Huskers Offensive Line Switch More To Do With Brains Than Brawn

Much was made last week about last year’s starting center Jacob Hickman switching to guard.  A lot was made of it because it’s spring and there’s not much real news about the football team. I was under the weather at the time, but that gave me a while to think about it over the Easter weekend, so here’s my take on it now.
Previous to the switch, we saw a starting offensive line unit that looked like this:

Left Tackle: Mike Smith
Left Guard: Keith Williams
Center: Jacob Hickman
Right Guard: DJ Jones/Ricky Henry
Right Tackle: Marcel Jones

Move to this:

Left Tackle: Mike Smith
Left Guard: Keith Williams
Center: Mike Caputo
Right Guard: Jacob Hickman
Right Tackle: Marcel Jones

So what we have in the Jacob Hickman-switch-to-guard move isn’t quite as dramatic as it might appear, at least in football terms. That sentence probably needs a little explanation

People who play center are a little whacky. They are. They’re the flakiest guys on the line. Think about it. Centers have a lot more to think about than anyone else in the unit. They have to remember the snap count for obvious reasons. They have to make line calls (tell the other guys what their blocking assignments are). They have to get off a clean snap whether the quarterback is directly behind them or in the shotgun. And they have to do all that on top of carrying out their blocking assignment, which is just another way of saying ‘snap the ball quickly and accurately without getting destroyed by the defensive guy next to you’.

Guards have to be quick enough to pull and get around their own tackle or into the second level to make a block. They need to make decisions quickly if they’re zone-blocking, but this doesn’t involve near the brain activity as playing center.

And don’t get me started about tackles. They normally have one job - take on the defensive end. Tackles are really huge guys for whom feet are much more important than their brains. They have to get into their first step before the defensive end makes his.  If they forget the snap count, they’ll do the same thing the defensive end does - watch out of the corner of their eye for movement. If the play blows up because of it, everyone makes excuses for them because they’re the biggest guys on the line.

Basically what I’m saying is that if you can play center, you can play guard, but guards can’t always play center because they’re not crazy enough. And it’s rare that either of these positions can make the switch to tackle not because they’re not big enough, but because they’re too smart.

In terms of building a football team the affects of the Hickman switch may be dramatic. What it does is send a powerful message to an offensive line unit that’s going to have to be much better than the previous group. A new quarterback plus unproven receivers equals more burden on the line for run blocking.

Barney Cotton accomplishes two things with this move. First, he awards walk-on Mike Caputo for working his butt off. Second, he’s letting his offensive linemen know without any doubt or uncertainty that this is a change he can make if they’re not working their butts off like Mike Caputo.

Keep in mind that preparing for fall doesn’t end after the spring game. There’s the need to keep yourself in shape and learn more about the offense all the way until fall, especially if your boss just demoted you. DJ Jones and Ricky Henry should pick up on that message. Their line position should tell us they're smart enough.

(p.s. If you happen to be a tackle, I'd like to point out that much of this article must be taken as a joke.  mostly because I don't want to be killed. Thank you.)

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