April 2, 2009

Huskers look to build depth on offensive line

Developing depth on the offensive line is one of the top priorities this spring for the Nebraska football team.

"We're younger, so we have to create some depth," offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. "Where as last year when we had a whole bunch of guys who had played and more older players, this year we've got a number of backups - guys who will fight for playing time - that have never played."

Heading into spring practice, Cotton made sure all of his players knew that each and every position on the O-line is up for grabs and he expects the battle for playing time to carry out into fall camp next August.

"They all have to earn it," Cotton said. "I don't see any complacency out of the older guys, thinking they've arrived, which is probably the most important thing. They better be looking over their shoulders, because I can promise you, there's some younger, hungrier guy (out there)."

Cotton said he was encouraged by the work ethic his upperclassmen exhibited during winter conditioning, noting that they set a good example for the younger players to follow.

The two most-experienced linemen taking part in spring drills are senior center Jacob Hickman and senior guard Andy Christensen.

Hickman said he's ready to accept a leadership role with the younger players.

"It's kind of expected, considering I'm the only guy that's been there this long, really the only senior at the position," Hickman said. "It's kind of something I saw coming. It's a lot of added responsibility, hopefully I step up to it."

Next to Hickman and Christensen, tackles Mike Smith and Marcel Jones and guard Keith Williams bring the most playing experience to the line this spring. Several other players figure into the mix, however, including D.J. Jones, Ricky Henry, Jaivorio Burkes and Derek Meyer.

"It's totally in flux," Cotton said. "Probably the most unsettled position going into spring is the right guard spot. Right now, we've got D.J. Jones and Ricky Henry lined up there on ones and twos."

Cotton said one noticeable difference from last spring is the familiarity that exists between members of the coaching staff and Husker players. Compared to one year ago, Cotton said, he and his players have a much better understanding of what to expect from one another.

"Being around them a year, they know me better and I know them better," he said.

Cotton said her personally feels more at ease this spring because he also has a better grasp of the Husker offensive scheme.

"I know the offense a lot better now than I did this time last year," Cotton said. "I was one of those guys home studying every night two hours before practice. I knew it well enough to go teach them, but I wasn't so sure last year that they didn't know it better than me during spring football."

Hickman also believes a stronger bond has developed between, Husker players and coaches during the past year.

"I think we're really connected with the staff overall," Hickman said. "I think it's a pretty positive situation and I think it's promising for this year."

Hickman believes the Husker offense had created an identity for itself by the end of last season and he expects that development to carry over into the spring.

"I think the coaches really created a new kind of format for us, a new style of offense," Hickman said. "I think they've been tweaking it quite a bit, because that's what you do in the offseason. We're going to probably try a lot of new things in the spring. If they work, we'll use them. If they don't I'm sure we'll go and stick with what works for us.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it. It worked pretty well for us the last half of last year, so I think we'll stick with it."

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