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Husker Football Practice

Nebraska strength coach Mark Philipp gets pumped up with offensive lineman John Raridon during practice last month at Hawks Championship Center.

Nick Gates doesn't claim to be an expert on what all of Nebraska's true freshman offensive linemen might bring to the party. But there's certainly one who has jumped out to him, and another who he's heard has been in the middle of a couple of on-field skirmishes.

"So that's good for him," Gates said.

The freshman he highlights first is John Raridon. Definitely him. He's finishing off a redshirt season, but expect him to be right in the thick of the competition in the middle of Nebraska's O-line in 2017.

"He'll probably be able to step up and play center next year, get some reps at center," Gates said. "He has really good hands. When he grabs ahold of you, he's going to get you."

Husker O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh has said Raridon has some "nastiness" to his game. Gates will second that opinion.

"Definitely. He's kind of like me, (Dylan) Utter and Jerald (Foster). He brings that to practice. He's going to get after you."

The left tackle Gates, who is about to complete his sophomore year and third in the program, doesn't get to see the young guys at work all the time, since they've mostly been with the scout team. Like tackle Matt Farniok, who the Huskers beat out Iowa for in a 2016 recruiting battle. Gates said that's a guy he hasn't seen play much but he does hear things about him he likes. "I've definitely heard stories that he's started a couple fights out there."

There's also guard Boe Wilson, who actually seemed the closest of all the true freshman offensive linemen to playing this year. Remember when it was even thought for a few days he might start the opener at left guard after the fall camp injury to Foster?

It was popular to guess Wilson was first on Husker head coach Mike Riley's mind when he answered a question in early November about if he had any regrets in not playing any of the true freshman linemen.

"Maybe," Riley said. "I have appreciated the work our guys have done, but as it's (line depth) gotten thinner it has gotten scarier. And so perhaps it's worth reflecting on."

What's done is done. And it seems a stretch to assume Nebraska's record is any different right now if a redshirt decision or two is changed.

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What's ahead is what matters. That crop of young guys is about to jump fully into the competition on an O-line that, as of regular season's end, featured four sophomores in starting roles.

Gates at left tackle, Foster at left guard, Tanner Farmer at right guard, walk-on Cole Conrad at right tackle. All sophomores.

"I don't want to start talking too much about next year, but there are some exciting parts like that," Riley said last week. "We have some pretty good parts like that in both lines. It's pretty exciting."

Add to this conversation senior-to-be David Knevel at right tackle, as well as players who have been in reserve roles so far but are now entering their third year in the program. Guys such as Michael Decker at center, Jalin Barnett at guard, and Christian Gaylord at tackle.

Center is the only position up front that loses a starter (Utter), opening up big opportunities for Raridon and Decker. (Even Farmer, who has started at right guard, has tried his hand at center before.)

Decker has been getting reps with the top units during some bowl prep as Utter rehabs a foot.

"He's getting after it. He's getting more physical and learning the game more. Just got to relax once you're in there … and it will all come to you," Utter said. "He'll be fine. Go through the offseason, gain more weight, be more familiar with the offense. It will help him a lot."

Whichever players rise, Gates expects them to fit in well with the group of guys already playing.

And while Utter hasn't seen the true freshmen practice much, he's seen enough in meetings to think they will give strong attention to the details.

"All those kids are great kids," Utter said. "They come in and work hard every day, doing the extra stuff."

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

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