Nebraska has a history with offensive linemen, as it seems to with every position. Along the trenches, the Huskers have been known for being the enforcers. Lately it seems the opposite is true. Last year, the offensive line couldn’t create a push in the run game, as evidenced by the worst rushing year in Huskers’ history. It doesn’t help that a pocket could never be sustained because of this.
Former offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh ruined Nick Gates and David Knevel, but the rest of the guys on the roster still have a chance. With Scott Frost’s new offense, former pipeline member Greg Austin’s coaching and Zach Duval’s new strength and conditioning program, the Huskers could finally have a solid five-man front for their rookie passer.
There are two sure-fire starters on the offensive line for the Huskers this year: Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer. Both are big boys that play along the interior at the guard position. Coming into their senior season, Foster and Farmer will be the leaders among the line, both vocally and by their play.
Foster started his career off very promising, playing in 13 games as a redshirt freshman. In his sophomore year, an early injury took away what was expected to be a big year for the Lincoln native. Luckily, Foster returned from injury better than ever last year, where he started in every game and was an All-Big Ten honorable mention. He should continue to dominate his final year and get a good shot in the NFL.
Farmer did not play as a freshman like Foster but worked his way into a starting role the last two seasons, both of which have been cut short by injury. His ability in pass protection was dearly missed after he went down before the season’s final four games. If he can stay healthy, he will be a huge addition.
Nebraska’s likely starting tackles are both inexperienced and had to learn as they went last season. Matt Farniok only started in two games as a tackle last season but showed some promise. He is also versatile, as he started at guard last year, too. A season in the new strength program will go a long way into building him up to be a solid tackle.
On the other side, we have Brendan Jaimes, who I believe will be locking down the left to protect QB1’s blindside. While he was initially considered to redshirt, Jaimes would go on to start nine games last season as a true freshman. While his play did consist of plenty of growing pains, he showed enough potential and talent to be an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten freshmen team. I expect him to continue to develop and have a great career as a Husker. It all starts next year for him.
Battle in the Middle
The Huskers still need to figure out who will be snapping the ball every play. Last year’s opening day starter, Michael Decker, is the best option for the Huskers if he returns to full strength. Decker was the center man for Nebraska’s two best rushing performances of the season, but went down with a leg injury six games in. Hopefully the Omaha native can come back from injury and play at the level he was before. There have been reports of him considering leaving football, but until that happens I am not going to speculate on that.
If not, senior Cole Conrad is the most likely option to take his spot. He started seven games in the middle last year. While he is capable of holding down the spot, I believe he would be much better off as an interior backup swing lineman, who only has to play in spots and not consistently at the middle. He is also recovering from injury, so it’s really anyone’s race.
Another possibility is seeing Tanner Farmer slide over to center, which would open another spot at guard. Some say that the coaching staff have told Farmer to prepare as if he were to be center, but we will see. If that were to happen, expect current punt protector and goal-line fullback Boe Wilson to slide in. Wilson, a three-star recruit from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman and should benefit from the new coaching staff.
The staff may also consider John Raridon if Farmer moves over. The Iowa native saw very limited action as a redshirt freshman last season, but was a four-star prospect coming out of high school. There is a slight chance he kicks inside to center, too, but at this point I think he’s best off developing behind the senior guards and getting his shot next year.
Backup Tackle Troubles
With Farniok and Jaimes most likely penciled in as the starting tackles, it’s important to have solid backups for the tackles.
The 6-foot-6, junior Christian Gaylord is most likely going to be the primary backup at both right and left tackle. He has played in 23 games the past two years and should be able to build onto his frame going into his fourth year. His experience gives him the nod over both Broc Bando, a three-star recruit from Florida, and Matt Sichterman, a three-star recruit from Ohio, who will both be a redshirt freshman this season. Sichterman’s career may lie at guard.
If Decker returns healthy or Frost wants to slide Farmer into center, Cole Conrad was formerly an offensive tackle, where he played all 13 (and started five) games as a sophomore.
Obviously, with any position, there could be players who come out of nowhere and start, or at least show the staff they will be capable in the future. This holds true for Nebraska’s top two recruits on the offensive line.
Willie Canty was a three-star tackle prospect coming out of Florida. He’s 6-foot-6 and has big-time strength when he plays. His problem lies in technique, especially his footwork. If he has refined that and gets coached by Greg Austin, big things could be on his horizon.
Will Farniok, brother of Matt, is an interior lineman that still has a lot of growing to do. He has good footwork and technique and uses the weight he does have to establish leverage. But he is listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Hopefully he can grow up and bulk up. He is already on campus, so that will only help kick-start his development.
Jalin Barnett may be one of the biggest mysteries on the Huskers’ entire roster. He was a four-star, top-200 prospect and was a top ten guard when he arrived in Lincoln. He got lost in the shuffle during Mike Riley’s tenure, however, and didn’t play in a single game last year. Perhaps it’s scheme fit. Perhaps it’s just another example of ratings and high school success not predicting collegiate failure.
Other lineman on the roster include: Bryan Brokop, A.J. Forbes, Trent Hixson, Hunter Miller and Collin Schefke.
Next Week: We flip over to the other side of the trenches and take a look at the defensive line.