As the start of spring practice on Mar. 2 draws closer, HuskerOnline.com continues our in-depth look at each position with our 2013 spring position previews.
Today, we analyze and breakdown the offensive line heading into spring practice.
What we know right now: Despite losing two starters from an offensive line that ranked eighth in the country in rushing offense last year, Nebraska still returns quite a bit up front this season. Four players with significant starting experience come back in tackles Andrew Rodriguez, Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles, guard/center Cole Pensick and All-American guard Spencer Long.
There's also center Mark Pelini, who took over as the starting center once departed senior Justin Jackson was lost with a knee injury in the Huskers' regular season finale against Iowa, and Jake Cotton, who saw significant time at guard in the Capital One Bowl against Georgia. While the losses of Jackson and guard Seung Hoon Choi leave holes to fill up front, the good news is NU looks to have enough pieces coming back to soften the blow.
Not only that, Nebraska also has a cast of underclassmen and newcomers who could play a big role on the offensive line this year. Ryne Reeves should contend for playing time, if not a starting spot, at either guard or center, as will guard Mike Moudy. Tackle Zach Sterup got a lot of praise for his work in practice last season, and his size (6-8, 300) and athleticism make him an interesting option.
Early enrollee David Knevel is the only freshman lineman of the 2013 class who will participate in spring ball, which should give him a big jump in his progression. Junior college transfers Matt Finnin and Chongo Kondolo will also join the mix this fall and could have an immediate impact once they get here. Despite NU's returning experience at tackle, Finnin - who has two years of eligibility remaining - could earn himself a spot in the rotation by the start of the season, and Kondolo should get his chances at either guard or center to start off. Kondolo has three seasons of eligibility.
Biggest question to answer: With plenty of talent, experience and potential to work with, it will be interesting to see how the offensive line progresses under John Garrison, who was given majority control of the unit with Barney Cotton moving to work primarily with tight ends.
While the offensive line had plenty of bright spots in helping lead Nebraska's offense to one of its most productive seasons in years, several red flags followed the group all year long, most of which regarding mental discipline. The Huskers committed 88 total penalties for an average of 60.5 yards per game in 2012, and a good portion came from the o-line. The front five also gave up 35 sacks to rank 11th in the Big Ten Conference. How Garrison addresses those focus issues moving forward will go a long way in determining how well the offensive line performs this season and beyond.
Spring dark horse: Had it not been for injury issues that sidelined him early on last year, Reeves was a guy that could have had a big role in Nebraska's interior line, especially after Jackson went down towards the end of the season. Now back fully healthy, it will be very interesting to see how he fits in this spring, especially at center.
While he moved to guard to start last season, Reeves was regarded as one of the top centers coming out of Crete (Neb.) High School, and with that position pretty much wide open at this point, the opportunity is there for him to make a serious push at the starting spot the next few months.