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2011 Nebraska Fall Practice: Who's Your Offensive Line Starters?

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With the season opener now only a couple weeks away, there's still plenty up in the air with the football team.

My biggest concern is the biggest question marks remain on the offensive line. Marcel Jones has been day-to-day recently, and it's probably a safe bet that he won't be playing much this season. That leaves Jermarcus Hardrick and Jeremiah Sirles as probable starters. Brent Qvale has moved over to right tackle to provide depth. 

The key battles are taking place at the guard positions, with Andrew Rodriguez, Brandon Thompson, and redshirt freshman Jake Cotton, who moved from defensive line, expected to compete for the starting spots.

Mike Caputo remains a solid starter at center, but there's been little word on his backup. Cole Pensick played in that role last season, but given the arrival of a number of gifted (high potential!) freshmen, we might see someone else occupy the position. 

It'd be nice if that wasn't the case. There are a lot of expectations from the young guys - Tyler Moore, Ryan Klachko, Ryne Reeves, and Zach Sterup, but it'd be best if they weren't expected to play at all this season (although Moore might have the rare combination of size and athleticism that gives him an edge). Give them a year to get accustomed to college, get into the conditioning program, and learn. If we're relying on newcomers, it means that guys like Luke Lingenfelter or Nick Ash aren't likely to contribute as much as you'd like. 

The guards will need better movement than what we saw from guards Keith Wililams and Ricky Henry last season. Tim Beck and the team have done a pretty decent job of keeping his plans for the offense under wrap, but the expectation will be that we have guards capable of pulling and executing trap blocks at a much higher level than we've seen. 

Obviously, execution across the board must improve. The number of false starts and holding calls must go down - but part of that comes from finding players (or coaching them up) who can execute the plays you're calling. We tend to have this attitude towards lineman that says IF LARGE = IN CHARGE, and that's only true to an extent. 

A guard who has better lateral movement isn't going to be as concerned with getting to his block early because he'll be confident that he can make the blocks you're expecting, i.e, pulling, trapping, and making the reach blocks required for inside and outside zone plays so the tackles can reach the second level and spring young running backs for longer gains. A tackle who's slow with his first step into pass protection is more likely to hold that defensive end who's already blowing by him (cough, cough, pretty much describes all of Bill Callahan's recruits, cough). Better footwork = more speed off the ball = fewer false starts and holding calls. 

One other thing about confidence. The offensive line needs to establish a level of confidence with the quarterback and running backs. This may not be as important for a guy like Rex Burkhead, but if you're Aaron Green or Ameer Abdullah and you're getting your first carries in college, you'd like to feel confident that your line is going to open the holes that will allow you some success. 

What are your expectations for the offensive line this season, and what are your worries?