August 3, 2009

OL camp preview: Young line must step up

The old saying is everything starts up from offensively. For Nebraska this season, that phrase will likely hold truer than ever. With an inexperienced quarterback and an offense that will rely heavily on the running game early on, the play of the Huskers' offensive line will be vital to their success in the high-scoring Big 12 Conference. Today, we continue our fall camp positional previews by breaking down the offensive line.

Other fall camp previews: QB l RB

Biggest question: Who will emerge at right guard

One of the most intense position battles during spring practice will continue on into fall camp, as Nebraska is still waiting for someone to step up and emerge as the clear No. 1 right guard. At the moment, the top candidates are junior Rickey Henry and senior Derek Meyer. The coaching staff loves Henry's intensity and physical play, but he's had trouble grasping the playbook. Meyer, a fifth-year senior, moved over to guard from tackle this offseason and brings solid experience to the table. Another possibility is moving center Jacob Hickman over from center to fill the position, with sophomore Mike Caputo taking over at center.
What we know right now: The left side is fine

Starting with Hickman in the middle and moving left, the Huskers are set with both talent and experience on the offensive line. Along with Hickman, senior left tackle Mike Smith returns and junior Keith Williams takes over as the No. 1 left guard. Smith is emerging as one of NU's best offensive linemen and one of the better tackles in the conference, while Williams comes in as the top left guard after earning the starting spot late last season. While the right side of the line still has some questions to be answered this fall, it looks like the Huskers will have little to worry about on quarterback Zac Lees blind side.

Fresh fall camp faces

With the amount of fresh offensive line talent Nebraska is bringing in, the competition could very well get even more intense when fall camp kicks off. The Huskers will add some huge bodies to the mix when freshmen Brent Qvale (6-7, 330), Jeremiah Sirles (6-6, 310) and Jesse Coffey (6-7, 300) join the mix. Redshirt freshmen Brian Thorson and Brandon Thompson both had good springs, and true freshman Nick Ash could also vie for early playing time. While experience will be lacking a bit, especially following the suspension of right tackle Jaivorio Burkes, the Huskers will at least have plenty of young talent to try and make up for it.
Early camp prediction

As mentioned earlier, Smith, Williams and Hickman give Nebraska a solid starting group on the left side and center, and sophomore Marcel Jones has the ability to be a good one in his first year as the No. 1 right tackle. The only real pressing question is right guard. My guess is Henry eventually steps up and wins the job. During Big 12 Media Days, Hickman said he expected Henry to enter fall camp as the No. 1 right guard, and from talking with coaches, they all love what he brings to the table physically. As long as he can get his assignments down and get a solid grasp of NU's blocking schemes, Henry is easily the best man for the job.

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