May 2, 2009

Spring grade out: Offensive line

As the Nebraska football team moves closer to the start of summer conditioning, HuskersIllustrated.com will begin our daily position grade outs of where things are at out of spring ball. Today we breakdown the offensive line and the positives and the negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice, and we also preview what lies ahead.






















Overall spring grade: B
After two starters were selected in this year's NFL Draft, it was obvious Nebraska had some big holes to fill along its offensive line. Luckily, all the depth that was talked about last year seemed to step up and fill the voids this spring. Tackles Mike Smith and Marcel Jones both had great springs and look like they will be the cornerstones for NU up front. In the middle, center Jacob Hickman looked as good as ever, and even proved versatile enough to play right guard with sophomore Mike Caputo filling nicely at center. Junior Keith Williams looks solid at left guard, and while no clear starter emerged this spring, the combination of Hickman, Ricky Henry and D.J. Jones should find a way to hold down the right guard spot.
Spring surprise: Caputo stepping up
Coming into the spring, everyone assumed center would be one of the most stable positions on the line with Hickman returning for his senior season. But because of issues finding a starter at right guard, Nebraska's coaching staff decided to mix things up a bit and try Hickman over at guard. That meant Caputo - who played sparingly as a backup last season - suddenly became the starting center. Though he's undersized by most Division I standards (6-foot-1, 275 pounds), Caputo impressed his coaches with his attention to detail and exceptional technique. As a result, the Huskers feel they won't miss a beat with Caputo taking over as the No. 1 center, meaning Hickman could be freed up to play guard if needed.
Question that still needs answered: Who will start at right guard?
Nebraska certainly hoped it would have found its new starting right guard by the end of spring practice, or at least had someone emerge as the frontrunner. Instead, the position is just as much up for grabs as it was back in March. Many have raved about Henry's tenacity and physical play, but he's still trying to grasp the playbook and certain techniques needed to be an effective Big 12 lineman. Jones has always had the potential to be very good player, but for some reason hasn't been able to step his game up enough to win a starting job. Hickman ended the spring as arguably the best option, but both he and the coaching staff would rather keep him at center to help provide some continuity to the offensive line.
What does the future hold on the offensive line?
At this point, Nebraska stands to only lose Hickman from its starting offensive line, and with Caputo already proving to be a capable replacement at center, this unit should only continue to improve over the next two years. Looking a little further down the road, and things should get even better. The Huskers' latest o-line class coming in this fall is full of size and strength, led by the likes of Brent Qvale, Jess Coffey and Jeremiah Sirles. Add in 2010 commit Andrew Rodriguez next year, and the future looks both big and bright for NU's offensive line.


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