LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin doesn’t know what his group looked like in 2017. Outside of watching a few clips here and there, he’s kept his knowledge of the offensive line to what he sees before him now.
“To be honest, I don’t know what they were before,” Austin said following practice on Thursday. “I know their bodies have changed, but I don’t know the old version of them as it relates to what we’re seeing today. All I know is what we have. These guys are strong and lean.”
Austin credits the offensive line’s gains to head strength coach Zach Duval. So much so, he believes most of his players are where they need to be from a body composition standpoint. There may be room to put a little more weight on for some individuals, but it’s nothing major from Austin’s perspective.
“I’ve been around a few programs where the guys are overweight, [but] we don’t have guys that are overweight. If anything, a couple may be underweight. It’s always good to be able to build them up and try to lean them up. I’m probably the only one in our room that needs to lose weight.”
Nebraska hit the practice field for its third practice Thursday in full pads. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters said the offense came out a bit sluggish, with the defense ultimately winning the day.
Regardless, Walters said he has been pleased with the depth he’s seen from the offensive line so far. Injuries at the center position have put the Huskers in a bit of a tough spot, but Walters said he likes what Austin is doing with the group. In place of junior Michael Decker (knee) and senior Cole Conrad (shoulder), Austin has given snaps at the center position to redshirt freshman Hunter Miller, freshman Will Farniok and senior Tanner Farmer. Even senior Jerald Foster has spent a little time at center so far this spring.
“We’ve been trying to get guys cross-trained in that spot,” Austin said. “Certainly not having [Decker and Conrad] has affected us and our production but next man up.”
Austin also confirmed that sophomore Brenden Jaimes is working at left tackle, while sophomore Matt Farniok is taking reps at right tackle.
Is the shuffling of players on the offensive line a good thing? Walters believes so, especially when it comes to the potential for the season.
“I’m still learning everybody but I think we have guys that can play at multiple positions and we have some depth,” Walters said. “It’s not just five guys. I think we can play eight or nine. Coach Austin is going to get those guys ready because you have to have depth in this league. There’s going to be some injuries, but I think we have some good depth where we can plug some guys in if we lose a guy.
“We have guys still out with injury and not even back, so that’s only going to help our depth because we have guys getting reps that maybe wouldn’t have gotten as many reps if we were totally healthy.”
In the meantime, Nebraska is officially in full installation mode. And even if practice on Thursday was a bit rocky for the offense, Walters said he believes those bumps will pay off down the road. Facing off against defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s defense isn’t going to be easy, but that experience will be invaluable for the offensive line.
After all, the success of the offense relies on the success of the offensive line.
“They’re getting to it,” Walters said. “Coach Austin is one of the best offensive line coaches in the game. He’s preparing them mentally and physically, and that’s an adjustment they have to get used to, the tempo. Everything starts up front. I don’t care how good your quarterback is, how well your receivers are.
“If you don’t dominate up front, you don’t have an offense.”