Suffice it to say Barney Cotton has faced a lot of criticism in recent years for the performance of the offensive line. Some of that has been depth, some of that, a lack of emphasis. So this season, John Garrison was promoted to a full-time offensive line assistant coach while Brendan Stai became an intern helping with the line as well. And we saw some improvement, especially earlier in the season. But at times, the line disintegrated (hello second half, Capital One Bowl). So the line was better...but not good enough.
Jon: The offensive line loses a fair amount of experience this season as Mike Captuo, Jermarcus Hardrick and Marcel Jones move on. Caputo was a second-team All Big Ten honoree while Jones earned Honorable Mention. Caputo had 27 total starts, Jones had 21 and Hardrick 13.
Returning: Spencer Long (RG Starter), Jr.; Andrew Rodriquez (LG Starter), Jr.; Seung Hoon Choi (OG Spot Starter), Sr.; Tyler Moore (OT Spot Starter), So.; Jeremiah Sirles (2010 Starter-OT), Jr; Cole Pensick, Jr.; Brent Qvale, Jr.; Brandon Thompson, Sr.; Mark Pelini, So.; Jake Cotton, So.; Ryan Klachko, RFr.; Givens Mordi Price, RFr; Ryne Reeves, RFr; Zach Sterup, RFr; Nick Ash, Jr.; Mike Moudy, So.
Incoming: Paul Thurston, HS Verbal
Long played well enough to garner second-team All Big Ten honors, quite an achievement for a walk-on sophomore that came out of nowhere. Moore had four starts this season, the most by a true freshman offensive lineman in school history.
It is driving me nuts that as a total group the young guys aren't getting more rotations - especially this year with John Garrison joining the staff along with Brenden Stai as a grad assistant. Clearly there was more focus on the offensive line, but the offense didn't change all that much in terms of productivity from 2010 to 2011. There are two conclusions one can draw from this - Barney Cotton is a marginal coach at best, or Bo Pelini prefers to run his team like the NFL, starters play and everyone else watches until injuries force a change.
Mike: Jeremiah Sirles played a lot in 2010, and frankly, didn't look that bad for a freshman. Not sure why he didn't see the field more in 2011, but he has to be a candidate for more playing time in 2012. The coaches heaped a lot of praise on Tyler Moore earlier in the season, but his playing time evaporated as the season went on. You have to expect those two are the leading candidates to take over at the tackle spots. But the freshmen who redshirted in 2011 were all fairly highly touted. Could they break through? Somebody or bodies need to make some sort of breakthrough this spring, because when Nebraska's offensive line struggles, it seems to be the bellweather for the entire team.
Jon: This staff says little to nothing about injuries to players except that they're used for excuses about why this didn't happen or that didn't happen. Sirles was injured this season.
Andy: For the first time in years, I thought I actually saw signs of attitude on the line again as there were some real games against excellent teams and players where they imposed their will at times including the first half of South Carolina. Then there were times when it all blew the fudge up. Despite the presence of Caputo and Jones, it was a relatively young group. I know Yoshii was a senior, but he was a first year starter and still a big kid in many ways. See him jumping around at whistles like a West Point plebe in the 2nd half of the USC game.
This is the least shit I've seen Barney take since his re-arrival, and I like the direction we've started to go. Started to. Yes, I'd like to see the younger guys get more meaningful snaps.
(And since my suggestions along the same lines that Carnes should have had some as well, and that QB competition be opened, somehow ballooned into I think Carnes should start, let me be clear: I'm not calling for any benchings, just more seasoning all around.) Maybe some missed assignments against Sun Belt teams & Wyomings & Chattanoogas become teachable moments that develop more depth and thus result in less injuries come Big 10 games.
In any case, I think Barney advanced them enough overall that he deserves a couple more years to see how much he can grow some of them. Besides, unless we decide the family beagle has promise as an H-back, there's no more Cotton pups at home to put on scholly. Oh yeah, work on the pass blocking. I don't think it's a case of Martinez "freezing in the pocket" when his helmet's being swatted as he's finishing a two-step drop.
Jon: There's a fair amount of young talent, and it should be quite a battle to see who wins the starting spots next season. Klachko and Reeves, in particular, should have seen quite a bit of growth from the strength and conditioning program. The key will be finding a center, Caputo's replacement, and again, getting experience and depth going so the line can last an entire Big Ten season intact.
So what's your thoughts? Are you feeling encouraged about the development up front (five guys return with starting experience), or are you still worried about the line.