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13. Jerald Foster, sophomore left guard

Foster and fellow sophomore guard Tanner Farmer both had strong offseasons. "I think they've decided that this is important to them, that they want to be the best that they can be," said O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh.

While Farmer gets good competition from senior Corey Whitaker on the right side, NU needs Jalin Barnett to keep coming behind Foster. While the Huskers have options to get creative if there were an injury on the line's interior, the best hope is to let Foster and Gates grow together on that left side without interruption.

The gap between the top unit and the second-stringers on Nebraska's offensive line was always a wide one last year, Mike Cavanaugh felt. Too wide.

"You'd like it to get closer," Nebraska's offensive line coach said Monday.

Is it? "Not yet. We've got a long way to go with those twos. We've got to keep working and they've got to buy in and they've got to love it."

Right now, the top O-line unit appears to be: Nick Gates (LT), Jerald Foster (LG), Dylan Utter (C), Tanner Farmer (RG) and David Knevel (RT).

On Saturday, Mike Riley mentioned Corey Whitaker and Jalin Barnett among those who could help in the quest to build depth. He also brought up Sam Hahn and Cole Conrad as options at tackle.

Of those names, Barnett's is the one that will jump out to most fans, especially the recruitniks out there. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman is working at left guard behind Foster.

The top lineman out of Oklahoma in the 2015 recruiting class, he was named one of two scout-team offensive MVP's last fall. Certainly his development over the next few years will be one of the keys for this Husker O-line.

"Physically, he's really powerful," Cavanaugh said. "His knowledge of the game has to sharpen. His technique is good and bad, so consistency. When he puts it together, it's going to be fun."

What else?

>>> The senior Utter said most of the starting five linemen often lift together in the weight room. That perhaps helps with chemistry, but also fuels each other competitively.

"Me and Gates lifted on the same rack today. Each day we're trying to get better than we were the week before. So you're lifting hard, and you look over and see Jerald doing a certain weight, and you just want to beat those guys and be the better guy each day."

>>> Cavanaugh said the junior Knevel has been really good so far this camp as he prepares for his first season as a starter in his fourth year in the program. "His body looks different. His technique is really improving. His attitude is great. He wants to be good."

>>> Nebraska's O-line has been working a lot on blocking zone pressures from the defense. "You've got to be able to adjust your run blocking as well as your pass protection to the pressures, and I think it's a great period," Cavanaugh said.

He likes how his group is coming off the ball, but still feels the screen blocking has to improve. It's something Husker coaches didn't feel they did near well enough in 2015.

At times Cavanaugh has seen that screen game look better. "We just got to stop running by guys. It's all about your body control."

>>> Who better to speak about the defensive line than someone who tries to pancake them each day? Utter feels that group, inexperienced as it may be, holds its own.

He thinks their new coach, John Parrella, is a big reason for it.

"Coach Parrella has definitely raised their level of play. he doesn't let them take any plays off," Utter said. "It's kind of nice seeing that, because some of those young guys need that. They don't know what it takes to be out there on Saturday, and Coach Parrella is definitely the right man for that."

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

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