One would think Greg Austin might occasionally — just occasionally — remind himself to be patient with his players.
After all, the Nebraska offensive line coach guides a starting unit that features two redshirt freshmen, a freshman, a sophomore and a junior who’s a first-year starter.
Deep breaths, coach. Proceeding with at least a modicum of patience makes sense.
OK, maybe not.
“I don’t care if you’re a freaking eighth grader," Austin said earlier this week. "You have to get your job done, all right?”
It’s an interesting conversation if only because there was a day and age when Nebraska starting three freshmen and a sophomore on the offensive line was unheard of.
Granted, redshirt freshmen Ethan Piper and Bryce Benhart are second-year starters, and sophomore center Cameron Jurgens is in his third year in that role. Even so, their best days as players are likely ahead of them — not that Austin wants to hear that song and dance.
“At the end of the day, yeah, OK, you don’t have the same snaps that a junior or a senior (has), or all the starts,” Austin said. “But we work our asses off to get prepared for games.”
So, his message is simple: Get the job done.
“Especially considering the young guys that we have are very smart and mature and ‘aware’ guys,” the coach said. “It’s just a matter of, ‘Hey, I’ve got to be dialed-in and I’ve got to be accountable to my job.’ But there’s no, ‘Hey, you guys are young.’
"No, no, no. Those guys have a job to do, so get it done.”
Austin, also Nebraska's run-game coordinator, has to make sure jobs get done. To that end, a large fixture on the wall of his meeting room spells out in beautiful simplicity what “getting the job done” means in Austin’s world. It reads:
1. Eye discipline.
Through two games, Nebraska’s offensive line has had mixed results. The group mostly struggled in a season-opening loss at Illinois, failing to generate much running room while allowing five sacks. Then, in last week’s 52-7 win against Fordham, NU’s offense started slow but gained steam as the game progressed. Pass protection was much better, and the ground game produced 329 yards on 65 rushes (5.1 ypc).
Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez, a team captain, noted that early in the Fordham game he had some, shall we say, spirited words of encouragement for the line.
"We got in each other's grills a bit, and I loved it,” Martinez said.
Austin certainly appreciated it.
“It’s always good when your team captain or your leader, especially on offense, is getting after guys,” he said. “To be honest with you, we need more of that. We need to continue to drive more of that home. Those things are culture builders. That was encouraging to me because I’m like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to pick our stuff up.’
“Everybody has to pick their stuff up. If you’re going to yell at somebody, then probably you’ve got your stuff together, or you better get your stuff together as well. It holds everybody else accountable.”
Austin said he heard in great detail Martinez's sideline message to his linemen.
“I was like, ‘Bro, just let me get these adjustments done, then you can say what you want to them,’” Austin said. “But, yes, he was very animated, and I loved it. I loved the energy, and I loved him coming over there and picking us up.”
It may not be the last time it happens. An offensive line is essentially a team within a team. It's a group that must work in sync to work well. As is the case with a basketball team, sometimes an offensive line has to work out kinks early in a season.
Austin hopes his group builds momentum and plays its best as the season moves into the middle and late stages, but that doesn't mean he'll let things slide in the meantime. He made that clear this week.
However, as with many aspects of football, this is a nuanced discussion. An offensive line coach can learn plenty about his group during preseason camp. But when the season begins, there tends to be a new set of challenges as opposing defenses show a variety of schemes and alignments. Adjustments must be made.
Along those lines, Austin acknowledges the advantage of having veterans who can quickly size up alignment changes.
“When you’re not equipped with all of that information early on, from time to time you have to make the tweaks within the game,” he said. “If you have a more seasoned offensive line, those tweaks can be made sooner rather than later. The younger you are, the longer it’s going to take for you to get those tweaks done.”
Regarding the Fordham game, “I’m proud of them because they made the necessary adjustments when they needed to make them, at the proper time,” he said. “Then, coming out after halftime, we continued on and the guys were locked in. Even when we got the (second) group in there, they were dialed-in to the adjustments that we made, and they kept it going.”
I reminded Austin that when it comes to his young linemen, their best football is ahead.
“Yeah, but I want their best football right now,” he said. “Am I being greedy? No. We've got to go. We’ve got to get the job done right now.”