each started their Husker careers in recent weeks, as have a trio of walk-ons.
“Heck, the O-line room has doubled with the amount of guys we have in between those four and the nonscholarship guys we have in as well,” Austin said after NU’s first “Pipeline” lineman camp at Memorial Stadium earlier this month. “Really excited to have all those guys in, and now we can mix it up a little bit and still have numbers on our side.”
All four scholarship freshmen are listed at 6-foot-6 or taller. So far in the 2020 recruiting cycle, Austin and the Huskers have landed a pair of 6-6, 280-pound Kansas natives in Turner Corcoran (Lawrence) and Austin Conn (Derby).
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Plans change all the time in college football. Take Jaimes, for instance. He was expected to redshirt in 2017 in an effort to add mass and get adjusted to the college game and be perhaps ready to step in relatively early in his career. Then a raft of injuries forced him into action, he started nine games, held up OK and now he’s going into basically his third season as the Huskers’ starting left tackle.
On the surface, though, the path seems pretty clear. The guys just getting here this summer have time to lift and eat and learn while the juniors lead the way.
Earlier this summer, Farniok told the Journal Star he thinks the older group is well-equipped to help bring the young guys along.
“With who we’ve got and who we’re battling with, we don’t need to worry about if (the young guys) are going to work hard, are they going to go and give the extra effort or quit?” he said in May. “No one on this O-line is like that. We won’t allow anybody to be like that. If somebody starts to slip, somebody will hold them accountable.”
So far, so good on that front, according to Austin, even though being new to college football and a college weightlifting plan can make for a steep learning curve.
“They’re adjusting. It’s an adjustment,” Austin said. “We’ve had good times and we’ve had not so good times in this adjustment period. But they’re young and boys are going to be boys. But they’re picking things up well in limited time that we do get with them.
“They’re busting their ass in the weight room and it’s day by day for those guys.”