It’s no secret that in 2009 the Huskers must be able to run the ball well to be successful. Nebraska must establish the run early in the season to take pressure off the passing game and it will be up to the offensive line to make that happen. Replacing a successful quarterback and two exceptional receivers will do that.
Gone from last year’s team are linemen Matt Slauson, Lydon Murtha, Mike Huff. With 79 starts between them, you might get the impression the Huskers have lost a lot of experience. Unfortunately, Mike Huff never seemed to find a rhythm in 2008 and was replaced as a starter at left guard by Mike Smith. Murtha was inconsistent due to repetitive injuries and missed four games which provided starting opportunities for Jaivorio Burkes and Marcel Jones. Matt Slauson was a steady, solid performer at right guard, the only line position for which Nebraska does not have a returning starter.
Photo by Dennis Hubbard
The good news is that the 2008 ground game improved over the season, as Nebraska finished ranked 37th in rushing offense, averaging just under 170 yard per game with 4.54 yard per carry average. That was good enough to finish fourth in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma State (8th, 245.46 ypg, 5.48 avg), Oklahoma (20th, 198.50 ypg, 4.72 avg), and Baylor (21st, 195.75 ypg, 4.88 avg).
If the 2009 depth chart were drawn up today, it would probably look like this (career starts in parentheses):
LT - Mike Smith (11), Jr, all 11 starts in 2008.
LG - Keith Williams (8), Jr, all 8 starts in 2008.
C - Jacob Hickman (22), Sr, started every game in 2008.
RG - DJ Jones, Jr or Ricky Henry, Jr
RT - Marcel Jones (1), So, or Jaivorio Burkes (7), Jr, Burkes may have health issues.
Others To Watch:
Andy Christensen - Sr - Can Christensen work himself back into the rotation or into a starting role at guard after a difficult 2008 season? A NCAA decision still awaits, but should rule in his favor.
Derek Meyer - Sr. - Meyer transferred from Kansas State, sitting out last year. He has only one season of eligibity left, but had started his first five games at tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2006 before sitting out the rest of the season with an injury.
Ricky Henry - Jr - Henry sat out last season after transferring from South Dakota State, where he started his first two seasons at right guard. He will challenge DJ Jones at that position, or the other way around.
Mike Caputo - Walk-on who worked his way into the depth chart as a backup behind Jacob Hickman.
Cruz Barrett - Jr - There doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of buzz around Barrett, but he may surprise and be another challenger in the guard rotation.
Max McShane - So
Brandon Thompson - RFr
Brian Thorson - RFr
Nick Ash - Fr
Brandon Chapek - Fr
Jesse Coffey - Fr
Dwight Jones - Fr
Brant Qvale - Fr
Jeremiah Sirles - Fr
There should be plenty of competition for the starting positions, and depth seems pretty even across the position. If you had to pick a player that holds the key to success, it'd be Jacob Hickman at the center position, who's started for nearly two years of football. You can't buy that kind of experience, at least not in college football.
Spring football will be a success if all of the guys in the mix don't get injured. With the potential to play 14 games a season, you can never have enough offensive linemen.