Spring preview: Offensive line
With spring practice beginning on Saturday, HuskerOnline.com continues our in-depth look at each position with our 2014 spring position previews.
Today, we analyze and breakdown the offensive line heading into the start of spring practice.
What we know right now: There is a lot to replace coming into this year. Nebraska got a taste of what life would be like without Spencer Long, who was lost for the year early in Big Ten play with an injury. But now the Huskers must also replace Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. Filling in the holes at two or three of those spots could be a tall order - reshuffling the entire lineup won't be easy.
The good news is that most of the returnees competing for starting jobs got solid playing time last year, and for the most part held their own. No one likes to see injuries, but a rash of aches among the line's veterans gave less-experienced players such as Zach Sterup, Ryne Reeves, Mark Pelini and Mike Moudy (who is out for spring practice) valuable in game experience, or in the case of Paul Thurston and Givens Price, at least more time with the first and second teams in practice. Jake Cotton may be the only returning lineman with a wealth of playing time, but at least some of the other guys got their feet wet and saw what it takes to play at this level.
Biggest question to answer: What can be expected of the "newcomers"? While the aforementioned players all have a leg up in terms of experience, there is a host of players battling to take their spots. Chongo Kondolo seems certain to factor in at either guard or center after redshirting last year. Matt Finnin played sparingly last season but was granted another year of eligibility and was a highly sought-after JUCO recruit for the 2013 class. Freshman David Knevel made a real impact on both coaches and teammates during his freshman season and could be in the mix, as could fellow redshirts Dwayne Johnson and Zach Hannon. And while Corey Whitaker has been on campus for two years, he hasn't played due to a knee injury but could factor in as well.
And while they won't participate in spring ball, don't forget that freshmen D.J. Foster, Tanner Farmer and Nick Gates will be joining the squad in the fall.
Spring dark horse: Alex Lewis' status was up in the air for quite some time due to assault charges in Colorado, but the tackle is on campus and could contribute early on. Lewis transferred after two seasons at Colorado, including his 2012 campaign in which he earned honorable-mention sophomore All-American recognition at guard. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound prospect has some ground to make up on his teammates, who have spent much more time in the system. But he certainly has talent and if can grasp the offense early, there's no reason why he can't make an impact.