Fall camp practice: No. 5.

Gear: Helmets and full pads.

Stretching music: "Best Rapper Alive," by Lil Wayne.

Players' postpractice treat: Cups of pineapple.

Cavanaugh welcomes pressure on O-line: 'It's got to be on our shoulders'

Mike Cavanaugh doesn't read many media reports on the Nebraska football team, nor does he watch much sports news on television.

"I just have to do my job, and we've got to do our job," the third-year Husker offensive line coach said Thursday.

If he did pay close attention to media, he'd know that many folks are saying that for Nebraska to have any chance of capturing the Big Ten West Division, offensive line play will have to improve markedly over last season.

So, yes, there's some pressure on Cavanaugh's crew.

Bring it on, he says.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's got to be on our shoulders. It starts up front. We're the engine."

He thinks his linemen -- he has five who started at least four games last season -- are ready to respond to 2016's struggles. Nebraska finished 90th nationally in total offense, and just 73rd in rushing.

"That's the pride," he said. "I mean, this is Nebraska, right? It's got to start up front. We've just got to keep working. Keep working."

Protecting Lee: Nebraska's offense continues to build around the pro-style talents of Tanner Lee. That includes the offensive line adjusting from blocking for a scrambler in Tommy Armstrong to blocking for a true drop-back passer.

Armstrong's feet helped the Huskers avoid several sacks last year. But Husker offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf sees some advantages in Lee, too.

"He's got good footwork," Langsdorf said. "He's not too deep or too shallow in the pocket. The line knowing exactly where he's going to be is a huge deal. They want to protect that launch-point spot.

"I think good footwork by the quarterback will help the protection, along with getting rid of the ball quickly."

Sorting out the RBs: Langsdorf said there is very little separation at running back right now, although the offensive coordinator expects that to change in the coming weeks.

Juniors Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon and sophomore Tre Bryant are vying for the top spot, and continue to rotate in practice. And then there's true freshman Jaylin Bradley.

"We've been able to get Jaylin Bradley some work, and that's been fun to see," said Langsdorf, who added that Bradley has looked good catching the ball.

For now, it's a four-back rotation, "which is deep, but I liked the way we've been able to hit some inside runs," Langsdorf said. "I think as a whole it's a good group."

That said, Langsdorf said he'd like to see one player take off with the starting running back spot.

"You always have some concerns about hits and (getting) tired, but you also want a guy that can get into that groove and that rhythm of the game," Langsdorf said. "We'd rather not have a bunch of guys playing, but they're all worthy of playing."

Lindsey impressing early: True freshman Tyjon Lindsey continues to work at the flanker position behind senior De'Mornay Pierson-El.

Langsdorf has liked what he has seen out of the four-star recruit, pointing out Lindsey's route-running skills and good hands.

"He is what we thought he was in terms of talent, there's no question," Langsdorf said. "He spent a lot of time with Tristan (Gebbia) in the summer studying and it's showing."

Good carry-over: Langsdorf said there has been good carry-over from spring practices. The coaches have thrown a lot at the players with a few tweaks from the spring, he said.

"As a group we're way further along just in the last couple of years with experience, with some of the veteran guys," he said. "We've been able to push that thing ahead quickly."

View from the other side: Pierson-El was asked about going up against Nebraska's young cornerbacks, and the senior provided his view of the 3-4 defense.

"Honestly, (the corners) all kind of have it," he said. "(Bob) Diaco's defense is something serious. It's annoying, but it's going to be good. It's a lot of moving, you don't know who's coming. You'll get one look, turn away, and then something else. So you've really got watch it."

Conrad has edge at center: Cole Conrad, a junior from Fremont, has an edge over sophomore Michael Decker, a sophomore from Omaha, in the battle for starting center, Cavanaugh said.

"I think he's a little more physical and probably a little better with technique," Cavanaugh said of Conrad, a walk-on who started the final five games at tackle last season when David Knevel was hobbled by an injury.

Jaimes draws praise: Of Nebraska's four true freshman offensive linemen, tackle Brenden Jaimes apparently has started out camp the best.

Asked which young linemen have impressed the most, Cavanaugh singled out the 6-foot-5, 250-pound graduate of Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas.

"He's smart, he's learning fast, he's athletic, he's got good physicality," the coach said. "Fun guy as a youngster."

Ranked as one of the top 50 tackles in the nation last season by 247Sports, Jaimes is seeing action at both tackle spots behind top backups Matt Farniok and Christian Gaylord.

Butler's new role? Redshirt freshman Tony Butler worked at corner Thursday after playing safety last season. The 6-2, 215-pound Butler was ranked as the No. 1 safety in the state of Ohio by Scout.com, while both ESPN and 247Sports ranked him among the top 40 cornerback prospects.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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