April 5, 2012

New look offensive line could be NU's deepest yet

In most cases, losing three senior starters would be a huge blow for any unit on a football team.


Nebraska's offensive line, however, just might be the exception.


Even though the Huskers have to replace last season's starting tackles Jermarcus Hardrick and Marcel Jones and starting center Mike Caputo, there's been plenty of talk through the first three weeks of spring practice that NU might be as loaded as ever up front this year.


After some shuffling of positions both before and during spring ball, Nebraska feels it has as much depth and talent on its offensive line than it's had since head coach Bo Pelini took over back in 2008.


"I think this is the most depth (we've had) since I've been here," junior offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said.


Sirles has seen that depth grow over the past few weeks first hand. What were once areas of concern coming into the spring, the tackle positions now seem as deep as any spot on the line after former guards Andrew Rodriguez and Brent Qvale were moved outside this spring.


Both players have flourished since changing positions, and now the Huskers feel they are at least four-deep at tackle, and that depth should only continue to grow.


"Losing two guys like (Hardrick and Jones) is hard, but it also leads to good competition, and good competition leads to better players," Sirles said. "So I mean, if you've got four solid guys at tackle, it's only going to make every single one of them better, including myself, Tyler (Moore), Qvale, Andrew, (Zach) Sterup. I mean, the list goes right down the line of who's getting better, who's competing for what spot.


"If you're in the front spot, you're going to keep looking over your shoulder and see who's trying to get in front of you. If you're in the back spot, you're staring that guy dead in the back wanting to see what's in front of him. So I mean it's just going to keep bleeding. It's just that vicious 'who's going to go where?' It is vicious. I mean, you're competing for playing time in the spring, and so that's just kind of what's going on. I love competing in everything I do in life, so that's good."


The competition hasn't been relegated to only the tackle spots, either. One of the biggest holes to fill on the line is right in the middle at center.


Right now, it looks as if junior Cole Pensick is the front-runner to replace Caputo as the starter, but he's getting all the push he can get from the likes of senior Justin Jackson and sophomore Mark Pelini.


After having to turn to a pair of walk-ons to man the starting guard spots last season in Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi, Nebraska helped add some more depth behind them by moving redshirt freshman Ryne Reeves from center to guard.


Co-offensive line coach John Garrison said XXXXX


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As the Huskers continue to build up depth on the offensive line, Sirles said the competition would heat up more than ever when the team kicks off fall camp in August.


It's been said time and again over the years by NU's coaches and players that competition naturally breeds improvement across the board. With a cast of eager and talented lineman all vying for starting jobs and spots in the o-line rotation, this could be a quite the offseason for Nebraska's offensive front.


"(The competition) keeps the motivation going in that no one's safe," Sirles said. "No one's safe at any position. Center, guard, tackle, running back, quarterback - it goes right down the line. No one's safe, and that's what makes a football team better is competing, because when you compete, you push yourself to your limits, and when you reach your limits, you push yourself further."

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