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July 29, 2011

Fall camp preview: Offensive line

One could argue that no position will feature more competition this fall and for the rest of the season than the offensive line. With a slew of young talent and only one position with a starter locked in going into camp, every practice is going to be a battle for the big guys up front.

Here's an early look how things might shake out on the offensive line when the Huskers open up fall camp in a couple of weeks.

Biggest question: Who's going to start?
The only problem with having so many talented players on the offensive line is finding out how to get all of them on the field and figuring out which five are going to start. Outside of senior center Mike Caputo, no player comes into fall camp with a firm grip on a starting spot, and there are at least eight players competing for the starting jobs at guard and tackle. Inside, sophomores Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez appear to have a slight edge at guard coming out of spring ball, but there's a chance redshirt freshman Jake Cotton, who had a great spring at tackle, could move inside and compete for a spot. Things might be even tighter at tackle, as seniors Marcel Jones and Jermarcus Hardrick and sophomore Jeremiah Sirles are all legitimate starting candidates, and you can even add freshman Tyler Moore's name to that list after his impressive showing when he enrolled early this spring.
What we know right now: There will be depth
No matter who ends up filling out the starting lineup, there's little arguing that Nebraska will have plenty of young depth on the offensive line at its disposal. That probably isn't more true than at tackle, as three of the four contenders have combined to play in 56 total games, including 26 starts between Sirles and Jones. Add in the talented Moore to the mix and the Huskers appear to be a solid two deep at both sides of the line. There might not be quite as much experience at guard, but there is more than enough young talent for Barney Cotton and John Garrison to work with. The only depth concern is at center, as Cole Pensick, who played a total of five games last season, is the only returning experience behind Caputo. Nebraska will likely have to look towards incoming freshman Ryne Reeves to help provide some depth at the position.
Fresh fall camp faces: Ryne Reeves, Ryan Klachko, Zach Sterup, Givens Price
One of the biggest reasons for Nebraska's depth on the offensive line is its wealth of incoming freshman talent. Along with Moore, who pushed himself into contention for playing time after a great spring debut, the Huskers also bring in the likes of Reeves and guard Ryan Klachko, who could very well end up being the future of NU's interior o-line. Then you add in potential future tackle Zach Sterup, who some say could end up having the most potential of all Nebraska's freshman lineman. Last but not least, Givens Price may be the biggest unknown of the bunch, as he comes in at just 16 years old and will likely join the mix at guard when all is said and done.
Early camp prediction
Because of his experience last year, you have to think Sirles is a frontrunner to win the one of the tackle jobs. That leaves Hardrick and Jones battling for the other spot, with Moore likely also pushing his way up the ladder. At guard, Rodriguez and Qvale appear to be the leaders for the two starting positions at the moment, but that could all definitely change over the next few weeks, especially if Cotton moves inside and continues his rapid development. In the end, it's going to be Caputo who once again anchors the entire unit in the middle. The Huskers better hope he can stay healthy, otherwise they'll be left with a huge void to fill in the heart of their offensive line.



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